You may find it interesting that in my recent application for a work visa, as a Canadian hired as a staff accompanist at an American university, the university was challenged by US Immigration to prove that an accompanist is a "specialty occupation" (which was the category of work visa we applied for). According to their Occupation Handbook, a staff accompanist does not even need a bachelor's degree, and we were required to prove several points in order to defend the visa application, including proof that other universities require degrees of their accompanists and that the training and knowledge needed for the job necessitated a university degree. After putting together a sizable document, the visa was finally approved. And this isn't even a full-time position (yet), because this music department has always relied on "casual labor" for their accompanist needs until now. They're trying to get a staff position established, but it's a tough sell with the upper administration, especially with tight budgets.One option for anyone working at an educational institution is to apply for TN-1 status under NAFTA, which waives the need for a visa. For the position in question, I can guess that since it wasn't a teaching position per se but a position at the specialty occupation level (better than the support staff level, I suppose) TN-1 status might have been out of the question.
The fact that university accompanists are Staff instead of Faculty, and are paid through different budget lines than professors, does make an impact on respect, status, and treatment on an institutional level. How the faculty deal with the staff accompanist is really the most important factor, though, because the students and administration will follow the faculty's lead.
I've finally reached the point where I will not work with faculty that treat me like the hired help to be pushed around, because the students will take that to be the model for how to treat an accompanist. I may not have a doctorate, but I have a master's in accompanying from a prestigious program, fellowships at world-class programs, professional experience with world-class artists and like to think of my position as collaborating with the faculty as well as with the students. When that happens, it is the best of both worlds, because I get to play the music I love all day and contribute to the development of the next generation of performers and teachers, too.
My experience crossing the border in recent years has been limited to summer festivals and examining, so if you have a story, opinion, hints, or relevant facts about entering the US to do work in the collaborative piano field, please leave a comment.