Speedier visas planned for US-bound artists
Less red tape means foreign artists could give lectures, teach courses and complete residencies more easily, say museums
By Julia Halperin. Web only
Published online: 03 July 2013
A comprehensive immigration reform bill passed by the US Senate last week stands to make it easier for foreign artists to visit the country. The 1,200-page bill, which offers a path to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants, also requires the government to process artists’ visa requests within one month of their initial filing. Under the current system, artists can wait up to six months for a visa and must pay a fee of $1,225 to receive expedited service.
“This provision assures you get a decisive decision that would allow a non-profit arts organisation to plan whether they can expect to have an artist visit,” says Narric W. Rome, the senior director of federal affairs and arts education at Americans for the Arts, which has lobbied for more efficient visa processing for artists. The amendment is co-sponsored by the Senators Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, and Orrin Hatch, a Republican from Utah. The bill currently awaits a vote in the House of Representatives.
The passage of the Arts Require Timely Service (ARTS) Act, part of the immigration bill, “would be huge”, says Tom Finkelpearl, the director of the Queens Museum in New York. The amendment would enable museums to schedule foreign artists to give lectures, teach courses and complete residencies more easily. The Queens Museum’s artists-in-residence, for example, receive only three months’ notice that they have been accepted into the programme and “that’s not a lot of time to get a visa”, Finkelpearl says.
Despite a 1991 federal law to expedite arts visas, “there is a history of extreme unpredictability in the timing of the artist visa process,” says Ford Bell, the president of the American Alliance of Museums. “This could be a problem for museums trying to plan the activities of a teaching artist or artist-in-residence, especially if time-sensitive grant funding were involved.”
If passed, the amendment would most profoundly benefit performing arts groups like orchestras and theatre troupes that come to the US for scheduled performances. Under the current system, obtaining a group visa for artists can take more than twice as long as an individual artist visa. The unpredictable nature of the process can limit the number of advance ticket sales or cause the performers to miss their scheduled tour dates entirely.
The bill also includes several provisions to promote cultural tourism in the US. It will authorise continued federal funding from Brand USA, a company devoted to marketing US tourism in other countries. “The US had been losing market share in the international tourism industry for a while,” Rome says. “Cultural tourism is the most popular marketing strategy among all the travel bureaus in the country."
The ARTS Act, meanwhile, has the potential to broaden the scope of multidisciplinary programmes at museums across the country. “The language of the arts is universal, and we know that the arts bring people together,” Bell says. “The facilitated process could lead museums who invite performing artists from around the world to offer more of these kinds of programmes.”
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