P-3 Visa for Culturally Unique Artists and Entertainers09 May 2018
There are a number of different visa options available to artists and entertainers seeking to perform in the United States. The P-3 visa is available to both groups and individuals “for the purpose of developing, interpreting, representing, coaching, or teaching a unique or traditional ethnic, folk, cultural, musical, theatrical, or artistic performance or presentation.”
Culturally Unique Defined
In the simplest terms, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) largely views “culturally unique” as synonymous with traditional, or at a minimum, historically tied to a particular culture in some fashion. This means artists qualifying for P-3 visas primarily practice some type of traditional art form. This includes such varied acts as Irish folk dancers, Scottish bagpipers, Chinese acrobats, Japanese Kabuki performers, Spanish Flamenco dancers, French chanson singers, and Indian Bharatanatyam dancers, just to name a few.
Traditional Does Not Necessarily Mean Ancient
P-3 performers can often trace the history of their art form back hundreds and even thousands of years, but that is not always the case. Traditional does not mean ancient. For example, Mbube is a culturally unique form of acapella singing from South Africa. Although its origins can be traced to work camps of the 1920s, the art form itself did not gain a widespread cultural foothold until the 1980s and 1990s with the rise of artists such as Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Despite this relatively short history, Mbube has been recognized as a culturally unique art form, allowing Mbube groups to potentially qualify as P-3 artists.
Blending of Cultures to Create Art Can Qualify for P-3
The USCIS allows for the blending of cultures to create a new, unique art form. In a 2012 decision by the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO), the USCIS determined that a group of Argentinean performers that combined klezmer (Jewish music of Eastern Europe) with Latin and South American influences qualified as culturally unique. The AAO concluded that a mixture of different traditions, practices, or styles could be combined to create something new. The law was flexible enough to allow for this new style to be something that is culturally unique to a “group of persons.” In this case, the group of persons is South Americans born to Eastern European immigrants with a distinct Jewish Argentine culture and identity.
Merging the Traditional with the Contemporary
Along similar lines, many culturally unique artists combine traditional art with other more contemporary influences. This is does not preclude the artist from qualifying as culturally unique. As long as the traditional art form’s influences are reflected in the final performance, the argument can be made that the artist or group in question qualifies for the P-3 visa.
P-3 visas are one avenue of allowing culturally unique artists to perform in the United States. While this can mean performances of older, more traditional art forms, the category also allows for performances by artists who blend and merge various cultures and styles to create new forms of unique art. This is what helps to make the U.S. such a great nation: our laws and court decisions recognize the importance of sharing and learning about cultures through art forms from around the world that educate and illuminate all of us to foster appreciation and encourage richer and more vibrant cultural blending.
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