USCIS Issues Precedent Decision on Question of Cultural Uniqueness in P-3 Visa Petitions


U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), through the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) issued a binding precedent decision recently that affects P-3 nonimmigrant visas. P-3 visas allow artists or entertainers to enter the United States to perform works that are “culturally unique.” The AAO examined what may qualify as “culturally unique,” as required by statute. The statute does not actually identify the term “culturally unique,” however.

Artists and entertainers may temporarily visit the United States on a P-3 visa to perform, coach, or teach, but their program must be “culturally unique.” USCIS has generally interpreted this to mean that the performer’s program must be unique or traditional in the performer’s ethnic or cultural background, and the intent of the performance should be to promote education and understanding of the art form. A sponsoring organization or employer files a petition for a P-3 visa that includes a description and schedule of the event or events, a copy of the contract between the petitioner and the performer, and evidence supporting the claim of cultural uniqueness. Such evidence may include affidavits, testimonials from experts, or published reviews demonstrating the uniqueness of the performer’s skills.

The AAO, an office of USCIS, handles appeals of administrative decisions made by USCIS, usually related to denials of nonimmigrant visas. The office states that it relies on case law from the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR) and Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) in order to keep up with current standards in immigration law, and it sends decisions it wants to have precedent to EOIR for publication.

The current case was an appeal by the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, California, which had petitioned for an Argentinean musical group to come to the U.S. for about six weeks. The petitioner described the group as an ensemble of seven musicians playing a fusion of klezmer music, a style that originated in Jewish communities in Eastern Europe, influenced by Latin and South American styles, such as tango and traditional Argentinian folk music. The Center produced letters from a music professor, a performance director at a musical center, and an executive director of a performing arts organization, all of whom attested to the group’s unique blend of traditional Jewish and Latin musical styles.

USCIS denied the petition on November 10, 2009, finding that the petitioner did not meet the requirements for evidence to prove cultural uniqueness. USCIS sent the decision to the AAO, citing an “unusually complex or novel issue.” The only issue before the AAO was whether the Argentinean group’s program counted as “culturally unique.”

The AAO overruled the denial of the visa petition, finding that the group’s style qualified as “culturally unique.” The decision states that USCIS erred by focusing on the group’s musical influences, not on the nature of their performances. A performance need not be purely traditional to be culturally unique, the AAO stated, holding that fusions of traditional or cultural music forms may themselves be unique.

The United States immigration system can place obstacles before people seeking to do business or perform in America. To schedule a confidential consultation with a skilled and experienced Ohio immigration visa lawyer who can help you navigate the system, contact Gus Shihab online or at (800) 625-3404 today.