It was nice – and out-of-character – of the New York Times to run an exposé of yet another foreign worker program (P-1B) on its front page this morning.
The headline was written to attract the eyes of music-lovers, not immigration policy specialists:
Orchestras on Tour: Names Strike False Note
The thrust of the Times story was that the players in many well-publicized visits of overseas orchestras had only the most tenuous contacts with the big name organizations listed on the programs.
There was, for instance, "The Dublin Philharmonic that played two years ago in nearly 50 towns? Mostly Bulgarians."
And "The 'Tschaikowski' St. Petersburg State Orchestra, which is scheduled for a major American tour next year? Even the man advertised as its principal guest conductor said he had never heard of it."
The article does not mention the words "foreign worker program" or "non-immigrant" or "P-1B" but if the reader examines the accompanying photograph of an immigration document, part of the list of the Dublin Orchestra's players, one can read the nationalities of the participants (mostly Bulgarian) and the visa class, all P-1. (P-1A is for athletes, P-1B for entertainers including musicians.)
P-1B classification, according to a USCIS publication:
...applies to you if you are coming to the United States temporarily to perform as a member of an entertainment group that has been recognized internationally as outstanding in the discipline for a sustained and substantial period of time . . .
At least 75 percent of the members of your group must have had a substantial and sustained relationship with the group for at least one year.
Your entertainment group must be internationally recognized, having a high level of achievement in a field evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition substantially above that ordinarily encountered.
The Times article casts serious doubts about both the 75 per cent rule, and the "high level of achievement" criteria, saying, for instance, that "the Moscow orchestra, as heard last year at a performance in the Bronx, would have had trouble matching up to a midlevel conservatory orchestra."
I am no music critic, but that sounds like a harsh assessment to this untrained ear.
Despite some of the exotic trappings of this article, including evidence of photo shopping a picture of the "Tschaikowski" St. Petersburg Orchestra against an opulent concert hall belonging to some other entity, the P-1B program has all the earmarks of other foreign-worker programs: low wages and bad working conditions and, of course, displacement of U.S. workers, a factor ignored in the piece.
As to working conditions, the overseas orchestras are typically doing one-night stands in relatively small communities, and one contract obtained by the Times allows "the orchestra to play up to 15 performances on consecutive days and travel 350 miles by bus on the day of a performance."
Think of that: six or seven hours in the bus before you start the day's work.
The article says: "industry figures critical of the one-night-stand tours say that Columbia Artists Management reaps big profits." Columbia is the promoter of the tours.
The P-1 program, like R-1 for religious workers, is a Department of Homeland Security-dominated guest worker program, as the J-1 exchange program is the State Department's program, and the various H programs belong to the Labor Department, with H-1B being for high-tech workers, H-2A for farm workers, and H-2B for low-skill, non-farm workers.
The FY 2009 admissions for both the P-1 athletes and the entertainers, often for short visits, totaled 54,432 according to Table 25 in the 2009 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics. The admissions figures for recent years have been around this level.
Recent CIS blogs and reports on other foreign worker programs include these: J-1, R-1, H1-B, H-2A, and H-2B.