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Barriers on Visas Are Eased

A new bill remedies problems with the 1990 Immigration Act.

Congress passed legislation in late November that modifies provisions of the controversial Immigration Act of 1990, which would have imposed severe restrictions on foreign artists entering the United States. President Bush signed the legislation into law on Dec. 12.

The bill, sponsored in the Senate by Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.), remedies problems the Act presented for U.S. and international artists and arts organizations, and reflects the compromises achieved by a coalition of arts and labor groups. The new legislation removes the proposed 25,000 annual cap for P-1 and P-3 visas for members of ensembles, their support personnel and athletes (but retains a provision for a GAO study that will track visas over two years, assess their impact on the American labor force and examine barriers to the employment of U.S. artists, entertainers and athletes abroad).

The new legislation also modifies the one-year prior association requirement for groups applying for P-1 visas. Although the group must have been together for a “sustained and substantial period of time,” and “ordinarily” members must be associated with it for one year, 25 percent of a group’s members may be exempted from the rule. The Attorney General can also waive the one-year requirement for unanticipated and emergency reasons.

The new legislation also provides that when a group is recognized nationally, the Attorney General may waive the requirement of “international” recognition.

While the new bills still requires artists applying for entry on O-1 visas to demonstrate “extraordinary ability,” clarifying language defines this provision to mean “distinction,” effectively maintaining standards currently in effect for artists seeking H-1 visas.

Finally, the bill allows labor groups an opportunity to comment on O-1 visa petitions. The O-1 petitioner may submit an advisory opinion from an individual or organization of the petitioner’s choice, but the Attorney General must send a copy of the petition to the applicable union, which will have 15 days to comment. If the union objects to the petition, the petitioner must be given an opportunity for rebuttal. In all cases, the final decision rests with the Attorney General. The new bill goes into effect April 1.

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