Spike in O and P visa denials; USCIS working to address bad decisions/slow processing times

By Teresa Watanabe, Los Angeles Times

A big increase in the denials had prompted an outcry by Hollywood, the performing arts community and research institutions.

The nation’s immigration chief has launched a effort to quell the outcry from Hollywood and the performing arts community about a spike in visa denials, processing delays and requests for evidence to support their petitions to bring in leading foreign artists for U.S. performances.

In the last year, immigration attorneys across the nation have loudly complained about mounting roadblocks for performance visas from the California service center, which processes petitions for so-called O and P visas for artists and researchers of extraordinary ability.

The California service center’s denial rates for O visas, which apply to individuals, increased from 9.6% in the 2008 fiscal year to 19.6% this year. Denial rates for P visas, which apply to groups, jumped from 11.1% in 2008 to 26.8% this year. Requests for evidence also grew, from 16.2% of cases in 2008 to 37.5% for individual visas and from 21% to 44.3 % for group visas during that same period.

“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.”

Several immigration experts say the changes have already made a difference. Processing times are speeding up, and denials and requests for evidence seem to be declining, they say.


NYT: Students Spared Amid an Increase in Deportations


The Obama administration, while deporting a record number of immigrants convicted of crimes, is sparing one group of illegal immigrants from expulsion: students who came to the United States without papers when they were children.

In case after case where immigrant students were identified by federal agents as being in the country illegally, the students were released from detention and their deportations were suspended or canceled, lawyers and immigrant advocates said. Officials have even declined to deport students who openly declared their illegal status in public protests.

The students who have been allowed to remain are among more than 700,000 illegal immigrants who would be eligible for legal status under a bill before Congress specifically for high school graduates who came to the United States before they were 16. Department of Homeland Security officials said they had made no formal change of policy to permit those students to stay. But they said they had other, more pressing deportation priorities.

“In a world of limited resources, our time is better spent on someone who is here unlawfully and is committing crimes in the neighborhood,” John Morton, the head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said in an interview. “As opposed to someone who came to this country as a juvenile and spent the vast majority of their life here.”

Still, Republicans say the authorities should pursue all immigrants who are here illegally.