Artist Visas: Why the rate of denials is on the rise?

I have been saying for many years that the visa system is unfair for foreign artists. Take the story of Seny Daffe. Daffe was granted a visa that allows culturally unique artists entry to the U.S. In Burlington, he joined the African dance company Jeh Kulu, where he taught drumming. He held dance classes and ran workshops at local schools. He performed with the National Ballet of Guinea and performed at First Night events across the state.

In November, Daffe returned to Conakry, Guinea, to visit his family and brush up on his skills. But when he tried to come back to Vermont, he learned that he was now barred by State Department officials from returning to the U.S.

Daffe says the State Department told him that his ties to this country were too strong – his ties to his own country too weak. The question was whether he intended to eventually return to Guinea. This is a common reason for denials.

The most frequent reason for nonimmigrant visa denials at the consulates is INA §214(b). This is usually thought of in terms of “immigrant intent” denials. That is, §214(b) specifies that all foreign nationals seeking entry on nonimmigrant status, other than persons seeking F1, O1, P3, P2, P1, and B visa categories, are presumed to be intending immigrants. Under this provision, the Consular Officer must be satisfied that the visa applicant is entitled to the requested nonimmigrant status and has overcome the automatic presumption under law that s/he intends to settle permanently in the United States.

Section 214(b), in addition to the immigrant intent provisions, incorporates the specific standards for each nonimmigrant category. Hence the applicants have to prove that they are eligible for the particular category, separate and apart from the nonimmigrant intent provisions.

Accordingly, a student who does not have sufficient funds to cover required expenses will be denied a student visa under §214(b). Similarly, an artist that can not justify the continued need to remain and work in the US could be denied the artist visa under 214(b). Quite commonly applicants for B-1/B-2 visitors’ visas, without foreign residences that they do not intend to abandon, are denied under §214(b).

Daffe’s case is not unique. Homeland Security says since 2006 the number of visa petitions rejected has spiked. And immigration lawyers say since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, America’s visa program for foreign artists has become more complex.

Our advice to Daffe is to reapply. When he does, he should show further evidence of his ties or how his circumstances have changed since the time of the original application.

He should carefully review his situation and realistically evaluate his ties. He may want to write down on paper an outline of what qualifying ties he may have that may not have been properly evaluated at the time of his interview with the consular officer. Also, he should review any documents that were submitted for the consul to consider, and look at what documents could have been presented that weren’t.

There is a strong movement to help Daffe, letters and community support. We hope that this case will serve as an example of how this policy of visa denials for artists is hurting Art and culture in this country.

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