Navigating the Visa & Taxation Process for Artists from Abroad

by Kevin Bitterman

in Interviews,Tools & Research

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On Tuesday, June 5,  Jonathan Ginsburg, artist immigration attorney and author of the visa section of, along with his fellow artist immigration and entertainment attorneys Brian Taylor Goldstein, Andi Floyd and Robyn Guilliams, will host the Leadership Teleconference Navigating the Visa and Taxation Process for Artists from Abroad.

This teleconference is $35 for Member Theatres and University Affiliates, and will feature insights  on how demystify the visa and taxation process for artists. An increasing number of U.S.-based theatres are working with international artists and presenting work from abroad. Understanding the difference between each type of visa and how to obtain them, along with the potential tax obligations facing international groups and performers, will help you save time, money and a lot of frustration! The deadline for registration is Wednesday, May 30, so register now.

The four of them took a moment out of their busy schedules to answer some of our questions over email – read on, and then join us on June 5!

Who is FTM Arts Law?
Robyn Guilliams: That’s top secret. I could tell you but then I’d have to kill you.
Brian Goldstein:
FTM Arts Law provides comprehensive legal, management, and consulting services exclusively to the arts and entertainment community. We like to think of FTM Arts Law as a law firm for people who hate attorneys, but love the arts. ( My mother likes to say we don’t practice “real” law, but my therapist is dealing with those issues!)

What first drew you to the field of immigration issues for foreign artists and arts professionals?
Jonathan Ginsburg: By sheer happenstance, as a younger associate at a large law firm, I got stuck with an immigration matter, handled it successfully, and thus became the firm’s immigration “expert.” I liked the subject matter, and had just decided to become a full-time immigration lawyer when Congress passed an immigration reform bill that inadvertently created very substantial barriers to the ability of foreign artists to come to the U.S. Long story short, I ended up helping to form a broad-based arts and entertainment coalition that went back to Congress for needed changes to the law. In the process, I spent almost a year of my life negotiating with organized labor what are now the primary arts-related visa classifications (O and P).
Andi Floyd: I joined the firm right after I graduated college. I had degree in Creative Writing and a minor in International Relations. I really had no desire to pursue law, but I was getting kicked off of my parents’ health insurance and needed a full-time job with benefits. I really just fell in love with it and it was a way to still do some creative writing.

Why do so many petitioners fear the visa petition process and how can they overcome the “panic attacks” while preparing their petitions?
Robyn: Bourbon.
Brian: The same reason arts professionals tend to fear contracts, licensing, taxes, business planning, and other topics that bring on panic attacks–negative reinforcement, poor planning, and poor training. Artists and arts professionals are constantly led to believe, in ways both subtle and overt, that these topics are just too complex for them to understand and are unwarranted distractions. As a result, artists and arts professionals do not receive the same exposure and training in the “business” of the arts as do professionals in other industries. When the time comes to address these issues, the result is like forcing someone to speak in a language they have never learned. The key to overcoming the “fear” is the knowledge that there is nothing a lawyer or an accountant can do that an artist cannot do equally as well, but with more creativity. Its simply a matter of learning the basic concepts. Don’t tell me you can write an opera or direct a play and you can’t read a contract or complete a visa petition. Drafting a visa is not unlike directing a play–you need to know your audience. It just so happens that, in this case, your audience is a 10-year old child with a short attention span who has been raised by wolves and has never seen the inside of a theater.

I find that FTM Arts Law approaches the visa petition process with an honest sense of humor, encouragement, and a solid understanding of the arts and entertainment field—what keeps you going?
Jonathan: We have a sense of mission, and of devotion to the arts and entertainment fields. We have as much experience as, if not more than, anyone in the field, and our work is informed by our knowledge of other areas of the law relevant to arts and entertainment. Plus, there’s that sense of humor…essential to maintaining a sense of perspective in this crazy line of work!
Robyn: Bourbon.

What was the last great play you attended?
Brian: As I represent a number of playwrights and authors and all of their work is “great”, I’m going to duck this one. However, I finally got a chance to see War Horse last month and loved it. I’m also looking forward to seeing One Man Two Guvnors next week.
Robyn: Sweeney Todd at the Adelphi, two weeks ago. LOVED Imelda Staunton!
Jonathan: Macbeth, at the Lyceum on Broadway, with Patrick Stewart.
Andi: The last great play I attended was part of the 1st Irish Festival last year in New York. It was a one-woman show called A Night With George, and was about a woman from Belfast who, after a long night of drinking, steals a life-sized cardboard cutout of George Clooney, takes it back to her apartment and spends the rest of the evening telling her life story. It was very funny and moving, as she recounted stories about living in Northern Ireland at the time of the Good Friday Agreement.

