James Stevenson is a well-known British guitarist based in London who has come to the U.S. to perform at least four to five times yearly since 1979. However, Stevenson might not return because of the recent proposed fee increase on the visa he needs.
“I’m never coming back to America to play unless someone else pays for my visa,” said Stevenson.
On Jan. 4, USCIS released a proposed rule that would raise the filing fees for the O-1 visa from $460 to $1055. O-1 visa is a three-year work permit for foreigners with outstanding talents in science, education, business, sports, and the arts. Each year, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) issues more than 10,000 O-1 visas.
Stevenson said the fee is already high enough for international artists. On top of the application fee, Stevenson said he also needed to pay hundreds of dollars for union fees and thousands of dollars for legal fees.
“Everyone over here is talking about just not going to America anymore,” said Stevenson.
Frank Hentschker, the executive director at Martin Segal Theater Center of the City University of New York (CUNY), has been working with more than 2,000 international artists for the theater department at CUNY. Hentschker said he’s concerned that fewer international artists will come to the U.S. because of the drastic increase, and it will damage the art industry.
“We feel this is restricting and restrictive and takes away from the joy and celebration of life and a city and country,” said Hentschker.
USCIS noted on its website that 96% of its funding comes from the visa filing fee, so it has to raise it to help cover its operational costs.
USCIS opened a 60-day public comment period for this proposed fee increase. About 8,000 comments were submitted, which were overwhelmingly in opposition to the increase.
Michael Turansick, the supervisory policy and practice counsel at American Immigration Lawyers Association, said in an email that by law, the agency needs to review all the comments submitted before publishing its final rule. Turansick estimated that USCIS will not be able to do that until around the end of this year, and the final fee increase rule could take effect in early 2024.