Immigration Policies Affect The Houston Arts Community In Unique Ways

On Wednesday, President Trump announced new restrictions on travelers from most parts of Europe in order to slow spread of the coronavirus and the economic downfall associated with it. But, before that, it was already pretty challenging for people to obtain visas to come to the United States and work — and that includes an area of the economy that’s about more than just dollar signs: the arts.

In the arts world, whether some artists are allowed to come here to perform — and under what circumstances — affects not just their lives and the bottom line of venues that want to hire them, but it also affects the cultural breadth of Greater Houston.

Immigration attorney Kathryn Karam assists performers, artists, and athletes who are trying to navigate this complicated system to come perform here. On Thursday, she told Houston Matters producer Brenda Ruiz the red tape can cause Greater Houston to miss out on a lot of things.

“We can miss out on cultural activities and arts and music,” Karam said. “We can miss out on all kinds of things depending on how difficult it can be for people to get here.”

How It Works

The U.S. immigration system has several very specific types of temporary visas for work or performance purposes, Karam said.

“A person has to fit themselves into one of those successfully or they wont get authorization to come here and do what they’re seeking to do,” she said.

It’s more complicated than just demonstrating what that person brings to the table artistically.

“It’s a matter of, ‘Which one am I going to qualify for?’ or ‘Which is the closest thing?’ and then successfully convincing someone that you qualify,” she said.

There are what are referred to as “O” and “P” visas that are given to artists, performers, athletes, and people who have exceptional or extraordinary ability in their fields. Those fields range from business to science to the arts. Karam says it’s important for an artist to make sure they’re applying for the right one for their situation.

By Michael Hagerty for houstonpublicmedia.org
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