Live Via Satellite: Visa Refusals Can Affect Performances by Foreign Entertainers

​​​​​Q: What kind of visa must an entertainer have to perform in the United States?
A: Some foreign entertainers get a “green card,” which allows them to live and work in the United States indefinitely, and eventually apply for U.S. citizenship. Green cards are usually obtained either through marriage to a U.S. citizen or based upon the petition of a sponsoring employer. Very famous, accomplished entertainers can also petition for lawful permanent residence on their own, but usually only if they have some earned high-level awards or are established, recognized stars. Most entertainers who live outside the United States come to perform under a “visitor”, “P entertainer,” or “O outstanding performer” visa.

Q: What is a visitor visa?
A: Performers who come for short appearances not involving performing for pay (say, an awards banquet) might come as visitors. They may have a visa sticker in their passport, good for several years, which lets them visit repeatedly as long as they do not abuse their status as visitors. People from certain countries (e.g., the European Union countries, including Great Britain) are subject to the “VWPP” program and do not need a formal visa to visit the United States. People from “VWPP” countries arrive, with passport, at the airport, complete a form on the plane, and are admitted to the U.S. as visitors for up to 90 days, although they may also be asked for proof of the purpose of their visit and proof of return transportation back home. Canadians also do not need formal visas to visit the U.S.

Q: What is a “P” visa?
A: Many entertainers coming to the U.S. to perform for pay—especially groups like bands—come on P visas. They are admitted for up to a year at a time, and must convince the consulate that they are “internationally recognized,” defined as “a high level of achievement…evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered, to the extent such achievement is renowned, leading or well-known in more than one country.” Solo performers also can get a P visa, but only if there is something culturally unique about their performance.

Q: What is an “O” visa?
A: Individual entertainers not associated with a group generally must qualify for an “O” visa to perform for pay by demonstrating that they are “outstanding” in their field of endeavor. Someone with a major record deal and a fan base probably would qualify for an O visa, and can be admitted to the U.S. for up to three years at a time, depending on the purpose of the trip.

Q: My favorite foreign entertainer had to cancel a U.S. performance because he was refused a visa. Why did that happen?  
A: There are many reasons why someone seeking admission to the U.S. might be refused a temporary visa on “grounds of inadmissibility,” and even someone who has already been issued a visa may be prevented from crossing the border for a variety of reasons.

 One reason is a serious enough criminal record. The types of criminal convictions that disqualify a person from entering the United States—even for a short amount of time or for a discrete purpose—are surprisingly broad. They include any significant crime of moral turpitude; two or more petty crimes involving moral turpitude; and any drug conviction (including foreign convictions).

Even without an official criminal conviction or a judicial admission, a known drug abuser, or someone who is reasonably suspected of being a drug trafficker, may be denied a visa. If someone has been photographed taking illicit drugs recently or is reported to be in a rehabilitation program, border guards may act on this knowledge, even if the person has never been involved with the police.

Q: I work with a foreign celebrity who has a drug record.  Can I bring him to the U.S. to perform anyway?
A: There are two waivers that may be available to a non-resident celebrity with a disqualifying drug record. A decision to provide a waiver must consider the relative risk to society, the seriousness of prior violations and the reason the celebrity wishes to enter the United States. Such decisions are completely discretionary and are made on a case-by-case basis, and can be revoked at any time. 

First, if you can prove that drug conviction (or admission of drug use) involved simple possession of marijuana in an amount less than 30 grams, he may be able to get a waiver. He does have to apply for it, however, and if he is a first-time applicant, the decision may take time.

Second, no matter how bad his past drug record is, he still may be able to get a waiver, although he will have to apply, and both the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security will have to sign off on it. It currently costs $585 to apply for a waiver.


This "Law You Can Use" consumer legal information column provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. It was prepared by attorney Jeffrey Moeller, chair of the Immigration Practice at Brouse McDowell in Cleveland.

Articles appearing in this column are intended to provide broad, general information about the law. This article is not intended to be legal advice. Before applying this information to a specific legal problem, readers are urged to seek advice from a licensed attorney.



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