US Visas for Cuban Artists

US Visas for Cuban Artists

By Toni Mendoza

Applying for a US visa can be a lengthily and tedious process for anyone, but for international musicians, especially for Cubans, it can become a headache. International musicians must deal with U.S. immigration protocols, visa requirements, rising restrictions, massive paperwork and costly fees.

The political tension between Cuba and the U.S. automatically classifies Cuban musicians as employees of the Cuban government and members of the communist party. Cuban musicians are subjected to racial profiling and are perceived as criminals, or terrorist conspiring against the U.S. government. Cuba is one of four countries on the U.S. government’s “state sponsors of terrorism” list, who allegedly supported rebels in Colombia and Spain and denies any extradition of U.S. citizens wanted by U.S. authorities.

Bill Martinez an immigration attorney (1989-present) and a leading expert in U.S.-Cuba cultural exchanges and artists’ visas has helped several international artists to come to the U.S. to perform and share their love and passion for art. Martinez’s passion for law goes beyond seeking justice and democracy and fighting for people’s rights in a courtroom. He has produced, managed and co- founded several musical events such as: Audioslave: Live in Cuba; Stern Grove Festival; United Farm Workers Festival; Carnaval of San Francisco; C.U.B.A. Si; Music Bridges; Latino Entertainment Partners and Encuentro del Canto Popular amongst many other projects. Martinez says “to me cultural exchange is communication and if you block cultural exchange you block communication-only negative things can happen from lack of communication and that is why I do what I do”. According to Martinez, his mission is for international musicians and U.S. artist to mutually be able to exchange their art and bring people together through music.

Martinez latest triumph is Cuban folk singer Silvio Rodriguez who was granted a U.S. visa this year after repeatedly denials under the Bush administration. After 30 years since his last musical appearance in U.S. territory, Rodriguez will be performing throughout the U.S. including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago. Rodriguez’s songs are highly criticized for “idolizing” the Cuban revolution and criticizing the U.S. in his concerts. Last year, The State Department denied his entry to the U.S. According to Martinez, there is a security issue between both countries, but each country is also interested in protecting their own jobs of their own artists within their countries.

According to Martinez, the process is mechanical procedures, paperwork and it does take time to process; although, he points out that the process runs smoother if one can prove that one is an international artist coming into the U.S. with a legitimate purpose and set agenda. According to Martinez, it’s tough because each country must know who goes in and out. The process begins with a union writer stating to the American Federation of Musicians that the application has been reviewed and the artist is culturally and internationally recognized and no objection is found against the artist to enter the country. “It is a procedural mechanical process, but you have to go through that to respect the union because the union has to protect their membership” says Martinez. Then international artists must submit the appropriate paperwork and forms required by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS depending upon the type of visa being requested and go through the process.

In 2009, the Obama administration lifted restrictions on visas by Cuban-Americans to their homelands and increased the level of cultural exchanges. Also, the Obama administration has accomplished to improve foreign policy relations between the U.S. and Cuba. Despite of these changes, Cuban artist go through more strenuous measures than other musicians. “The Cubanos still have to go through a lot that others don’t have to” says Martinez. According to Martinez, Cuban artists who do not go through a special exit interview at the airport prior to leaving the country, their return visit is highly jeopardized. Cuban artists are given an exit stamp, which ensures proper exiting procedures. “That is a real drag and it is humiliating” says Martinez.

Martinez has worked with other renowned artist such as: Los Van Van (Cuba), Irakere (Cuba), Los Munequitos de Matanzas (Cuba), percussionist Changuito (Cuba) and Tata Guines (Cuba) amongst others

For more information on Bill Martinez’s services please visit his website


Martinez & Associates

2 Bayside Village Place, Suite 414

San Francisco, CA 94107 phone- (415) 974-6485

fax- (415) 358-4703



OFAC license and US Cuba exchange information

U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services:

U.S. Consulates:

Dept of the Treasury/Office of Foreign Assets Control:

U.S.-Cuba Cultural Exchange/Cuba Research and Analysis Group:

Cuba Central:



Stern Grove:

Yerba Buena Gardens Festival:

Accion Latina/Encuentro del Canto Popular:

La Pena Cultural Center:

Carnaval of San Francisco:

Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts:

San Francisco International Arts Festival:


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