Basic Requirements and Forms
For aliens requiring a visa, all consulates have core procedures in common, but the specific application process varies from consulate to consulate, and procedures are in constant flux due to security concerns. It is best to check the consular website first, for additional information on application hours, turnaround times, special documentary requirements, applicable fees, and means of paying them.
Beneficiaries are no longer required to present original approval notices at the visa interviews, as clarified in an update to the consular processing manual issued in September 2011 (find the latest support for this policy for O visas here, and for P visas here). Although the consular officer has electronic access to a full copy of an approved petition, it is usually helpful for the beneficiary to bring a hard copy to the interview. As soon as the petitioner receives the original I-797 approval notice from USCIS, a copy should be sent to the artist or group representative abroad. The petitioner should also send along a full copy of the underlying petition submitted to USCIS, to be available should the consulate have further questions. Also, if a Request for Evidence (RFE) was involved in the petition, send the artist a copy of the RFE and response.
In 2010, DOS implemented a new visa application form, the DS-160. The DS-160 incorporates the prior application forms (the DS-156, DS-157 and DS-158) into one comprehensive form. Among other things, it asks for a list of all countries the applicant has visited in the past 10 years; the applicant’s 2 prior employers not counting the present employer; all professional/social/charitable organizations, past and present, to which the applicant contributed or belong, or for which the applicant worked; and the name, address and telephone number of the applicant’s secondary school. Applicants should prepare for the DS-160 in advance of completing the form online.
In May 2017, DOS adopted a new, supplemental questionnaire to further vet U.S. visa applicants during consular processing. This questionnaire, form DS-5535, seeks a visa applicant's prior passport numbers, five years of social media handles, all email addresses and phone numbers, names and dates of birth of all siblings, children, and spouses/domestic partners, as well as addresses, employment and travel history over the previous 15 years. According to the State Department, the questionnaire would not be administered routinely, but rather when a consular officer determines "that such information is required to confirm identity or conduct more rigorous national security vetting." The questionnaire was approved on May 23 for a period of 180 days, at which time it could be renewed.
The current application fee for O or P visas is $190 per applicant, though this does not include any reciprocity fees. The base application fee is paid prior to the appointment and it is critical to check the consular post’s specific requirements regarding fee payment. Reciprocity fees, if applicable, are paid in cash on the day of the interview.
In general, each applicant should have a passport valid for at least six months beyond the end of the proposed classification period. Alternatively, the passport must at least be valid for six months beyond the applicant's anticipated initial period of stay in the U.S. in the status requested. How does the consulate know what the applicant anticipates in this regard? The applicant states when s/he next plans to depart the U.S. on the DS-160. Thus, while normally the applicant would put down the entire classification period, if there is a passport validity problem, or if the applicant knows that s/he will be leaving the U.S. before the end of the classification period, the applicant can enter an earlier intended date of departure.
If the applicant previously has had a visa application refused or a visa canceled, consider contacting an immigration lawyer before proceeding, as you should if the applicant answers "yes" to any of the security related questions in Parts 13 and 14.
In this regard, do NOT be surprised how many applicants in fact do have an arrest, if not a conviction, in their backgrounds, which information is in fact already available to the consulate. While obtaining waivers for aliens convicted of certain types of offenses can be difficult and time-consuming, those who lie on the application and then get caught by the computer system are almost automatically rendered inadmissible, for a long time.
Every consulate has the capacity to “finger scan” the index fingerprints of visa applicants. The hardware is the same as that used by CBP in the US-Visit program at ports of entry and preflight inspection facilities. With finger scanning at consular posts and on entry to the U.S., posts are able to identify many more visa applicants with potential grounds of inadmissibility, and CBP is able to confirm that the same person who applied for the visa is the one using it. All data from posts are available to CBP inspectors in real time, so the system has the information long before the artist applies for entry.