Coming to America – a banjo picker’s story

Richard CiferskyImmigration is a hot topic of conversation in the United States these days, and is likely to remain so as we head into the Presidential election next year. Everyone seems to have an opinion on the matter, whether the discussion centers around the tedious process to reside in the US by law, or on the many non-natives who enter and remain here surreptitiously.

Opinions on this question can be brutal and harsh on all sides, but one issue seems to unite everyone: that the process of obtaining resident status by the book is quite cumbersome, and often very expensive and time-consuming as well. Permanent legal resident status, sometimes referred to by its token as “green card” status, is typically required prior to applying for citizenship, with work visas often used to enter legally beforehand.

A case of this sort has arisen in our bluegrass world, in the form of Slovak banjo player Richard Cifersky who is currently appealing to friends in the States to help him obtain a three year work visa. This sort of immigration status allows a foreign national to earn money legally in the United States during the time the visa is valid, but limits the holder to working only in that specified field. If it is not renewed, the visa holder is expected to return to their home country, though this is an oft-abused aspect of the system.

Richard has studied five string banjo from the Slovak Republic since he was a boy, and is hoping to find a career playing bluegrass in this country. He has visited the US many times on a previous visa, and is trying now to make a permanent move here. Though he hopes to eventually receive a green card, he is applying for an O-1 visa which is reserved for foreign nationals who have demonstrated “extraordinary ability” in the arts, sciences, athletics, education, or business.

The difficulty is that an attorney is required to file all the necessary paperwork, and Richard says that the filing fees have doubled since his last application. He expects that the costs for a visa application alone will run $5,000, and said that he has been told that permanent resident status is almost impossible to achieve without physically being here.

“I spoke with lawyers about ‘Green Card’ but the process is very difficult as US government has strong new rules. I am asking again for same working visa as last time (R-O1).

Working visa entitles you to perform only a job in the applicant’s profession. Mine is music and I must have US sponsor who will guarantee that I will do only music. My sponsor is again my friend, Jonathan Maness. I would like a stay 3 years and during this time try establish my life and music career over there. After this time I hope I will be ready to ask for ‘Green Card.’ “

Richard has created this video to explain his situation, and asks that bluegrass lovers all over the world would consider making a small donation to his indiegogo campaign to raise the necessary cash.


With this level of difficulty in following the law, it isn’t hard to see why hundreds of thousands of immigrants chose to simply cross the US border illegally each year.

If you feel called to help Richard in his banjo journey to the US, donations are being accepted online.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.