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Visa fees may be hiked for performing artists traveling to the U.S.


Traveling to the U.S. could get more expensive for some folks later this year. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has proposed raising the cost of visa applications by some 250%. NPR culture correspondent Anastasia Tsioulcas says while these fee hikes would affect sectors from tech to agriculture, musicians have been among the loudest critics.

ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS, BYLINE: Much of the performing arts business was already in a defensive crouch when U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced a proposal earlier this year to more than double fees for visa applications. Between the pandemic, the rocky economy and profit margins that were already often razor thin, this was just one more hurdle, says Tom Frouge.

TOM FROUGE: It's a really crazy situation. Since the pandemic, things have gotten harder anyway, and this is adding, like, just another little, like, knife stab in the gut, you know?

TSIOULCAS: Frouge is the executive director of Avokado Artists in Albuquerque, N.M. They present events such as the annual Globalquerque! festival, which draws musicians from all over the world. He's not worried about the likes of Harry Styles or Dua Lipa suddenly not being able to afford U.S. tours. He's worried about musicians with less name recognition.

FROUGE: Frankly, touring costs have gone up in general, but presenter budgets have not gone up. It's not like presenters are getting more money because prices have gone up. And with touring prices already going up and affecting even mid-level known artists, imagine the effect on an artist coming from Malawi or Vietnam.


TSIOULCAS: Artists like Malawi's Madalitso Band, whom Frouge had scheduled to appear at last year's edition of Globalquerque! But the duo's visas did not arrive on time, and they were forced to cancel their first U.S. tour altogether.


MADALITSO BAND: (Singing in a non-English language).

TSIOULCAS: USCIS is also proposing an increase in the number of applications that would have to be filed. For example, a big orchestra or ballet company currently files only one application on behalf of all of its members and staff on tour. Under the increase, you'd have to file one for every 25 people in the group. So an orchestra of 100 musicians, plus some staffers, would be required to file five separate petitions under the new rules. And those fees will rack up fast. For our hypothetical orchestra, those increased USCIS fees would skyrocket from $460 to over $8,000. These changes would affect organizations across the spectrum, from high-profile institutions that welcome foreign artists throughout their seasons to smaller local presenters.

HEATHER NOONAN: The problem also goes to scale. So with multiple artists engaged, for instance, in a local arts festival, this fee could make the difference in being able to afford to present those artists or not.

TSIOULCAS: That's Heather Noonan. She's the vice president for advocacy with the League of American Orchestras. The league is one of the groups asking USCIS to reconsider the price hikes. NPR reached out to USCIS for comment. The agency referred us back to their written statement announcing the proposed increases. Tom Frouge in Albuquerque says his city is lucky to have many wonderful local artists from different communities that he can present. But there's another element at play here - the soft diplomacy that happens when American audiences encounter artists from cultures very different than their own.

FROUGE: We contextualize the artists we bring, including educational outreach. We have a robust school program, and we are in a state - one of the poorest states in the union - that would not otherwise have the opportunity to experience these different cultures from around the world.

TSIOULCAS: A period for public comment on the proposed increases closed earlier this month. USCIS received over 6,000 comments, most of them objecting to USCIS' plans. Nevertheless, the proposed changes could go into effect later this year. Anastasia Tsioulcas, NPR News, New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF LEIKELI47 SONG, "MONEY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Anastasia Tsioulcas is a reporter on NPR's Arts desk. She is intensely interested in the arts at the intersection of culture, politics, economics and identity, and primarily reports on music. Recently, she has extensively covered gender issues and #MeToo in the music industry, including backstage tumult and alleged secret deals in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against megastar singer Plácido Domingo; gender inequity issues at the Grammy Awards and the myriad accusations of sexual misconduct against singer R. Kelly.