Thursday, October 1, 2015

When It Comes To Visas, Plan For The Worst and Hope For The Best

By Brian Taylor Goldstein, Esq.   

Dear GG Arts Law:

We got our P visa for a group returned because it included the tour manager. USCIS is saying we need to file a separate petition and get a separate union letter for him. But USCIS has approved prior P petitions with everyone on the same petition. Is this something new? This would mean another petition and another union fee. Also, we have heard that USCIS is taking 8 weeks to review petitions. Is this true? The group cannot afford to premium processing fees for two petitions.

It’s almost impossible to choose amongst the many frustrating aspects of the U.S. immigration laws pertaining to visas for artists and performers. The high fees for poor service? Having to provide documentation that The New York Times is a “major publication”? Trying to explain to a USCIS examiner that an orchestral conductor is, in fact, a “lead role”? The regulatory presumption that the U.S. Government (which has never significantly supported any artistic endeavor ever since Abraham Lincoln died in a theater) is in a better position that an artistic director to determine who is and who is not a “distinguished artist”?  However, it’s the unpredictability of the entire process that most people fail to appreciate with sufficient magnitude.   

It has always been the rule that a petition for a P-1 visa can only include the actual performers in the group. Any support staff—tour managers, general directors, production managers, stage crew, administrative personnel, and even artistic directors and choreographers (unless they will also be performing)—must be listed on a separate petition for a P-1S visa. Unless someone is actually performing in front of the audience, do not list them as part of a P-1 petition. 

The frustration in your case is that the USCIS apparently approved your prior P-1 visa petitions where you included the group’s tour manager on the same petition as the performers. While this saved you both time and money in the past, it was also a mistake on the part of the USCIS. It’s not uncommon for USCIS to treat similar petitions or even prior petitions from the same artist or group inconsistently, approving some and rejecting others. The problem, in addition to poorly trained, underpaid, and overworked USCIS examiners, is that unlike other legal proceedings—and, yes, filing a visa petition constitutes a legal proceeding just like filing a lawsuit—USCIS is not bound by the precedence of its own prior decisions, actions, or mistakes. In other words, just because USCIS overlooked an evidentiary requirement or interpreted an immigration regulation a certain way in the past does not mean they are under any obligation to do so in the future. Even if they approved a visa for an artist or group in the past does not mean they have to do so again. Under U.S. immigration law, USCIS is always free to apply the rules as strictly as they wish, ask for additional documentation, or even determine that a prior visa petition should not have been approved.

The “take away” from this is that you should never assume that simply doing everything you did last time will result in the same outcome. Always prepare every visa petition for every artist and every group as if it was the artist or group’s first petition, paying particular attention to understanding and satisfying all of the regulations and evidentiary requirements regardless of how absurd or inconvenient. Take no shortcuts. Overkill. Overkill. Overkill. This includes making sure that the immigration rules and procedures have not changed since you last prepared and filed a visa petition. USCIS frequently changes filing fees and updates its forms with little notice unless you go looking for it.

For example, earlier this year, USCIS updated the Form I-129 that is required for an O or P visa petition. Guess what? THEY JUST UPDATED IT AGAIN!!!  That’s right, effective August 13, 2015, there is an even newer new I-129 form. At some yet to be announced date, any petitions using any version prior to August 13, 2015 will be rejected. So you might as well start using the new form now. If you prepared a visa petition last year and tried to use the same form, it would be returned.

Always begin a visa petition by getting the newest version of the USCIS forms directly from the USCIS website:  DO NOT USE FORMS FROM ANY OTHER SOURCE AS THEY MAY BE OUTDATED. will also be your best source for any new filing fees or other updates.

For instance, were you aware that effective August 30, 2015, you will no longer be able to upgrade pending petitions to premium processing on-line? Now you are. After August 30, 2015, all premium processing forms will require physical paper I-907 forms to be sent physically to USCIS.

As for the processing times: Yes, USCIS (particularly the Vermont Service Center) is experiencing a significant backlog of 8 weeks or more for standard processing. This could change again over the next few months, but right now it is taking an outrageous amount of time. Unlike forms, never rely on the processing times posted by the USCIS Service Center themselves. They are notoriously inaccurate and misleading. Always assume that unless you have paid the additional USCIS Premium Processing Fee, a petition will take a minimum of 4 – 6 weeks and plan accordingly.

