Cellist Yo-Yo Ma Testifies on Immigration Published April 13, 2006
Renowned Chinese-American cellist Yo-Yo Ma joined the roiling debate on US immigration, testifying before a congressional committee about the harm of increasingly strict entry regulations on international artists.
The French-born musician testified Tuesday before the House of Representatives' Government Reform Committee about how delays in visa processing hurts artists visiting from overseas.
"I'm 50 years old. I've played the cello for 46 years. Of the last 30 years of being a professional musician, I've spent the equivalent of 20 on the road," Ma told the House Governmental Reform Committee.
"Music and travel are constants for me," he said. "In my mind, they stem from the same fundamentally human sources: an eagerness to explore new territory and a passion for learning."
But Ma, who is the artistic director of the non-profit "Silk Road Project," a multicultural collaboration drawing on the talents of leading international artists, said stricter travel rules have made it difficult to get foreign performers into the United States.
He said increasingly international artists have been unable to obtain a visa in time for cultural performances and events.
"The barriers to bringing these musicians, these cultural guides, to the US have become extraordinarily high," he said.
"We ... have found it increasingly difficult to facilitate this cultural exchange, because of high financial costs, uncertain timelines, and countless logistical hurdles," he said.
The Silk Road venture is particularly vulnerable, he said, because many of the performers come from countries in the Middle East and South Asia, whose nationals have been subjected to particularly stringent scrutiny following the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, when visa rules were tightened.
Officials said applicants for non-immigrant visas to the United States often face daunting waits just to get an application interview.
In Chennai and Mumbai in India, for example, applicants face an average wait time of about 160 days, said congressional officials, who are worried that the delay hurts US businesses seeking to bring foreign personnel to the United States for meetings or events.
Representatives from the US travel and tourism industry also have complained about the tighter restrictions, as have US universities, which say the rules thwart their efforts to attract top students from around the world.