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USCIS Will Accept Only the New Version of Form I-129 Beginning May 1

Beginning Friday, May 1, 2015 USCIS will accept only the new version of Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker. The edition date is printed at the bottom of every page. They will reject previous editions of this form if you submit them on or after May 1. They issued the new version in January and have continued to accept old versions during the transition period, which ends Thursday, April 30.

USCIS Promises Major Visa Improvements

Processing times for regularly-filed artist visa petitions will not exceed 14 days, according to senior officials at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).  The agency has also promised that significant improvements to the quality of artist visa processing will soon be underway as the agency undergoes a major effort to revise its policy and training programs for the two service centers that process the O and P visas used by artists travelling to the United States for performances.

These comments come in response to requests from the nonprofit performing arts community and following significant intervention by leaders in the House, Senate, and the White House Domestic Policy Council.  APAP has been advocating for improvements in partnership with national colleagues in the Performing Arts Visa Working Group:  American Federation of Musicians, Dance/USA, League of American Orchestras, North American Performing Arts Managers and Agents, OPERA America, Theatre Communications Group and the Performing Arts Alliance.

14-Day Regular Processing Promised

According to the USCIS, both the California and Vermont processing centers are currently processing regularly filed O and P visa petitions (without the $1,000 Premium Processing Fee) within an average of 14 days.  Since 2001, regular processing times have varied wildly - ranging up to 120 days for some petitions, despite a requirement in law to process O and P petitions within 14 days.  USCIS now says they will strive to honor that 14-day requirement.

Petitioners should continue to file visa petitions as early as possible and carefully track the processing times for their petitions.  If processing times exceed 14-days, petitioners are advised to contact the USCIS National Customer Service Center at 1-800-375-5283.  Given the inconsistent record of processing times, and the frequently ineffective response from the Customer Service Center, please track your visa's processing time and report the results to the government affairs director of your service organization.  APAP and its fellow national performing arts service organizations will be closely monitoring trends in processing times and the information you provide will help us ensure that USCIS fulfills its promise.

Efforts Underway to Improve Quality of Process

In addition to streamlining processing times, USCIS says it has formed an internal performing arts visa working group and is taking immediate steps to address the spike in erroneous visa denials and requests for evidence received by U.S. arts organizations over the past year.

  • New Policy Supports Complete Itinerary Approvals
    • USCIS released a final policy memorandum advising visa processing centers to approve O petitions for the length of the validity period requested where the law and regulations permit and clarified that there is no policy limiting the allowable gap between engagements in an itinerary.  The memo reverses an informal policy adopted by the two processing centers that limited the allowable gap between engagements to 45 days.  The nonprofit performing arts community is pleased with this positive development and has requested that the policy formally be applied to P petitions.
  • RFE Project to Improve Visa Response
    • In response to voluminous cases of erroneous visa denials and requests for evidence, the USCIS is revising the training and templates used in adjudicating O and P visa cases.  Draft policy documents will be posted online for public comment, and the PAA will inform the performing arts community of opportunities to weigh in.
  • Online Case Status
    • Petitioners must rely on the USCIS web site for up-to-date information about the status of a visa petition in progress.  USCIS reports that a new and improved case status site will soon be launched.

Continued Advocacy Needed

In partnership with the Performing Arts Visa Working Group, the PAA will continue to seek the promised improvements, in addition to weighing in with USCIS regarding the recently proposed fee increase, evidence requirements for O and P visas, and needed improvements to accessing emergency visa processing.  Your examples of visa challenges are essential as we continue to communicate with USCIS headquarters.  Report visa problems to the government affairs director of your national service organization as soon as you encounter them.

Prepare Perfect Petitions

In the wake of promised improvements by USCIS, it is more important than ever that visa petitioners for  foreign guest artists submit complete and timely visa petitions.  Visit www.artistsfromabroad.org for guidance.  Above all, remember to file your visa petition as early as possible.  The promise of 14-day processing is encouraging but not a guarantee - and unexpected disruptions could put your performance in jeopardy.  File early and compile your best possible petition.  We will continue to update the Artists from Abroad website to reflect any new policy developments.

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