In addition to, your best source of current updates and information should be and other official sources of vetted information. An artist’s or group’s performance should be too important to trust to gossip or anecdotal surveys.   

In your situation, there’s no way to avoid having to file a separate P-1S petition for the group’s Tour Manager. That’s the law and always has been. However, if your group cannot afford premium processing and they will be performing for a non-profit or educational institution, then contacting a U.S. Senator or member of Congress can “sometimes” be helpful under the right conditions, including the particular political leanings of the Senator or member of Congress. If the stars and moons align, the Senator or member of Congress can contact USCIS and request an emergency expedite on your behalf. 

A Tribute To Copyright Infringement

By Brian Taylor Goldstein, Esq.   

Dear Brian and Robyn: 

Could you please advise how a copyright application would be filed for a tribute musical of deceased popular singer? The show would consist of all of his songs. Would it be better to file it as a compilation or concert? Can all the songs be included in one application? Thank you

Is this, by any chance, the long awaited musical “Indian Love Call”, a tribute to the intoxicating sounds of Slim Whitman? I heard there’s a lost studio recording somewhere featuring Slim Whitman, Tiny Tim, Axl Rose, and Celine Dion performing a cover of “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” It would make a great Act I finale.

For most musicals, a copyright registration application would include the book, music, and lyrics written by the authors. However, tribute musicals such as Mamma Mia, Jersey Boys, All Shook Up and Beautiful, which are also known as “jukebox” musicals, are different in that they typically feature works which has been previously performed and composed by others. The authors and creators of such musicals must license all the music from the original composer or composers. This gives them the rights to use the music and lyrics in the musical, and usually to record a cast album, but gives the creators of the musical no ownership rights in the individual works themselves. You cannot claim copyright ownership, or file a copyright registration, with regard to any material that is not original or which you do not either own or create yourself.

Producing a tribute musical about a singer can pose a number of additional challenges in that, unless the singer also wrote the music he sang, you would need to obtain licenses from the publishers and composers of the songs the singer performed. In addition, the name, appearance, or costume of the deceased singer might be considered trademarks controlled by his estate.

If your production is a scripted musical (ie: with a story, plot and characters), as opposed to a concert, then you could claim a copyright in the book and spoken dialogue, and, perhaps, the order in which the music was performed, but not in the music and lyrics themselves. Even arrangements or orchestrations would need to be licensed from the original composers and could not be included in your copyright registration unless your license agreement permitted you to do so.  If your production is actually more of a tribute concert, then there may actually be very little you can copyright or own.

The whole point of registering a copyright is to claim ownership and stop others from copying or infringing your work. However, in the field of tribute performances, there may actually be more the publishers or composers of the music and the estate of a deceased singer can do to stop you than you can do to stop others. Remember, a “tribute” is not a magic word that means “copyright or license free.” The entertainment field is littered with the carcasses of concerts and performances that were stopped because the subject of a tribute did not like, want, or approve the gesture. In any artistic venture, before investing the time, talent, and energy it takes to create and protect your work, you first want to make sure you are not improperly using the time, talent, and energy of other artists that came before you. 

Advice for the Young and Restless

By Robyn Guilliams

Earlier this year, GG Arts Law and GG International was in the process of hiring a new administrative assistant.  As I’ was reviewing applications, I’m sad to say that I was shocked – shocked! – at the very poor quality of some of the cover letters and resumes we’ve received. 
So, as a public service to all of you young’uns out there who are searching for a job in the performing arts field, or for those of you who already work in the arts and would like to move up the ladder as quickly as possible, I’d like to offer a bit of advice – some pitfalls to avoid – when submitting a cover letter and resume to a potential employer:
  • Spelling errors:  This is the most prevalent problem, and the one that is most easily remedied.  Do not rely on spell-check, people!  Proof-read your letter and resume, and then proof them again.  I realize we all make the occasional spelling mistake (my own emails are proof of this), but the documents you submit as your job application are the only criteria by which you are judged for a job, at least initially.  If you won’t take the time to proof-read your letter and resume, this tells me everything I need to know about what kind of employee you will be.  When I see these types of errors, the letter and resume immediately go into the recycling bin.

