Feds Retreat On Artist Visa Fee Hike

The Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service are halting a much-derided plan which would have drastically increased the cost of visas for international performers to work in the U.S.

Agency officials informed congressional leaders this week that the rule will not go into effect until March 2024 and “is in talks to lower the rate increase altogether,” according to office of freshman U.S. Rep. Maxwell Frost. The Florida Democrat, who has live industry experience, led the charge against the proposal earlier this year.

Under the proposed change, the cost of a petition for an O-type visa would leap from $460 to $1,655, a 260 percent increase. For a P-type visa, the petition fee would jump from $460 to $1,615, a 251 percent bump. 

Both increases are fueled by a $600 charge aimed at funding the U.S.’s asylum regime.

DHS and USCIS said the surcharge is necessary because of the Biden Administration’s desire to set up a special parole program for asylum seekers from Venezuela, Cuba, Haiti and Nicaragua. 

Rep. Maxwell Frost 118th Congress
Rep. Maxwell Frost

“USCIS’s decision to delay their proposed rate hikes and go back to the drawing board is the right move to support our nation’s small business community and for the hundreds of thousands of traveling artists who are a critical part of our local economy,” Frost said in a statement. “I will continue to work with the Administration to fight for the emerging and traveling artists, independent venues, and small businesses that are an integral part of the fabric of Central Florida.”

When the rule was initially mooted, there was significant pushback, in particular from Canadian and Mexican artists who frequently do cross-border tours, from smaller venues and the acts which rely on them, and from festivals, venues and promoters that work with larger ensembles, as the proposal would have required more applications (and therefore more fees) than under the previous visa regime for large groups, such as orchestras.

NIVA, coming off their convention in Washington, D.C., vowed to keep fighting the proposal.

“The USCIS proposal to drastically increase visa fees for international performers poses a severe economic and cultural threat to independent live entertainment in the U.S. It undermines the vital role these performers play on our stages,” said Stephen Parker, NIVA’s executive director. “A 2023 survey of independent venues, festivals, and promoters revealed that international talent accounts for over a quarter of performances at an average venue and can even make up 100 percent of performances for Latin music promoters. While we appreciate the USCIS decision to delay final rulemaking on this issue until March 2024, NIVA will continue working to stop the proposed fee increases. We applaud Congressman Frost for his dedication to preserving the accessibility and affordability of artist visas.”