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International DJs: Work Visa Frustrations

Monday, July 14, 2014

Since 2010, it has become increasingly difficult for internationally known DJs to obtain work visas for shows or tours in the United States. More and more often, DJs who used to be able to tour regularly without difficulty are being denied visas. In other cases, processing delays – in which visas are ultimately granted after the scheduled show dates – effectively hobble DJs’ ability to schedule and promote their shows.

The financial risks in booking overseas DJs for U.S. gigs have become much greater than they were even a few years ago. Agents and artists, alike, are trying to find ways to mitigate the risks. One booking agent told that, due to the burdensome work visa application process, she often sends her DJs to the U.S. on regular tourist visas. This is possible these days because the artists no longer have to carry cases of records, CDs or other equipment. A laptop or tablet – or even a flash drive – is all a modern DJ needs to ‘spin’ her craft to audiences. Bypassing the application process for work visas allows artists to enter the country in time for their performance dates, but could land them in hot water farther down the road if they are caught working for pay without proper work authorization in the U.S.

Trying to get around a working visa could also backfire in promoting shows for international artists. Advertising the attendance of a renowned DJ is necessary for the success of the show. At the same time, though, such promotion announces the presence of the artist in the country; and if the artist shows up to perform, there’s nothing stopping immigration authorities from checking for proper paperwork. If caught, the DJ could be prevented from reentering the U.S. in the future.

The increased popularity of electronic music like dubstep has led to greater interest in the established international artists who created it -- who compete directly with emerging American electronic music artists. Some artists posit that the recent difficulty in obtaining work visas for DJs is a kind of protectionist act for domestic beats.

The real culprit, rather than protectionism, however, is a probably a combination of novice immigration officers and the recent implementation of yet-to-be released to the public O-1 (visa most frequently used by international artists) Request for Evidence template implemented by USCIS in late 2013. Whatever the reason, though, it’s clear that American music fans are being denied access to the acts they want to see. Any steps toward immigration reform need to take into account the ins and outs of different artistic genres and allow for their nuances to be considered when processing employment-based nonimmigrant visa petitions.

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