  • Writing Style:  The ability to write well is required for many jobs in our industry.  (And even if not, it’s a great skill to have!)  A number of the cover letters we’ve received, while not being grammatically incorrect, are very awkwardly written.  I highly recommend “The Elements of Style”, by William Strunk and E.B. White, to anyone wishing to improve his or her writing skills.  This book is a great resource for young professionals who want to learn to communicate more effectively through writing.

  • Irrelevant Job Experience:  Tailor your resume to the job for which you’re applying.  There is no reason to include work experience that is completely irrelevant.   For instance, don’t include in your “employment history” your job as a bag-boy at Piggly Wiggly when you were 14 years old.  I don’t care.  Don’t tell me about working as a ball-girl for your college softball team.  Seriously.  Nothing about that work experience is going to make me say, “This is the person we’ve been looking for!”

  • Try to keep your resume to one page.  Unless your professional career began at age eight, you probably don’t have enough relevant content to justify a longer resume.  Keep in mind – there’s no need to write a long narrative describing the responsibilities of each of your jobs.  Bullet points will do.  And, please, please, don’t use an 8-point font in an effort to cram everything on to one page.  I’m old, and I can’t read anything written in an 8-point font unless I hold the page an inch from my face.  I don’t like doing this.  It’s annoying, and it makes me feel old.

  • Don’t include the details of your entire professional life in your cover letter.  This is why you attach a resume.  Pick a few items from your resume that are directly relevant to the job for which you are applying, and include a detail or two about each experience.  Your cover letter should be no more than three paragraphs, and should be concise.  As I’m reviewing 150 letters and resumes, and I come across your two-page, ten-paragraph cover letter, I’ll want to stick a fork in my eye.  I already don’t like you.  (This really isn’t the reaction you’re looking for from your potential employer, is it??)

  • Avoid hyperbole in your cover letter.  Don’t tell me about your “extensive” experience in whatever.  If you are in your early twenties, it’s highly unlikely that you have extensive experience in anything.  (See above regarding the one-page resume.)  Along the same lines, don’t tell me about your “professionalism”, “strong work ethic” or “integrity”.  I see these descriptions so often that they’re virtually meaningless.  And don’t describe yourself as “an ideal fit” or “exceptionally qualified” (particularly when you are not at all qualified).  Your resume will speak for itself in this regard.

  • Don’t describe yourself as “detail-oriented” in your cover letter.  (This goes over especially badly when your letter is riddled with typos.)  When applying for a job, everyone describes themselves as detail-oriented.  Who the heck is going to say “I’m not so great with details”?  I can get an idea of your attention to detail from how carefully you’ve crafted your resume and cover letter, the types of jobs you’ve held in the past, and your responsibilities in those jobs. 

  • In your cover letter, there’s no need to write about how “passionate” you are about the arts, how much you love going to the theater, or that Beethoven’s Eroica is your favorite musical work.  This is not your OkCupid profile.  Everyone goes into our field because we feel strongly about the arts, and we wouldn’t be happy working in any other field.  Your education, work history and other relevant experiences will show that you are committed to a career in the arts!    
Although we were sad to say goodbye to our former assistant, Ann, we were lucky to find an amazing new person. Turns out a professional stage manager was just want we needed to manage traffic control around here. Welcome Christina!   

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

New I-94 Process for Artists Touring the United States

United States Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) has announced that, effective April 30, 2013, artists and performers (as well as everyone else) entering the U.S. will no longer receive physical I-94 forms. The process will now be electronically automated!

Form I-94 is the official arrival/departure record issued to foreign artists and travelers when they enter the U.S.. This form is also issued to those who adjust their status while in the U.S. (ie: change from F to O), or who extend their visas. The I-94 confirms the foreign individual’s status or visa category (O, P, F, B1/B2, etc.) and the departure date by which they must leave the U.S. When the foreign traveler leaves, they surrender the I-94 either to the commercial airline carrier or to CBP directly. The I-94 information and the date of departure are then entered into a database to verify that the traveler did not overstay the required departure date.

Up until now, every artist entering the U.S. (except, occasionally, Canadians, depending on when and where they enter) has been given a paper Form I-94 to fill out (most often while waiting in line to enter the U.S.), the bottom half of which is stamped with their status and departure date and returned to them by a CBP officer.

