Artists Crossing Borders For Culturally Unique Programs: Not as Harmonious as One May Think

Foreign artists, including musicians, dancers and singers have had a substantially difficult time entering the United States for purposes of sharing their art or going on tour. The seemingly only way to enter the United States legally is through P-3 visas. The challenge stems, in part, from accounts of artists who are unable to obtain a P-3 visa even after meeting its eligibility requirements.

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website page titled P-3 Artist or Entertainer Coming to Be Part of a Culturally Unique Program, in order to be eligible for this visa, an artist must be coming to the United states either individually or as part of a group for the purpose of “developing, interpreting, representing, coaching, or teaching a unique traditional ethnic, folk, cultural, musical, theatrical, or artistic performance or presentation.” Further, the artist must be coming to participate in a cultural event that will “further the understanding or development” of the art form. One notable advantage to this visa is that family members of P-3 visa holders, including spouses, as well as children that are unmarried and under twenty-one years of age, may obtain P-4 status.

An example of a challenge that artists have faced is the need to show that the artist’s work is “culturally unique.” An important decision issued in 2012 by the USCIS Administrative Appeals Office, Matter of Skirball Cultural Center, highlighted the significance of the term “culturally unique” in adjudicating P-3 visa petitions. This term found its significance through an influx of art forms rapidly molding together, creating new art forms influenced by different cultures. In Skirball, the Skirball Cultural Center filed a P-3 petition on behalf of an Argentinian music group that was denied this visa for failing to establish the element of “cultural uniqueness.” USCIS held that the definition of “culturally unique” requires case-by-case factual distinctions, especially as the artistic market continues to grow in multi-cultural styles.

Although this issue seems to have been resolved through cases like Skirball, artists are continuing to be denied entry into the country through P-3 visas or any other remedy. Additional case law and relevant issues will be discussed in later blog posts.


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