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It’s Harder Than Ever for Artists to Get Visas to the United States. But an Army of Volunteer Lawyers Wants to Help

Syrian refugee Baraa Haj Khalaf, (C), holds the American flag as she walks with her husband Abdulmajeed (L) and father Khaled Haj Khalaf as she leaves O'Hare International Airport on February 7, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. Baraa Haj Khalaf and her family were previously banned from entering the United States after President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning immigrants from entering the country. The Justice Department faced tough questioning as it urged a court of appeals to reinstate President Donald Trump's travel ban targeting citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries -- put on hold by the courts last week. / AFP / Joshua LOTT (Photo credit should read JOSHUA LOTT/AFP/Getty Images)

Artists coming to the US from outside the country often need to go through an onerous visa process with little direction or guidance. But the New York-based nonprofit Center for Art Law is stepping in to help those in need.

Later this month, the organization will hold the first of two sessions aimed at providing information and resources to foreign-born artists who need to obtain or renew visas.

The Visual Artists’ Immigration Clinic, as it is being called, is co-organized by Angela Dimery, a fellow at the Center. In an email to Artnet News, she said the program was launched after the organization noticed an uptick in requests for assistance regarding this particular issue.

“Some of our interns have demonstrated interest in serving artists in a more practical manner,” Dimery said, noting that the Center, which focuses on research, works with immigration attorneys and does not offer legal advice.

Barbara Kruger, Art Against the Immigration ban poster (2017). Courtesy of the Guggenheim.
Barbara Kruger, Art Against the Immigration ban poster (2017). Courtesy of the Guggenheim.

The goal of the clinic is to introduce artists to attorneys and to provide information about the broad process of visa application. The hope is that individuals can link up with experts who may then usher them through the process, which can take six to 12 months.

Immigration law can be a particularly thorny subject, and many artists fall into the category of the O-1 visa (known as the “genius” visa), for which applicants must demonstrate some sort of “extraordinary ability” to qualify.

“The beauty of the O-1 visa is that it’s not country specific,” said Teresa Woods Peña, a volunteer attorney for the Visual Artists’ Immigration Clinic.

The internationally-renown Center for Art Law located in Brooklyn and the Clinic is being hosted by the DUMBO-based New York Foundation for the Arts—which has a dedicated program to help foreign-born artists find business resources in New York—it is open to artists throughout New York City.

In the past six months, there have been multiple instances in which visual artists have struggled to obtain visas to visit the US.

In November 2019, a group of artists whose work was on view at MoMA PS1 were prevented from entering the country due to visa restrictions.

That same month, the artist Zehra Doğan, who was jailed in Turkey for allegedly having ties to an anti-government group, was denied a visa to visit New York for the opening of a show at the Drawing Center.”

The Visual Artists’ Immigration Clinic will be held at the New York Foundation for the Arts at 20 Jay Street, Suite 740; Thursday, January 30, 2020, 6 p.m.–8 p.m. and Tuesday, March 24, 6 p.m.–8 p.m.; $10 participation fee.

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