Even Dance Studios are Being Harmed by Harsh Immigration Policies

When the popular, celebrity-fueled reality show “Dancing with the Stars” debuted in 2005, it sparked an instant resurgence of interest in classic dances like the foxtrot, tango, and salsa. Dance schools all over the nation rushed to meet the increased demand for lessons by hiring professional ballroom instructors, many of whom were foreign nationals. In recent years, however, dance studios have found that even foreign national dance instructors are being viewed as a threat to ‘making America great.’

Historically, dance studios often turned to the O-1 nonimmigrant visa category for individuals with extraordinary ability or achievement to bring in ballroom dance instructors. In years past, O-1 petitions typically were adjudicated within a matter of months. But now, these business owners are finding that the anti-immigrant policies of the Trump Administration have drawn out processing times, and that highly skilled immigrants are being shut out of the country as a result. Immigration advocates grew concerned after a recent review of data from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA). It showed that the average visa processing time increased by 46 percent from 2016 (the last full year before Trump took office) and 2018.

Federal records obtained by the Associated Press also evidence an increase in O-1 denials since 2017. Immigration advocates point to Trump’s nationalist policies, such as his Buy American and Hire American executive order, signed in April 2017, that have influenced officers at the USCIS. As a result, dance studios across the nation have experienced a shortage of experienced ballroom instructors.

Chris Sabourin, who operates an Orange, Connecticut, location of the popular Fred Astaire Dance Studio chain, told the Associated Press that she tried finding a dance instructor in the U.S. to no avail. So, she started looking for talent overseas, and spent thousands of dollars in attorney fees to bring in a highly skilled instructor from Greece. But, the instructor was detained upon arriving at New York’s Kennedy Airport, and was sent back home. “It’s affecting our business, definitely,” she told the Associated Press, a sentiment echoed across the country by other dance studio owners, who have been unable to retain top talent due to immigration problems.

The immigration concerns of ballroom dance studios are a microcosm of the headaches industries across the United States are facing, due to the crackdown on immigrants. Anti-immigrant policies don’t protect U.S. workers. To the contrary, they drive away talent, innovation, and entrepreneurship. [See Ballroom Dancers Say Immigration Clampdown Hurting Business by Susan Haigh, AP News, 02.Dec.2019.]


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