When you're a foreign dancer, gaining legal rights to work in the U.S. is a challenging process. It's especially difficult if you're petitioning to work as a freelance dancer without an agent or company sponsorship.
The process requires professional muscle along with plenty of resources and heart. "There's a real misnomer that it's super easy," says Neena Dutta, immigration attorney and president of Dutta Law Firm. "People need to educate themselves and talk to a professional."
Here are four things every foreign dancer who wants to work in the U.S. needs to know to build a freelance dance career here.
1. You'll need to show proof of an existing dance career.
To build a dance career in the U.S., non-resident dancers must already be working professionals with an impressive list of credits and opportunities for work awaiting them. Visa applications undergo a rigorous approval process that includes a microscopic look at your work.
Despite providing television footage, articles from the press and proof of income, professional dancer Charlotte Reardon still found it difficult to obtain a visa. She was repeatedly asked for more evidence to support her petition, and at one point, was forced to get a written letter from a journalist when the article mention without a photograph wasn't enough proof.
"Bottom line, it was a nightmare," she says. "They'll pick at anything they can until they can't pick any longer."
Even after receiving an approval, Dutta says that a visa can be revoked at the consulate level for not having enough high profile credits, insufficient evidence or any other reason. "We've definitely seen a rise in revocations," she says. "For whatever reason, sometimes rightly, most of the time wrongly, the consulate has the power to say, 'We don't think this person qualifies.' "
Elodie Giuge, Courtesy Reardon
2. Injuries could change your status.
Once you've been approved, you can only operate under the terms of that specific visa. If your circumstances happen to change, then your visa is no longer valid.
"People have to be extremely careful," Dutta says, mentioning that non-resident dancers don't have the luxury of picking up odd jobs like bartending. "Once you've violated the visa, it's very difficult to undo," she says.
Reardon, who's toured England, worked with Disney in Paris and with the Rockettes, had to start from scratch after a serious injury. "The moment I couldn't do my job is the moment my visa was no longer valid," she says. "Within a few months, I had to up and leave."
3. You'll need to hire legal support.
After losing her visa, Reardon took time to regroup in her home country of England. She was eventually able to rebuild her career and reapply for a new visa with the help of legal experts like Dutta.
"It's really rare for somebody to be able to file this by themselves," says Dutta. Legal expertise can also help you navigate issues like visa extensions, the impact of administration changes and green card processes.
Now working as a model, dance educator and posture consultant, Reardon was able to reposition from a performance visa to a consulting visa under Dutta's guidance.
4. Renewals will regularly cost thousands of dollars.
Visa filing fees alone are nearly $2000, and when legal fees are added, the cost becomes upwards of $7000.
"It does sort of skew towards the people whose family can afford it," Dutta says.
Reardon, who's had six visas over the span of her career, has spent over $35,000 total on visa-related expenses. She shares stories of friends who've given up their dance career in the U.S. because they've run out of steam and money. "The reason I've been able to stay in America is because I've made enough money to pay all the visa fees. And I have found it really worth my while to really hustle."
Reardon recommends a good dose of positivity and perseverance for this process. "Stay positive," she suggests. "Carry on. Don't stop."
For more information on U.S. visa requirements and costs, visit uscis.gov