What moment in theatre history would you time-travel to see?
Brian: 1696 to see opening night of “The Relapse” by John Vanbrugh, with the role of Lord Foppington performed by Colley Cibber. (Yes, I am a theater geek!)
Robyn: Anything with Ethel Merman!

What would be your 140-character Twitter pitch as to why our Member Theatres should tune in to your upcoming teleconference?
Jonathan: Need an actor or crewmember from abroad? Check out TCG’s upcoming telephone seminar on US immigration procedures. Be the windshield, not the bug.
: FTM Arts Law will make the visa process fun and understandable. Empowerment awaits at the TCG Visa Teleconference.
Robyn: We’ll make you laugh! (Because we’ll be drunk on bourbon.)

Andrea (“Andi”) Floyd: Andi graduated from Virginia’s elite Governor’s School for Government and International Relations in 2000, where she was a member of the Improv Team and the We the People Constitutional Debate Team, placing 8th in the nation. Her many theatrical credits include being selected as part of the All-Star Cast at the 2000 Virginia One-Act Competition in Virginia Beach.
She received her undergraduate degree from George Mason University in 2004, obtaining a B.A. (with honors) in English and a minor in Government. Much to Brian’s delight, she attended Cambridge University during the Summer of 2003, where she studied British Literature. She was also a member of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars.
Andi has been with Fettmann, Tolchin & Majors, P.C. since 2004 as both a paralegal and the manager of the FTM Arts Law team. As a result of her impressive understanding of forms, procedures and regulations, and an almost unearthly proficiency in crisis diffusion and management, not to mention a wisdom far beyond her years, her phone number can be found on the speed dial of some of the most significant managers, agents, producers, artists and arts administrators in the world. Andi is married with a dog; a die-hard Red Sox, Redskins and GMU Patriots fan; a creative writer; and a Libra who enjoys the beach and can’t stand the cold.

Jonathan Ginsburg: Jonathan was admitted to the New York Bar in 1978 and the District of Columbia Bar in 1981. He received his undergraduate degree from Yale University (B.A., cum laude, 1973) and law degree from Stanford University (J.D., 1976). He entered private practice in New York, then joined the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Division as a trial attorney. Eventually, he rejoined the private sector, first becoming a member of Ginsburg, Feldman and Bress, chartered, and then became a principal in Fettmann, Tolchin & Majors, PC.
Jonathan maintains a national immigration practice, concentrating on business-oriented, work-related immigrant and non-immigrant benefits for a wide array of clientele specializing in immigration matters relating to the arts, entertainment, motion picture and television productions and athletics. In 1991, Jonathan served as counsel to the Broad Arts and Entertainment Coalition formed in response to the dangers posed by the Immigration Act of 1990, helping to draft the laws pertaining to the present O and P non-immigrant visa classifications for artists and entertainers. He remains a nationally-known expert in these classifications, together with their permanent residence counterparts, and has twice been named one of Washington, DC’s “Best Immigration Lawyers” by Washingtonian magazine.

Brian Taylor Goldstein, Esq.: Named one of Washington DC’s, “Best Entertainment Lawyers” by Washingtonian Magazine, Brian Taylor Goldstein is a partner in the law firm of FTM Arts Law and managing director of the arts management and consulting firm of FTM International. With offices in both the Washington, DC area and New York City, Brian provides legal, consultation and management services to clients in all areas of entertainment and the performing arts with regard to issues such as licensing, contracts, commissions, collaborations, recordings, business formation and practices, strategic and career planning and the touring and immigration needs of foreign artists and performers. In addition to being the legal advisor to North American Performing Arts Managers and Agents (NAPAMA), US legal advisor to the International Artist Managers Association (IAMA) and Association of British Orchestras (ABO), Brian regularly teaches workshops and seminars for artists, managers and presenters, is a frequent speaker at national and regional arts conferences, serves as an adjunct professor of arts management and serves on a number of boards and committees of national, state and regional arts organizations.

Robyn Guilliams: Robyn earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Louisville in 1986, obtaining a Bachelor of Music Theory concentrating in piano, flute and composition, and her law degree from the University of Maryland (J.D., 2004). She is a member of the New York State Bar, the Virginia Bar and the District of Columbia Bar.
With an extensive background in arts management and administration, Robyn’s professional career has included: positions with the American Symphony Orchestra League, the Richmond Symphony, the William Morris Agency, and most recently, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, where she served as the Assistant Artistic Administrator for the National Symphony Orchestra. Robyn’s duties at the NSO included: programming the Orchestra’s festivals, its pops, family and summer series, and its chamber music series, as well as negotiating and preparing contracts for the NSO’s many guest conductors and guest artists.

Kevin Bitterman is the Associate Director of Artistic & International Programs at TCG.