Who is Bill Martínez?
For many reasons, the music business is closely linked to the world of law, because there are many details that artists and their respective teams must take into consideration when carrying out their activities, especially when they travel outside their countries of origin or residence. That is when they should contact attorney William Martinez, who would be happy to help them to complete all required paperwork for this purpose.
William Martinez, better known in the music scene as Bill Martinez, is an immigration attorney who is also known for organizing musical events in the San Francisco Bay Area since the 1970s, which reveals that the relationship between the legal professional and the arts has been very close for several decades now. He is a degree from the University of San Francisco, the same city where he was born, has exercised his profession, and has made his living since then.
This man has played a very important role in obtaining visas for a fairly large number of artists and their orchestras for a few years, including Juanes, Christian Castro, Mercedes Sosa, Pablo Milanes, Isaac Delgado, Chucho Valdes, and many more. The list of groups that have managed to perform in the United States thanks to Martínez includes Los Van Van, Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, The Buena Vista Social Club, Cubanismo, and so on.
All this without mentioning that the attorney has done a commendable job in helping artists interested in traveling from the United States to Cuba, which is really difficult because of the political, legal, and migratory friction that this implies. Bill demonstrated that it is possible thanks to his efficient efforts with the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the Department of the Treasury. There are many groups that have managed to travel to the island thanks to licenses obtained by the lawyer, as was the case of AudiosLave, a famous Californian alternative rock band whose emergence goes back to the year 2001. In 2005, the group gave a historic concert in which it performed in front of a crowd of more than 70,000 spectators, becoming the first rock band to play live in the Caribbean country. All thanks to the excellent work done by this great professional man of law.
Another facet of this great American is his role as a producer and manager. As his official website states, he is one of the co-founders of Latino Entertainment Partners together with cultural activist Arturo Riera, with whom he sought to create an organization capable of producing around 50 concerts whose main talents will be Cuban music legends such as N.G. La Banda, Los Van Van, Orquesta Aragón, Los Muñequitos de Aragón, among others.
This group created by Martinez has also been responsible for producing other musical events that have had the presence of The Spanish Harlem Orchestra, Eddie Palmieri, Giovanni Hidalgo, and many others.
Nowadays, he has an extremely busy schedule due to the ravages caused by COVID-19 in terms of immigration with the closing of embassies, flight ban, among other things. Today, he will tell us more in detail about his work and how much it has been complicated by the pandemic.
Do you only work in the issue of immigration specializing in artists?
Yes, I only work with artists. Although from time to time I talk to clients about other issues, but I mostly work only with artist visas.
What is the first thing you check in one of your cases?
Well, I work with visas as you can imagine. All this depends on two things: luck and credibility. By luck I mean officials, events, and factors for the application. Credibility is also key to all this. We are talking about two visa categories: an O1 visa for a distinguished artist in the field of music or the arts and the P1 visa or P3 visa which can be issued for a maximum of one year, while the O1 visa can last up to three years. The P3 visa is for groups that have performances that serve as a reflection of their own country. Many artists may qualify for this. For example, if we are talking about an artist who has a bachata, vallenato or hip hop repertoire. As long as they are reflections of their own country, they can apply for the P3 visa. The P1 visa and O1 visa require evidence and documentation that proves that the singer is of a high standard and recognized worldwide such as foundations, press articles, among other things. That is what we have to see. You have to prove that the itinerary is credible and this can be done with contracts or invitation letters. If an applicant, cultural center, promoter or agent wants to invite an artist without any shows or contracts, it will not matter if he is well known, because he will not have credibility. On the list of things I need, the first thing I look for is the invitation letter with an itinerary, the story of the artist, documentation, his repertoire, among other things.
The process also depends a lot on the officer who analyzes the case, am I right?
The case can be approved at first, and then, when it goes to the consulate, you have to get lucky with the official who does the interview. You have to be lucky with the USIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) and with the second step which is the interview at the consulate. You also have to get lucky with people who do the interview, as it can be someone flexible who understands the situation very well or, in the opposite case, someone who had a bad day and will always say no.
Is it sufficient for one of those steps to fail for the visa not to be approved?
That is right, I have the same experience as any applicant and we use all our tools for this situation. It is like a puzzle where we have to see what works. Sometimes, we have even to ask for help from congressmen for this. This has happened to me both as a lawyer and as a producer.
What was the most complex case in your career?
It was my first case in 1993 with the Cuban group Mezcla. We did a festival in San Francisco called El Encuentro del Canto Popular in which we had a representation from each country in Latin America and the Caribbean. Then, we took the risk of inviting a group from Cuba, which was the group Mezcla, a rock band that used elements of Santeria. Like I said, there are two steps to obtain a visa: the application with USIS and the interview with the consulate after approval. In the case of Grupo Mezcla, the application was approved in the Immigration Service and then the members did their interviews in Havana. Subsequently, the case began to collapse until the head of the State Department for Cuban Affairs called me and told me that he had the file in his hands and that the group could not enter the country. When I asked him why, he said they were Cubans and that is all I needed to know. We made a claim in federal court, but we lost the case. Two years later, the state department’s attorney basically said they could do whatever they wanted without justifying anything. However, some time later, the Bill Clinton administration accepted that there is value in having exchanges with Cuba and, little by little, they opened the doors to allow entry to other Cubans like Changuito El Timbalero, Irakere with Chucho Valdes and Los Van Van. COVID-19 complicated everything and has had a great impact in each case, but things calmed down a bit and now artists are allowed to enter if they provide proof of their vaccination or PCR test.
Which are the nationalities The United States denies visas most often?
It is definitely Cuba because every Cuban has to ask for his or her interview in a third country and sometimes we are in contact with the consulates in advance to request permission to doing the interview there. Mexico is usually plan B, but sometimes we ask the consulate to allow a Cuban citizen to do an interview in their facilities. It may happen that they say that they do not accept applications from a third country. It also happens that two weeks later another consulate accept the interview without any problem. Each consulate has its own answer as to the availability and access to their system. Now we are asking for visas for Cubans in Mexico DF. I can say that Middle Eastern countries, Korea and Cuba are the most complicated places to apply for visas.
You have also taken U.S. artists to Cuba and other complicated countries, could you tell me a little bit about that?
Well, I participated in several exchanges with Cuba. The best known was Puentes Musicales in 1999 in which we presented 45 well-known rock artists. In 2005, we presented the rock group AudiosLave. I also worked as a lawyer in the production of the group Broadway and that was historic. It was a very important album in the history of rock and it was all done in Havana. I had a documentary on HBO about this event in Havana. We have plans to do other recordings with Broadway in Havana in the future. It is almost impossible to do exchanges of this magnitude these days owing to restrictions related to COVID-19.
How much has COVID-19 complicated things?
It is easier now. COVID-19 had a big impact at all levels. An application at USIS (the first step in the process) was impossible because their officials were not in offices as in the past. They were at home, so we could not do anything like as the past when we could go to an office. It was much easier to resolve situations, issues with identity and documentation. When officers are not in offices, they cannot go to the other buildings. They have to call from home to ask about applications and communication is not as effective. It is easier to resolve situations like that by being in the same building and coming face to face. COVID also has an impact on the number of people who are working in the consulates. The less people who work, the less it is possible to change dates when needed. However, the situation improved in contrast to the last year, so there is hope that some things will get back to normal.
Link to its official website: https://www.billmartinez.com/