Ballroom Dancers Worry Over US Immigration Policies

08 December, 2019

When no Americans answered Chris Sabourin's advertisement seeking a dance teacher for her Connecticut-based studio, she looked outside the United States.

But Sabourin faced difficulty there as well. Limitations on U.S. visa requests restricted her search. She and others argue the new rules are harming the ballroom dance industry.

Sabourin spent a year and thousands of dollars trying to employ a top ballroom dancer from Greece. But when she arrived American officials detained the Greek woman at New York's Kennedy Airport. Then, they sent her back home.

"It would just be nice to know why we're having such a hard time," Sabourin told the Associated Press, or AP, news agency. "It's affecting our business, definitely."

She says the popular television program Dancing with the Stars has fueled interest among Americans in learning dances like the foxtrot and tango. But dance studio owners say efforts to employ professional teachers are limited without international help.

Owners and legal experts say many requests for visas are going unanswered. They say evidence requests from officials are increasing and that sometimes what is asked for has already been provided or is not necessary.

Immigration law experts say President Donald Trump's administration has created barriers that have made hiring more difficult for all kinds of U.S. industries. This includes ballroom dance as well as science and technology.

In January, the American Immigration Lawyers Association released a report on data from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The organization found that average case processing time increased 46 percent from 2016 to 2018. In late May, the Government Accountability Office told lawmakers that it plans to investigate the report's findings.

In this October 7, 2019, photo, dance instructor Ned Pavlovic, a native of Serbia, teaches his student Rouhy Yazdani, a native of Iran who now lives in Milford, Connecticut, some ballroom dance moves at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Orange, Connecticut
In this October 7, 2019, photo, dance instructor Ned Pavlovic, a native of Serbia, teaches his student Rouhy Yazdani, a native of Iran who now lives in Milford, Connecticut, some ballroom dance moves at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Orange, Connecticut

The AP took a look at federal records and found a small increase in first rejections of O-1 visa requests, the usual kind sought by foreign dancers.

The AP also found a decrease in the number of times individuals were given a second chance to meet the requirements for the visa.

Jose Zuquilanda had visited the U.S. many times on tourist visas. He had hoped to compete, train, teach, dance and learn how to run a business through employment at an American studio in Connecticut. He went far through the O-1 visa process before a final denial at an American diplomatic office in his home country of Ecuador.

"They are not only harming his career, they're harming the Fred Astaire studio," said Zuquilanda's mother, Liliana Serrano, who lives in Connecticut.

Immigration legal experts point to the "Buy American and Hire American" executive order Trump signed in April 2017 as one reason for delays. The order was meant to increase earnings and employment rates for Americans by strongly enforcing immigration laws.

Mark Krikorian is executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which supports greater immigration controls. He says that he feels sorry for small business owners, but they should not blame federal immigration policy for their labor problems.

"It's one thing if you're talking about world-renowned nuclear physicists, where there's a handful of people on the planet who have an ability and we want them here. Everybody gets that," he said. "Dance instructors? I'm sorry. That's something for the market to deal with."

A representative for the U.S. Department of State said there has "been no policy change" dealing with the O-1 visas.

Michael Wildes is an immigration lawyer for first lady Melania Trump and her family. In a newspaper opinion piece, he argued that legal experts working for fashion designers, models and photographers have experienced never-before-seen levels of "push-back" from immigration officials.

He warned that many skilled and creative non-Americans might stop seeking work in the US if the process continues as is or slows further.

I'm ­Pete Musto.

Susan Haigh reported this story for the Associated Press. Pete Musto adapted it for VOA Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor. We want to hear from you. Which industries in your country depend heavily on immigration? Write to us in the Comments Section or on


Words in This Story

studion. a place where people go to learn, practice, or study an art, such as singing, dancing, or acting

hiringv. giving work or a job to someone in exchange for wages or a salary

touristn. a person who travels to a place for pleasure

world-renownedadj. known and respected throughout the world

lawyern. a person whose job is to guide and assist people in matters relating to the law

fashionn. the business of creating and selling clothes in new styles

model(s) – n. someone who is paid to wear clothing or jewelry in photographs and fashion shows so that people will see and want to buy what is being worn

creativeadj. having or showing an ability to make new things or think of new ideas