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August 9, 2010; Source: Los Angeles Times | A number of California performing arts groups are mad as hell and are not going to take it anymore. What’s upsetting them are highly restrictive visa procedures that are preventing leading foreign artists from being allowed to perform in the United States. Some are also incurring costs associated with trying to speed up petitions that would allow guest artists into the country.

Among those hurt by problems with processing O and P visas issued to artists considered outstanding in their fields include cultural organizations that have had to forgo performances. For instance after immigration officials challenged whether klezmer and tango music met the requirement to be “culturally unique,” the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles had to cancel scheduled performances last year.

Similarly, visa challenges were raised for artists trying to enter the country to perform at a California festival honoring the Hindu goddess Durga, and by a Chicago opera company that wanted a Spanish singer and an African musical group to perform. The Los Angeles Times reports that the anger over these delays and denials has come to the attention of Alejandro Mayorkas, who heads the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. He’s now promising that visa reviews will be speedier and that there will be more consistency in judging the visa petitions. “We’ve been very focused on listening, learning and responding,” Mayorkas said. “The O and P visas were established by Congress with the understanding that the introduction into this country of talent from all over the world brings needed and desired diversity to our artistic and cultural landscape. We should adjudicate the petitions with that intention and spirit in mind.”

This pledge can’t come soon enough for some organizations. Chad Smith, the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s vice president of artistic planning, said his organization has had to pay an extra $1,000 per case for expedited visa processing. “The need for premium processing greatly impacted our bottom line,” he said. Looks like no more dancing around these concerns for the immigration service.—Bruce Trachtenberg