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pianoman84

B2 visa for short summer music program?

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Hello,

I am planning to start a 10-day educational summer music festival, in partnership with a college.  The festival will be split into two main programs; the first will be for younger students (10 and up, traveling with their parents), and the second will be for serious conservatory-level music students.  The younger program will be more of a music festival / tourism hybrid, and will cater exclusively to Chinese students and their families.  The upper-level program will be focused more intensively on music education, and will recruit domestically and internationally (this program will also have a large base of students from China).  The college will issue an invitation letter that the students can bring to their visa interview.  

My problem is that I cannot figure out what category of Visa is the most appropriate for these students.  At first I thought B2 would work since the time period is so short.  "Short courses of study" are included in the approved list of B2 activities, however the study is supposed to be "incidental" to the tourism part and not the main reason for the trip.  This is not really true in the case of my program.  The B2 visa also covers "conferences, conventions, and participation in social organizations", however I am not sure that this music festival would count as a conference or convention.  On the other hand, issuing an F-1 visa for a 10-day program seems like overkill.  Does anyone have any recommendations for what I should do in this situation?  Any feedback would be much appreciated!

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B2 is the correct visa class....the real challenge will be how many of them actually qualify for and obtain the visa...the invitation letter will carry no weight insofar as each student/applicant being able to overcome the presumption of immigrant intent. Such a letter will only show why each student/applicant wants to go to the US, not why they would leave.  

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Excellent point, thank you - on the topic of immigrant intent, since some of the students will be younger (10-16) and will need to be accompanied by a parent, would it be wise to advise them not to come with both parents? Since if one parent remains at home it gives the other parent and student more of a reason to return home?  Also, would the parent and student attend the same visa interview or separate interviews?

Edited by pianoman84

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I realize that... my point was to ask whether it looks relatively worse if both parents go with the student, not to say that one parent staying home is a surefire method to overcome 214b.  So in your opinion, what are the most important factors to show lack of immigrant intent?

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If I had the magic answer, I could hang a shingle advertising same outside an office space and make enough $$$$ in 6 months to retire a multi millionaire  ...the answer can generally only be discovered by personal interview....one parent, two parents...who  is leaving what job, how many other kids do they have..do I get the impression that their application is just a ruse in order to escape a miserable life...that is why there is no paper-based answer...the main problem is the background of the visa cheats who have gone before them...and that there is NO way to guarantee compliance with our laws...so a significant amount of trust is being considered...never mind any 'feel good' issues about this cultural exchange or opportunity....who is the organizer?? has this taken place before? In similar cases I've dealt with before, I often told the organizer that if even one person fails to return, the program ends for all future applicants...until everyone returns...like it or not. Excuses will not be accepted. When I was working in one country (unnamed) we used to see music 'groups' seeking visas to go sing and dance in the US...first thing I did was gather them all up outside and have them perform to music, then walk through the group and pick out the obvious imposters (those who were not singing but only mouthing the words or who could not dance but were trying to follow others visually..) then go back and interview whoever was left standing often reducing the number even further...once, while in a S American country, I had such a group that began with 42 people and by the time the group was culled and interviewed, they were down to a trio! They begged and pleaded for others to join but we stood firm, then during their whining, we discovered (not surprisingly) that two of the three had sold spaces in the group to those who wanted visas for other purposes...those two were found ineligible for alien smuggling! The last person standing obviously no longer had a valid reason to go...groups are tricky is the bottom line.

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And proving a negative is challenging...since our laws that regulate adjudication of B2 (and some other types of NIVs) presume that every applicant is going to the US to stay until they convince a CO otherwise. 

No piece of paper nor promises of any kind or source can do the convincing....it is often a blend of factors...are the parents reasonably well off might be one starting point...for the older ones, their current course of study along with their success (or lack of it) might come into play...do any have sons/daughters or siblings who vanished after getting a B2 visa (that will work against that person understandably)?

If I were the CO, I would challenge each applicant to convince me they are indeed studying music in some serious way rather than just having decided to begin the day before their interview....I would background each parent thoroughly, interview everyone over 14 and some of the younger ones (for different reasons) as well

If visas were issued, I would want to see everyone's passport or them personally when they returned...otherwise, any future groups will be placed on hold pending confirmation of a 100% compliance rate by the first group. I did not accept less. Anyone not returning I would turn over to Diplomatic Security for further investigation. If the non-compliance rate was high (i,.e., more than 2 people who stayed), I would turn your name over to DS as well. 

It may sound a bit harsh, but experience, both my own and of colleagues, has had some sobering results and lessons learned...one of those lessons was 'take nothing at face value' and 'do not cave to emotional reasons for approving an application'...that might mean that not everyone gets to go...but that's just the way it goes. 

