Following is an overview of the U.S. visa info presented at the Nordic Music Trade Mission 2020 by Covey Law. This information should get you started, answer some simple questions about U.S. visas, and guide you to sources
where you can find out more. Always check the up-to-date information from the direct sources of U.S. government.
When travelling to the United States, first, you need to find out if you will need an employment visa to enter the U.S. to engage in the activities you have planned. Here are some broad generalizations:
- Nordic industry professionals travelling only for meetings and networking are usually allowed to enter with an ESTA, though if they have an issue on their record, or do it very frequently, they could be questioned upon arrival.
- Artists travelling for performance almost always require a visa, but there are narrow and complex exceptions regarding showcasing, recording, performances at universities, or performances sponsored by your home government. Not getting paid does not negate the need for an employment visa. Seek advice before traveling to the US to perform on ESTA, or with a B1 or B2 visa.
- Songwriters under contract to U.S. music companies generally need an employment visa to enter the U.S.
If you have any doubts, seek advice before traveling to the US to perform on ESTA, or with a B1 or B2 visa.
ESTA (The Visa Waiver Program)
For applying for ESTA, search for the up-to-date information from your local U.S. Embassy. This is the ESTA application site: https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta
If you need an employment visa, the relevant visas for artists and music industry professionals are most typically O-1, P-1 and P-3. If you are traveling to the US to do professional-related activities but do not need and employment visa, sometimes it is wise to seek a B1/B2 visitors visa, just to avoid problems that could occur if the passport control officer misunderstands your intentions.
Getting an employment visa:
1. Filing a petition with USCIS To get a work visa, some U.S. entity needs to first file a “petition” with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration (“USCIS,” formerly the “INS”).This entity is your petitioner. A petitioner can be a U.S. citizen or a U.S. company or U.S. organization. Many artists ask their U.S. label, agent, presenter or manager to be their petitioner.
2. Applying for a Visa via your local U.S. Embassy: once the petition is approved, you can apply for the actual visa at a U.S. consulate or embassy. This requires completing a form, paying a fee, and usually attending an interview.
3. Arriving at the U.S. Port of Entry (CBP): When you travel to the U.S. you will be inspected by an officer from Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”). The officer will make sure you have the required visa for the activities you have planned, and will admit you for a period of time which is usually the duration of your visa, but not always.
Who can help me with this process?
If you are working with a U.S. label, manager, agent, festival, promoter, they may be able to help you, or they may be able to refer you to someone who can help you.
www.artistsfromabroad.org is a resource with information on the U.S. artist visa process, as well as tax issues faced by artists touring in the U.S.
www.tamizdat.org/AVAIL is a non-profit organization that provides pro bono legal assistance to help artists through the US visa process. It is funded in part by the U.S. Government,.
In many cases it can be helpful to seek consultation from an immigration attorney for your specific case.