Billings Symphony, travel restrictions, and the long road to obtaining a U.S. visa for guitarist Rafael Aguirre

Posted on: October 12, 2021

“Bringing [Spanish guitarist] Rafael Aguirre to the United States to perform with the Billings Symphony hasn’t been easy,” writes Anna Paige in Friday’s (10/8) Billings Gazette (MT). “It’s been a logistical nightmare to travel internationally since the onset of COVID-19…. Originally scheduled for February, the [Billings Symphony] concert was pushed to October…. As the pandemic continued, the U.S. added layers of complications for guests entering the country, including a ‘National Interest Exception’ requirement to all U.S. visas … to curb the amount of global travel to the country due to the pandemic. Ignacio Barrón Viela, executive director of the Billings Symphony Orchestra and Chorale, enlisted the support of both Montana senators, an advocacy team from the League of American Orchestras, an immigration specialist … and the Spanish Embassy in Washington, D.C., to lobby for the artist…. As travel restrictions lighten up, there is expected to be … more international activity, which also means a higher volume of visa petitions could flood the U.S. Immigration Services. Heather Noonan, vice president for advocacy for League of American Orchestras, said such challenges are longstanding, and arts organizations collectively have been pressing the U.S. government to adjust the visa process to become more reliable, affordable, and streamlined.”