There I was, channel surfing while driving to work Monday morning, chortling at all the morning show guys whining about the Vikings, when the following news tidbit caught my ear on NPR.
Under the Department of Homeland Security's "Easier Travel for Legitimate Tourists and Travelers" program, residents of South Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic are now free to move about our country without a visa.
Huh, I thought to myself, not if they're musicians!
So I'm just collecting some stories from around the web on the artist visa issue, posted on blogs and discussion boards and wherever. I make no claims for their authenticity, but don't there seem to be some reoccurring themes?
Let's start with some explanations of why visas and border crossings are a hassle for musicians. Partly it's because they are earning money in our country and the government wants to keep much closer tabs on them than say, folks who are just spending money. Or maybe they're just "Strengthening Security Measures To Protect Against Those Who Want To Do Us Harm" That is a real headline on the Department of Homeland Security website. Who says "do us harm" anymore?
The South by Southwest festival website has thorough guidelines for musicians. Here are a few highlights.
Musicians performing for pay, or in a public venue whether paid or not must obtain a P1 Visa. If the artist is performing for a person or entity that supplies hotel, airfare or other consideration, it is considered earning and a P1 visa must be obtained.
The processing time for petitions filed without using the fast-track program can be anywhere between 30 and 150 days, depending on various factors.
Do not underestimate the costs, the challenges and the time involved in securing US work visas so act immediately you receive your invitation.
If you apply for a visa with less than 90 days turnaround you may have to pay a $1,000 premium charge to the USCIS authorities.
US Department of Homeland Security regulations require that, as of October 26, 2004, all overseas posts collect finger scans from people applying for visas. As finger scans can only be collected in person, this will mean that all visa applicants will be required to apply for a visa in person through a prearranged appointment at their relevant Embassy or Consulate.
And so on and so forth. Are you ready to jump through some hoops? Roll over? Sit? Beg??
Actually I would encourage you to follow this link to SXSW's complete guidelines and scroll down to the two articles they quote at the end of the page; "Locked Out: How visa procedures have blocked European musicians from the U.S. since 9-11" by Douglas Heingartner in The Village Voice and "How the post-9/11 border is keeping us safe from indie rock" by Scott Indrisek. This may be old news to Cedar fans, as we have been hearing this stuff for years, courtesy of Rob's annual closing night monologue at Nordic Roots Fest. (See his blog post on this issue, further down on this page.)
Here's the fact sheet prepared by the Future of Music Coalition, which contains such juicy tidbits as "In order to work in Canada, you must obtain a Temporary Employment Authorization (IMM-1102) by applying through the American Federation of Musicians’ Canadian office. The Canadian government administrative fee is $150CAD for a single musician or $450 for a band of 2 to 14 players." and "The process of securing a visa to travel to the US for the purpose of touring and performing has become more daunting, arduous and expensive than ever. In addition, immigration policy and procedures continue to change frequently." Yah. Ouch.
Lots of advice out there. The Association of Arts Presenters (APAP) has a nice page with lots of links. It's called Artists from Abroad.
Wow, I could find stories like these all night. Check this piece from the Calgary Herald entitled "Border Blues: Canadian musicians exasperated with troubles crossing border for gigs in U.S."
Or how about "New US Visa Rules Force Foreign Artists to Stay Away : They are meant to stop terrorism, but America's tighter border controls stand accused of simply being racist" .This is an older piece from 2002, but some of the issues remain pertinent. It also provides some background as to how things got as screwed up as they are today.
There is some speculation that a new administration may ease up on some of the more hysterical artist visa and general border crossing regulations. Only time will tell... or as this discussion board post spells out so well, it may just remain a crap shoot.
I live in Detroit and have been crossing the border with Canada 20-30 times a year since I was a kid. We regularly head for Canada for hockey tournaments, camping or to visit relatives.
These days a border crossing is a crap shoot. If we've got to be somewhere on the "other" side of the border at a specific time (in the US if we're coming home - or in Canada if we're going over..) - we automatically add 2 hours for the border crossing. Many times (if not maybe most) crossings are 60 second interview by the U.S. or Canadian Customs officials. There are other times however, that I've had my vehicle thoroughly searched and detailed checks run on all the occupants. I've had plenty of times that I've waited nearly two hours for my 60 second interview - simply because of the traffic.
If they decide to search you - all bets are off. You better have all your documentation in order. Merchandise? Better have proof of ownership. Carrying guns, alcohol or completely crazy and try to slip an "illegal smile" across ... and you're playing in the BIG leagues in terms of potential troubles.
You may waltz into Canada without so much as an eyebrow being raised - only to be subjected to the automotive equivalent of a full cavity search when you attempt to cross back into the US on the way home. Worst, you can be as prepared as you want to be - and all it takes is the new memo that they received from their manager this morning to add a new form or new step to the process and/or item to the list of stuff you can't bring over and/or trigger for a more comprehensive search. Put simply you're at the mercy of the Customs folks.
It would take a heck of a high paying gig to deal with customs with a van load of band gear.
And that guy wasn't even a musician!
The Ambassador Bridge at the Windsor-Detroit crossing is the busiest commercial border crossing in North America, carrying one-third of all road trade — or more than $122 billion in goods a year — between the two countries.
Here's a longer comment on reentering the U.S. via the Detroit-Windsor border crossing.
There is a petition out there to ease up the restrictions on musicians touring between the U.S. and Canada. Here's some info from the Saskatchewan Recording Industry Association.
Well, it seems pretty clear that there is some serious time and money involved for musicians to cross even the U.S.-Canada border, plus other hassles such a having to provide the serial numbers of every piece of gear, etc. Pretty amazing anybody bothers to cross that line.
Guess we'd better start realizing what all of our international musicians go through and thanking them for making the effort.
Probably about time to write your Congressperson, too, eh?