Mexican comedians have their U.S. work visa suspended

“This is not about governments but about a set of established rules that have been valid for many years, despite the change of president in the U.S., these rules apply to everybody, including Mexicans.”
Mexican actress, Nora Velázquez, "Chabelita" plays her devotee character and seeks not for forgiveness but for work in Canada - File photo/EL UNIVERSAL
26/03/2017
00:00
Sughey Baños
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Actress Nora Velázquez, who goes by the stage name of “Chabelita”, had her U.S. visa suspended after attempting to enter the U.S. to perform without the proper permit. Velázquez has taken on her responsibility and feels that her work options have not been limited, on the contrary, “I’m considering the possibility of going to Canada. Once I went to visit a relative of mine who had all her friends watch one of my shows, there might be a chance for me to go back there, it would be nice, wouldn’t it?” says and optimist Nora.

Hers is not the only case of the kind, as at least five performers have faced deportation and visa suspension charges during the last month, among them Yared Licona, better known as “The Wanders Lover”, who underwent interrogation from the migration agents of Houston, Texas. Licona was allegedly going to a party as a guest, however, authorities believed otherwise and determined that she was going to work without the proper visa permit.

“We had just completed a U.S. tour with the play “La Semesienta” (The one sitting on my lap) and held the proper working visa for it. Our work visa expired and we perfectly understand that we cannot enter the U.S. without it. As I have explained migration agents, it would be very stupid from us to risk losing both visas by committing an offense, considering how much work is there in the U.S.” said “The Wanders”.

Still, Licona, Carlos Bonavides and Maribel Fernández “La Pelangocha” (The boorish one) were attending the same event and had both their working and tourist visas suspended with a five-year penalty to be able to apply for any of them again.

“Unfortunately, they go to work with nothing but their tourist visa and that cannot be, not only in the U.S. but worldwide, therefore as public figures, people recognize you at the airport and the first thing that comes to their mind is that you are going to work.”, said Mexican comedian Teo González, who has been performing in the U.S. for over ten years.

Yet, “Chabelita’s” case is not quite the same, as she frankly explains: “My problem was to find a producer that supported me and invited me to work in the U.S., someone who managed all of my shows. I was not able to find that and so I tried to enter with a tourist visa to perform in a couple of shows, as it was a very occasional thing I thought it would go unnoticed.”  

Nora Velázquez, the creator of “Chabelita” noted that the show producer must provide artists with a document for the U.S. embassy, detailing that their work is required in the U.S., alongside a list of the show’s dates and income perceived, for the artists to pay the corresponding taxes.

Velázquez has decided to observe the five-year penalty that will enable to apply for the work visa again. Reluctantly, she intends to present a request for pardon to obtain her tourist visa in the meantime, “I do not think I will have my penalty lifted considering Trump’s policies. Things have become complicated as you can actually apply and pay for the work visa to have people in the embassy tell you that you will not get your visa and that they there is no refund for your payment.”

For his part, Javier Carranza “El Costeño”, explained some of the requirements one must comply with to apply for a U.S. work visa, “As a rule, a producer or businessmen must endorse you, while the visa can be processed by a legal office at your expense, or by an acting agency.”

Teo González, the comedian with the ponytail as he calls himself, gives a word of advice to artists looking to work in the U.S., “I only book shows in the U.S. when I have a valid work visa, as it takes a while to have it renewed. I have never booked a show I do not have a work visa for.”

“It takes more than having a U.S. work visa (an investment of around USD$6,000-USD$7,000 for the performer), you have to comply with U.S. fiscal duties, pay your taxes and maintain tax records, something which not many people do.”, said Javier Carranza, “El Costeño”.

Together with Saúl Turrubiates and Mario Flores from the north of Mexico, Luis Rodríguez founded La Casa del Cabrito, a restaurant and comedy house in Houston, Texas, that has been presenting Mexican comedians for the past nine years. Here is where Yared Licona, Carlos Bonavides and Maribel Fernández were invited to actor Pablo Chen’s 60th birthday party to attend as guests, “We made some flyers (with the picture of Licona, Bonavides and Fernández) for our friends…this was a private party we decided to give to our friend, Pablo Chen as a surprise for his 60th birthday. Therefore, we invited to part of the cast of “La Semesienta” to the party as we are friends to most of them, they came here as guests not to work. I think migration agents acted poorly as they did not have the elements to proceed.”, said Rodríguez.

Yared Licona explained that migration agents showed them the flyer and said that they had received it from an anonymous source. Licona thinks that a malicious producer or a businessman who envied La Casa del Cabrito’s founders could have sent the flyer, “These are three hardworking Mexican businessmen with an established and legal restaurant, they are friends to many of us. Either someone sent the flyer or is simply that after Trump’s policies treatment of migration agents changed, they act like despots, arrogant and rude people.”, said Licona who will rather observe the five-year penalty than to present a request for pardon, “In the end, I must request a pardon for an offense I did not commit, I better observe my five-year penalty. This will surely have a negative impact as we made very good money in the U.S., almost earning double, but one can you do, we will now turn to our beautiful country for work.”, she concluded.

In an interview for EL UNIVERSAL, Luis Rodríguez also explained that they are not responsible for hiring artists directly, but that they rely on an acting agency, which spares them the inconvenience of processing permits or paying taxes, to which they pay for acting services, “We rely on an acting agency which sends artists such as “El Costeño” and “Platanito” to us, even though we are friends, that we write and say hi to each other, there are protocols that must be observed, mainly through the acting agency. As the saying goes, let us not mix up friendship and work.”, said Rodríguez. 

He added that comedians should not be discouraged as “there is a lot of work in the U.S. if one complies with the proper procedure to avoid any problems.”

However, the theory of denouncement by dishonest competition may not be so far-fetched as Javier Carranza, “El Costeño” has been through a similar situation, “A radio host in Chicago wanted me to perform for a producer he was intending to sell my show to. I refused as I already had an agent in the U.S. and had my agenda full. He then threatened me and said “you better have a valid work visa or you’ll be in serious trouble”, of course, you will always find malicious characters, this guy threatened me and said migration agents might be on my tail, to which I said, “no problem, I do have my valid work visa for the U.S.”

“In the end, the U.S. is a transit country, I’ve been to Europe via the U.S. and I’ve seen embarrassed people being taken to their next flight handcuffed, why would I want to risk my tourist visa?”, said “El Costeño”.

For both Teo González and Javier Carranza, “El Costeño”, this phenomenon is nothing new, “This is not about governments but about a set of established rules that have been valid for many years, despite the change of president in the U.S., these rules apply to everybody, including Mexicans.”, concluded Teo González.

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