As an International Artist (from countries other than Canada), do I need a visa to showcase at IBMA World of Bluegrass?
(If you need information about travel from Canada, scroll to bottom)
The IBMA worked closely with Tamizdat to develop the following information regarding visa options for showcasing at IBMA World of Bluegrass. Tamizdat is a non-profit project that provides both urgent and long term solutions to pervasive U.S. visa problems faced by the international performing arts community. This information is meant to help facilitate your entry into the United States. This is not legal advice, nor should it replace any advice you received from a lawyer.
Generally, non-Canadian international artists planning to showcase or perform during IBMA World of Bluegrass should obtain one of the following type visas most appropriate for your performance situation:
If your only activity in the U.S. will be to participate in IBMA showcases, Customs & Border Protection (CBP) recommends that you apply for a B1/B2 visa. A B1 visa is for business visitors including International Artists, and B2 is for tourists, but the visa itself combines both. A B1/B2 visa is most likely the best option even if you qualify to enter the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Despite the historic odds of entering under the VWP, the process is now too unpredictable to be used for showcasing (see “Unpredictability of VWP” below).
If you plan to perform at another event in the U.S. in addition to your IBMA showcases, you will most likely need an O or P visa—even if you will not be paid! This includes any performances as part of the International Bluegrass Music Awards Show and Wide Open Bluegrass festival (Main Stage and StreetFest), along with any performances outside the scope of IBMA events.
Is a B1/B2 Visa Sufficient for Showcasing?
The B1/B2 visa has been shown to be the most economical option for entry while also satisfying US Immigration legal requirements regarding showcasing. However, despite historical precedent and practical application of the law in regard to similar showcasing events (SXSW, Folk Alliance International, and AmericanaFest), U.S. Embassies and Consulates retain full discretion to deny B visa applications for showcasing at IBMA World of Bluegrass. Likewise, CBP Inspectors retain full discretion to refuse entry. However, cases of refusing entry to B1/B2 visas holders have not been reported, and IBMA does NOT believe denial of B visas applications or refusals of entry for B visa holders to be a high probability. Nonetheless, the lowest risk path is always to seek an O or P type work visa.
While O and P type visas, if granted, are safer for gaining entry to the US, they are significantly more expensive to file and difficult to obtain. Learn more about O & P type visas. IBMA believes that the simpler and significantly less expensive B1/B2 visa is the better option given the history of its success for showcasing events (again, there is no guarantee of entry).
The consular officer may (at your request) be able to note on your visa that you are showcasing at IBMA World of Bluegrass, which might reduce issues at the U.S. port of entry. Consular officers have complete authority to grant or deny visas, and CBP officers have the same authority to grant or deny entry into the U.S. Remember: if you plan on any performance beyond IBMA showcases, you should obtain an O or P type visa.
CBP and Tamizdat recommend against using the VWP to enter the U.S. to perform, even if only at showcases. The primary reason is that CBP is revoking an increasing number of ESTA registrations, sometimes just before or even during international flight. CBP provides the following information about ESTA revocations:
If CBP revokes the ESTA registration of one group member, the odds increase that it will also revoke the ESTA registrations of the other members of the group.
If an artist identifies his/her current employer as a band on the ESTA registration and states that the reason for traveling to the U.S. is to perform, that artist will likely receive an ESTA revocation. CBP will assume that the artist is traveling to the U.S. to work (i.e., perform, whether for pay or not) since the artist is employed by the band and, therefore, the artist needs a work visa.
Usually, an individual’s initial ESTA registration is approved based simply on the registrant’s responses to the questions on the online form. The registration may be reviewed at several points later in the process, and that review may result in revocation. Again, the revocation can occur at the very last minute, even while the individual is on the plane en route to the U.S.
Even if your ESTA registration is not revoked, a CBP inspector at a U.S. port of entry can deny you entry for a number of reasons —for instance, if you say you are “performing” instead of “showcasing”; forget your entry letter; have a hard time explaining your purpose for travel to the U.S.; appear to be untruthful, etc. The CBP agent at the port of entry has final decision-making authority to allow or deny your entry into the U.S. In the event that you are denied entry, you will be unable to register under ESTA for an uncertain period of time, so you will be forced to apply for a U.S. visa in the future.
As an International Artist, when should I start the visa process?
As soon as possible. The amount of time it takes to interview and process a visa varies greatly. Estimated wait and processing times can be found here.
If you are applying for an O or P visa, you must first have your petition approved by USCIS (see here). Petition approval may take as long as 180 days.
Do you need help with an artist visa problem?
Call TamizdatAVAIL at 718-541-3641 or email [email protected]. The TamizdatAVAIL Hotline is a free resource that provides performing arts professionals with urgent legal assistance regarding U.S. visa issues. It is staffed by legal professionals and funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. Their team of volunteer lawyers provide free advice to performing arts professionals who have already filed an I-129 and are experiencing a problem in a subsequent stage of the visa process.
As an International Artist from Canada do I need a visa to perform at IBMA World of Bluegrass?
Canadian citizens do not use VWP and do not need actual O or P visas. Instead, CBP admits Canadian business visitors or tourists in B1/B2 status, but without the need to first apply for the visa. Those seeking to perform in the U.S. anywhere other than at official IBMA showcases must follow a more complex petition procedure with U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services to be eligible to work in the O or P work classifications. For more information, please visit the U.S. Department of State website and artistsfromabroad.org.