CEFTA -- Cultural Exchange Free Trade Agreement

This petition will be submitted to members of Congress and the Administration; initial submission has been made to Senators Snowe and Collins, but we are looking for additional signatures to make the next submission more effective.   We would like to see this issue addressed in upcoming immigration bills and considered for an international agreement.  PROPOSAL -------------- A Cultural Exchange Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) would permit temporary visits for the purposes of cultural exchange by acknowledged experts in traditional arts among countries participating in this agreement. It would seek to separate cultural exchange visits from commercial visits, by setting criteria to distinguish the two. Examples of such criteria might be: limited-time visits, income ceilings, and verifications of qualifications, which could be kept on file to make future visits easier. Cultural exchange would be facilitated by low visa fees, quick turnaround for approval of a visa, and flexibility for the visiting experts to add engagements without submitting contracts or dates for approval in advance. ---------------- Background and Current Situation 1. The USA is a multifaceted nation of citizens interested in their own and each other's cultural heritages; countries outside of the US are interested in American cultural traditions. 2. Expertise in these cultural heritages is concentrated in citizens of the countries to which those traditions belong. 3. Citizens and governments the world over can benefit from enhanced mutual understanding through cultural exchange, the mutual demonstration and teaching of cultural traditions. 4. Current U.S. visa requirements focus on commercial criteria, seeking to identify whether a visit involves work for hire. 5. Experts dedicated to the learning and propagation of these traditions are not focused primarily on commercial interests, but rather on enhancing appreciation and understanding of their cultural heritage. They deserve compensation for time and expenses incurred in demonstrating and teaching their traditions; however current visa restrictions prohibit all compensation without a work visa. Visits by those who have achieved name recognition and contractual touring opportunities are more commercial in nature, and are properly subjected to visa restrictions focusing on commerce. 6. An important component of family and community gatherings among immigrant populations in the US involves music and other cultural traditions from home countries. To take one of countless examples, a large percentage of immigrants to New England in the past 50 years have come from the Canadian Maritimes. Their strong cultural ties include bringing talented Canadian family and friends in for community dances, concerts, performances, and workshops. These cultural exchanges are severely handicapped by visa controls aimed exclusively at controlling commercial activity. Similar examples could be cited in many areas of the US involving Irish, Hispanic, Asian, African, and other ethnic groups whose communities are closely linked to cultural tradition. 7. Current visa regulations require a complete filing of contracts for engagements without opportunity to change plans after the filing; a minimum of 95 days advance notice are required for filing unless high fees are paid for expedited processing. . This requirement chokes off most small or informal exchanges of cultural expertise. 8. In addition to untenable scheduling requirements, visas are costly for normal processing and exorbitantly expensive ($1000) for rush processing. Cultural exchange often involves compensation which does not justify paying these fees. The costs and scheduling requirements not only unfairly restrict access to cultural exchange but also spawn under-the-table cultural exchanges by vacationing visitors. 9. Each of these vacationing experts risks serious repercussions from border guards in order engage in cultural exchange with interested citizens. A typical recent example of these repercussions involves an expert in the fiddling style of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, who was interrogated by U.S. border guards for four hours and then banned from the US for life. This fiddler had no written contracts or advance agreements regarding income to be earned, though she hoped for (and border guards acted on the presumption of) donations or modest compensation. Her one-week visit was to include visits with friends, violin repair from an American craftsman, and a few demonstrations, workshops, private lessons in homes and classrooms of Cape Breton fiddle style in cooperation with American musicians and instructors eager to work with her and have their students learn from her. A lifetime ban for both her and her driving companion is a serious blow to Americans who value her cultural expertise. Her activities were mostly arranged within a few months or weeks of her visit. This late and informal planning, typical of cultural exchange visits, is not permitted by current visa regulations, which permit no itinerary changes within 95 days of the visit. ----------------- Economic Impact The reason for restricting work for hire in commercial visits is to avoid allowing foreigners to supplant American workers. In the case of cultural exchange visits, the opposite impact can be seen. By increasing the appreciation for and interest in various cultural traditions, cultural exchange visits by experts in their field increases the market for American performers and teachers, and American venues, schools and vendors specializing in these traditions. In addition, cultural exchange visitors spend money locally, both for travel need and on goods and services that may not be available in their own country. Additional money may be spent locally by sponsoring organizations to facilitate the cultural exchange visit. ------------------ Security Concerns No security risks are anticipated as a result of CEFTA, for several reasons: 1. The professional duties of immigration officers and the FBI are to inspect and guard against the entry of visitors with criminal intent. Easing unfair restrictions on visits for cultural exchange purposes will focus more attention on real security risks. 2. Allowing flexible itineraries for cultural exchange experts is no more a security risk than in the case of P2 visas, for example, where itinerary changes are not tracked once the visa is approved. 3. The extensive time and dedication involved in becoming an expert in cultural traditions allows for neither the time nor the emptiness of soul required for an interest in terrorism or other serious criminal activities.

Sponsor

Ed Pearlman, performer and teacher specializing in Scottish and other styles; music columnist for Scottish Life magazine; owner 1991-2002 of Portland America Distributing (US distributor for recordings from Scotland, Atlantic Canada, Ireland, Brittany and Wales); director of Boston Scottish Fiddle Club 1981-1999; director of Celtic Festival at Boston's Hatch Shell 1987-1995; http://www.edpearlman.net

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