While the departure date most often corresponds with the visa classification period approved by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a CBP Officer at the port of entry has the complete and unfettered discretion to issue a sooner departure date or extend the departure date by up to 10-days. Regardless, the artist MUST leave the US by the date stamped on the I-94 regardless of what was approved by USCIS or written on their visa. The I-94 form is not only important for establishing the official departure date, but it is also used to verify immigration status by employers, schools and universities, and various governmental agencies. For example, it is necessary to obtain drivers licenses and social security numbers. The I-94 is also required by USCIS when an artist is currently in the US and files a visa petition to extend their visa. In such cases, the petition must include a copy of the I-94 to show that the artist was validly admitted and is currently “in-status.”

Beginning on April 30, 2013, CBP will no longer require foreign visitors to fill out a paper Form I-94 upon arrival to the U.S. by air or sea and will no longer issues paper I-94 forms in return. Instead, CBP will gather the arrival/departure information automatically from the foreign artist’s electronic travel records and, upon entry of the artist into the U.S., will enter their status and departure date electronically. (Because advance information is only transmitted for air and sea travelers, CBP will continue to issue a paper form I-94 “at land border ports of entry”—which is government-speak for Canada and Mexico.)

With the new CBP process, a CBP officer will stamp the passport of each arriving artist. The admission stamp will show the date of admission, class of admission, and the departure date by which the traveler must leave. Travelers wanting a hard copy or other evidence of their valid admission and immigration status will be directed to a special website ( where, using their passport numbers and names, they can access and print as many physical copies of their I-94 as they need for employers and for other purposes. (Please note that this site will not be active until after April 30, 2013)

Artists will not need to do anything differently upon exiting the U.S. If the artist did not receive a paper Form I-94, CBP will record the departure electronically via manifest information provided by the carrier or by CBP. If the artist was issued a paper I-94, they will continue to surrender it to the commercial carrier or to CBP as before.

CBP will phase-in the Form I-94 automation at air and sea ports of entry throughout April and May. Foreign artists will continue to receive the paper Form I-94 until the automated process arrives at their port of entry.

You can read more about CBP’s plans and schedule to automate Form I-94 at:

CBP has also issued a fact sheet that includes frequently asked questions regarding the impact of automation, visa revalidation, passenger processing times, and more. You can access that at:

CBP contends that this automation will streamline the entry process for travelers, facilitate security, and reduce federal costs by saving the agency an estimated $15.5 million a year. That remains to be seen. Whether or not CBP effectively informs the myriad of other state and federal agencies whose employees are trained to look for a physical I-94, and whether or not those state and federal agencies will actually understand that the process has changed and accept a print out from a website, and whether or not CBP actually gets its website to work, also remains to be seen. Only time will tell.

Thursday, September 27, 2012


By Robyn Guilliams

The IRS has announced that, effective October 1, 2012 (that’s this Monday, people!), ALL requests for Central Withholding Agreements (CWAs) must be sent to the following address/fax number:

         Central Withholding Agreement Program
            Mail Stop: 1441
            2001 Butterfield Road
            Downers Grove, IL 60515-1050
            Fax:  (603) 493-5906

The full announcement can be viewed on the IRS’s website at

In addition, it’s worth noting that the announcement indicates that, effective on January 1, 2013, CWA requests received less than 45 days prior to the first event to be covered by the CWA will not be processed and such event(s) will be subject to withholding at 30% of the gross income…So – be sure to get your request submitted by the deadline!

The announcement also addresses requirements for nonresidents working in the U.S. to obtain a Social Security Number (SSN).  The IRS technically is correct that it is not “necessary” for a nonresident to wait 10 days after arriving in the U.S. to request a SSN.  However, in my experience, many workers at the Social Security Administration (SSA) apparently never received this memo.  I know of a number of nonresidents who have been turned away from SSA offices because the nonresident didn’t wait 10 days after arriving in the U.S. to request his SSN.  So, rather than make the trip into SSA (and possibly wait in long lines) only to be turned away, I strongly advise nonresidents to wait the 10 days before trekking into SSA!

Finally, the IRS has posted a Q & A from a recent “phone forum” on CWAs, which can be viewed here 

This page addresses many misconceptions about payments to – or for the services of – nonresident artists, and is recommended reading for anyone who presents OR represents foreign artists (complete with citations to the relevant IRS Treasury Regulations – woohoo!)

