Update on Visas for Musicians – A Look at Local Wait Times and USCIS COVID-19 Backlog
By Justin M. Jacobson, Esq. & Pablo G. Velez, Esq.
Building on a previous article which explored some of the criteria for DJs and live musical acts attempting to receive work visas to perform at a music festival or concert in the U.S., this new piece is intended to provide an update in light of the substantial delays in visa processing initially caused by COVID-19, as well as illuminating some of the currently existing backlog for in-person visa appointments at US embassies and consulates across the globe, which is a required part of the approval. With this year’s music festival and conference season in full force after an extended hiatus and as the U.S. music and entertainment scene moves back toward business as usual, the renewed and increased demand for foreign musicians performing in the U.S. is experiencing substantial delays in scheduling and fulfilling the required appointments at overseas embassies and consulates to receive the visa stamp after USCIS issues an approval. This delay, combined with USCIS’s backlogged review, response, and approval process for foreign visas, such as the O-1 or P-1, makes it even more important for any touring artist or their booking agent or manager to engage and begin the visa process as early as possible.
In fact, in light of the uncertain wait times related to USCIS’s visa approval process, there are unique benefits for a talent that utilizes the premium processing option to secure a timely response and potential visa approval from immigration. Additionally, it is important for touring acts and their representation to be aware that even after USCIS approves a musician’s status, if located overseas, the applicants must then schedule and appear at their local US consulate section to receive the requisite document in their passports by undergoing the “in-person” portion of the process. As a result, there is currently a large back-up in visa appointments with major cities having wait times of several weeks or longer depending on the city. For example in August 2022, Amsterdam has an “appointment wait time” around “120 calendar days.” Similarly, other prominent consulates have substantial wait times that fluctuate based on the time of year and prospective interest. For instance, during the same period, London has a wait time of about “75 calendar days,” Paris has one of about “231 calendar days,” and Madrid stated there is about “198 calendar days” before a non-immigrant visa appointment could be scheduled to appear before a Consular officer.
Overall, in light of COVID related delays and as this year’s festival season is winding down, it is crucial that a foreign artist begins exploring their visa status for the upcoming year. In fact, as a result of the recent entertainment industry’s extended “pause,” there seems to be a renewed interest and growth in additional live entertainment opportunities. Consequently, the live entertainment business seems to be trending in a direction that this upcoming years’ visa approval process could be substantially backed up in light of renewed interest, especially for appointments at a local U.S. embassy or consulate. Therefore, it is prudent for a potential visa applicant to start preparing for the 2023 season as soon as possible, especially given that visas can be applied for six months in advance. Specifically, with large festivals such as SXSW, Ultra Music Festival, EDC, Coachella all allegedly occurring this upcoming year and leading into the following summer months of events, there will surely be a large influx of additional visa applications. This flood of new applications and renewals combined with extended local wait times (currently of 100 days or more), which is likely to increase as more festivals and performance venues open, may present a problem for musicians who fail to include sufficient lead time in their visa application process to ensure that they can perform at all of their scheduled appearances.
As always, this article is not intended as legal advice, as an attorney specializing in the field should be consulted.
© 2022 Justin Jacobson Law, P.C. and Velez & Cipriano, PLLC