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Iranian Musicians Forced to Cancel U.S. Concerts Due to Trump Travel Ban

Variety logo Variety 2/2/2017 Gene Maddaus
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In 2015, Pallett — a popular Iranian fusion band — made a successful tour of the U.S., with shows in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and other cities. The group was planning another tour for this summer, but that’s now on hold due to President Trump’s ban affecting travel by citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries.

Venues are often booked months in advance, and it can also take months to get visas, says Shari Rezai, the group’s U.S. promoter.

“The process needs to happen now,” she says. Rezai still hopes the ban will be rescinded and she can get back to business, but the pace of events has left her feeling distressed. “We can’t believe this is happening in the USA. Every day is more bad news, more bad news. It’s just insane. It’s absolute insanity.”

Such feeling are common in the Iranian community, especially after National Security Advisor Michael Flynn announced that he was putting Iran “on notice.” But the concerns about the ease of travel go well beyond citizens of the seven restricted countries.

In Hollywood, one of the major concerns regards an underappreciated provision of Trump’s order, which suspended the visa interview waiver program. Before the order, holders of work visas could renew them through the mail. But the order suspended that program, meaning that foreign citizens — including A-list actors from countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia — must now schedule an in-person interview at a U.S. embassy.

“The schedules of these A-list actors are really tight,” said attorney Dora Komura, who said she has said one “quite famous and recognizable” Australian client who will have to travel outside the U.S. to renew his visa.

Such obstacles, if the waiver program is not reinstated, could pose delays for productions, said attorney Eileen Chun-Fruto. “It sends this message that the government trusts nobody at this point,” she said. “It’s affecting innocent people who have legitimate business reasons to travel.”

In the entertainment industry, the greatest immediate impact has been felt among Iranians, especially Iranian musicians. But as pilot season gets underway, casting directors may have second thoughts about casting actors from other Middle Eastern countries, for fear that those countries could be added to the list of restricted countries.

“It’s gonna have a big chilling effect on hiring,” says attorney Kate Raynor. “I have had a lot of calls from people that do casting, and they’re very concerned.”

Studios and production companies are used to getting expedited service. For O-1 visas, companies can pay a $1,225 fee to get a determination within two weeks. But with the interview waiver program suspended, Raynor worries that work at consular offices could slow down considerably.

“We won’t have the same ability to rush visas,” she said. “They’re already backlogged.”

Lorraine D’Alessio, who also handles immigration issues for the entertainment industry, says that some clients are getting closer scrutiny than they would have earlier, and it’s taking longer to get applications approved.

“There’s a tremendous amount of anxiety and fear,” she said.

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