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In August, 1986, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) proposed new immigration regulations which threaten to prevent most new and relatively unknown foreign performers from playing in the U.S.

Under current immigration law, foreign performers must prove they are of “distinguished merit and ability” or have “preeminent status” in their field in order to obtain a visa to perform here. Until now, it has been left to individual INS adjudicators to determine whether or not specific performers or groups meet these criteria.

However, under the guise of standardizing the regulations, the INS has come up with a strict set of rules concerning the eligibility of foreign artists to obtain visas. Included in the criteria are evidence of national or international acclaim, extensive commercial successes, and high salaries. The effect of these new rules will be to prevent most lesser known foreign performers from entering the U.S.

Famous foreign bands like ACDC and Genesis will have no problem getting visas to play here. But the majority of musicians playing such non main-stream music as Jamaican reggae, African pop, European jazz, British Isles and Middle Eastern folk, Latin American Cancion, as well as underground British rock, will have an extremely difficult, if not impossible, time getting into the United States.

The INS always has had (and often abused) the power to keep foreign artists and performers out of the U.S. The difference now, if these new regulations are enacted, is that their power will be more clear-cut, well-defined, even greater, and considerably more difficult to get around.

Randall Grass, of Shanachie Records (a well-respected record company specializing in reggae) said “They really don’t know how stupid they are. They really think this is how to determine if people are notable. They don’t understand that the most important artist in the world might sell only 10,000 records.”

The one good thing about these proposed regulations is that they have not yet become law. The INS is still considering them and says it welcomes public comment. But unless the public know about them, they can’t comment on them. And the media have not yet brought this issue to the public’s attention.

Remember this — the Beatles and the Rolling Stones used to be “underground” British rock, and, had these regulations existed in 1964, they may never have made it to the United States.


THE SAN FRANCISCO BAY GUARDIAN, 11/5/86, “Slamming the door on culture,” by Derk Richardson, pp 1, 29+.