Thursday, June 28, 2012

IRS Announces New Interim Requirements for Nonresidents Who Wish to Obtain ITINs!!

By Robyn Guilliams

The IRS announced on Friday that it is changing (or in the IRS’s words, “strengthening”) its procedures for obtaining an Individual Tax Identification Number (“ITIN”).  Unfortunately, these new procedures may make it more difficult for foreign artists filing tax returns from abroad to obtain ITINs and stay in compliance with U.S. tax law.

Individuals who have earned compensation for work performed in the U.S. are required to file U.S. tax returns to report that income, even if no U.S. tax is due.  And to file a tax return, an individual must have a U.S. tax identification number.  There generally are two types of tax identification numbers for individuals filing U.S. returns – Social Security Numbers (SSNs), and ITINs.

As many of you know, SSNs may be obtained by nonresident individuals ONLY by applying in person, at a Social Security Administration office in the United States.  And, many also are painfully aware that there are onerous time restrictions for individuals applying for SSNs – in effect, an individual must wait 10 days after arriving in the U.S. to apply for a number, AND the individual must have 14 days of work authorization remaining on his I-94 card at the time of applying for an SSN to be eligible for the SSN.  So, if an artist is here in the U.S. for less than 24 days, obtaining an SSN is practically impossible.

The alternative for these individuals is to request an ITIN at the time of filing a U.S. tax return.  Along with the one-page W-7 ITIN request form, the IRS requires a nonresident individual to submit proof of his or her identity and “foreign status” to obtain an ITIN.  This proof can take the form of a certified copy of the individual’s passport alone, or copies of two of the following: 1) a current national ID card (that includes the individual’s name, address, photograph, date of birth and expiration date); 2) a foreign voter registration card; and 3) a civil birth certificate.  In the past, the IRS has allowed copies of these documents to be certified by a U.S. notary, by a foreign “apostille” (a foreign notary seal recognized by the Hague Convention), or by the government agency that issued the document.

Effective immediately, however, only copies of documents certified by the agency that issued that document will be accepted with ITIN requests.  The IRS will no longer accept passport or other copies that have been certified by U.S. or foreign notaries.  So, for instance, if an individual wishes to submit a copy of his passport as proof of his identity and foreign status, the individual must obtain a copy of the passport certified by whatever government agency issued that passport.

Note that this new “strengthened” procedure is in place only until the end of this year, when the IRS will issue "NEW" guidelines for obtaining ITINs.

The IRS has posted additional information on its website to address additional questions regarding the new procedure.  This information may be found at:,,id=258474,00.html

What does this mean for foreign artists who will be required to file U.S. tax returns, but do not yet have a U.S. tax identification number?  If at all possible, the artist should try to apply for a SSN while in the U.S.  This can difficult due to tight touring schedules, but doing so may be simpler than obtaining documents certified by the appropriate government agency, depending on the artist’s country of citizenship.  The alternative will be to obtain documents (e.g., passport copies) that are certified by the government agency that issued the documents, at least through the remainder of 2012.  When the new ITIN guidelines are issued for 2013 (most likely late this year), we will certainly let you know what the new, permanent guidelines will be, and how those new guidelines will affect foreign performers!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

ARTISTS FROM ABROAD has been Updated, Re-Designed, and Re-Launched!

The  League of American Orchestras and Association of Performing Arts Presenters, in conjunction with FTM Arts Law, are pleased to announce the re-launch of ARTISTS FROM ABROAD
Relied upon by thousands as the most complete and up-to-date online resource for engaging foreign guest artists and non-US arts professionals, provides essential guidance, forms, sample documents, and useful links.

Seriously....this is it! Everything you ever wanted to know about visas and taxes for foreign guest artists all in one spot--now fully updated and re-designed.

Authored by Jonathan Ginsburg and Robyn Guilliams of FTM Arts Law, the newly redesigned and re-launched website makes it even easier to find the information performing arts organizations and artist managers need to successfully navigate the U.S. visa and tax procedures required when engaging international artists for performances in the U.S. The new site includes:
* RSS feed that can automatically notify you of site updates
* Improved, intuitive navigation
* Updated content and links throughout!

Bookmark today!