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O-VISA Act Would Give More Oversight to Unions in Hiring Foreign Workers

The House of Representatives recently passed a bill that, if it were to become law, would give unions in the entertainment industry the power to determine how many foreign workers would be hired.

Crains New York Business reported that the O-VISA (Oversee Visa Integrity with Stakeholder Advisories) Act would give unions more oversight in the O-1B visa process. The bipartisan bill was introduced in 2015 by Mimi Walters, a Republican from California, and Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat from New York. Unions applauded the bill, stating that jobs in the entertainment industry have gone to foreign workers for far too long.

An O-1B visa allows a foreign worker with an “extraordinary ability in the arts or extraordinary achievement in motion picture of television industry,” according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Although actors, dancers and musicians usually apply for this visa, this is also open to stagehands, makeup artists and set designers. It costs $1,225 to apply and can take only 15 days to attain the visa — a shorter time frame than the application process for other visas.

In addition, those applying for the visa must obtain a letter or opinion from their respective labor unions (Directors Guild of America for directors, Screen Actors Guild for actors, or the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees for those who work backstage). The union must then provide its opinion of the applicant, who in turn sends the letter from the union to federal immigration officials, who make the determination. Under the bill, the Secretary of Homeland Security would be required to provide copies of the government’s decisions on the applications to the respective unions. Rep. Nadler said the bill would offer more transparency, as unions complained that some applicants removed unfavorable opinions from their letters in order to obtain the visa.

While unions said this bill would preserve jobs for American talent, New York immigration attorney Kerry Bretz says, “This bill would deny non-citizens not just the opportunity to showcase their talents, but the opportunity to contribute to the economy and the entertainment industry.”

The experienced attorneys of Bretz & Coven, LLP are adept at assisting internationally prominent individuals in the entertainment industry in navigating the O visa process. To make an appointment, call (212) 267-2555 at its Manhattan office, or (732) 313-0075 at its New Jersey office.

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