Any wheedling, begging, promising or letters from some congressman or senator would only weaken the situation, not improve it. There is just too much nonsense going on in the world and for me at least, being thorough paid dividends. Sorting out the good from bad is no mean feat...it is (was) quite challenging and I am sure that not everyone who stood in front of my window left happy...but my job was not to make them happy...my job was to adjudicate according to the law and my own set of ethics and never waiver from that focus, no matter who yelled at me, threatened me or wrote me nasty letters.

My own success rate of picking out the malafide from the bonafide was quite high and just about every CG for whom I worked backed my decision making and approach fully. 

I cannot say with certainty what the current approach is, given the rather odd state of affairs in Washington...

 

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Thank you - that’s very insightful to hear from someone who was actually involved in the adjudication process.  From my limited experience and knowledge about visa interviews though, it sounds like consular officers often do not have the time to conduct the kind of thorough background checks you recommend, and therefore have to make a judgement call in just a few minutes.  That’s the reason I wanted to be as clear as possible in the invitation letter, although from what you said that might not make much difference.  I just want to be sure that the officer at least understands what the program is before he makes a decision.  I would imagine that most non-musicians, when they hear the words ‘music festival’ (which is what we call these types of programs), they think of something like Woodstock or Coachella and not an educational program.

Just to clarify, in the case of the music program I am proposing, the students are not traveling and applying for visas as a group; rather, each is applying to the program individually.  Not sure if that makes any difference to what you said so far.

Thanks for your perspective - I certainly appreciate the difficulty of the job and have respect for our immigration laws.  My goal here is to provide as clear a picture to the officer as possible in the short interview time so that they can make the most informed decision.

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While a letter explaining the program may help set the backdrop as to what is supposed to take place, etc, the major challenge is for each applicant, child or adult, to convince the CO that they will abide by the terms of a B2 visa...the 'backgrounding' I mentioned is not a time consuming process...it requires a bit of work by the Fraud unit in a consulate...I would ask/assign someone there to make some phone calls taking info from the applications (DS 160) and spot check the adults' place of work, etc...and do a few other things that might help build a framework from which to begin the interview....this method works well because in general. most bona fide travelers will be able to easily answer questions about their own background...by having some of this in front of me, I can compare apples and oranges faster...if an applicant struggles to come up with basic answers to certain questions, or those answers are way off the mark from what my staff found out earlier, well, that person is going to get some attention....I also mentioned that I would want to interview a few of the kids who are younger than 14...especially the 8-10 year olds....why? Because child smuggling is a problem in many parts of the world...often a parent or two has wandered off to the US with a B2 visa and now wants their kids to join them, but know that the kids cannot just blurt out that their parents have been on 'vacation' in the US for 18 months...that won't work! Instead, they show up at the interview with an alleged parent who often turns out to be their grandmother or aunt...all I had to do to figure this out was ask a couple of simple easy questions of the child, then ask a very direct question, such as, 'where is your mom?"..when they answered 'Miami' the game was over...or I would ask,'where is your grandmother?' and they point to the woman next to them...who claimed she was his/her mom....oops....you cannot believe how many people I caught attempting to get visas for 'family reunification' purposes....sadly, it happens...so my pre-interview spot checks give me some extra info I can use to build a better picture and ask better, but narrowly focused questions that will help me decide more accurately. I may sound as though I was paranoid - I was just very careful when dealing with under 18 applicants, because I have seen the results of sloppy decision making. 

My responses are not an aspersion on you nor the program - just telling you that the process may not be as easy as you hope or believe, because the bad apples have just made things tougher all around...and because the US does not have anywhere near adequate border controls or other regulation of overstays....and as a result, I considered myself and colleagues as the first line of defense....and that sometimes meant being perceived as a hard nose (or other less flattering terms)...but my approach reduced the chance of errors...did some bonafide folks get denied during my career....probably...did I issue to some malafide ones....I like to think rarely...but I have no way of getting that information...but I did do spot checks on many of my issuances...and for the most part, the compliance rate was fairly high...but no CO is perfect and our system is not either...over the course of my career, I did track down a few overstays of mine in tandem with ICE and INS (the old days!) and got most of them out of the US..it was hard....I've been instrumental in having more than one immigration attorney being disbarred for visa fraud and a few USCs placed in hot water for marriage fraud and some other things related to visas...but I was pretty focused...probably much more than many...but I was considered a very fine interviewer, was frequently given very challenging cases to resolve and trained a bunch of COs as well....anyway, good luck to you.

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