Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Crossing the Border

So there I was at my day job this morning, helping unload a semi of soil from Canada. Gino, the helpful Quebecois driver, was complaining about his 7 hour wait to cross the border yesterday. He told me sometimes he has to wait, but this time he sat there and sat there and they never came to inspect his truck! Somebody finally came and told him he could enter the U.S. He said it's like a coin toss; sometimes they wave you right through and sometimes you have to wait for hours.

That put me in mind of Crooked Still joking about how they had smuggled their Wizard of Oz costumes down from Winnipeg for their Halloween show at the Cedar. "I was afraid the inspectors were going to see that big hat, and that silver suit and those ruby slippers and think we were up to no good," cracked vocalist Aoife O'Donovan. They were kidding around, but also talked about how crossing the border is no joke and that musicians are often singled out for extensive and time consuming searches.

Did any body happen to get a photo of the band in costume? Please contact us...that is something that really needs to be on this blog and I sure wasn't carrying a camera. Come on! There is no place for a digital camera on a pirate costume!

So that put me in mind of a conversation that I had with members of Fred Eaglesmith 's band a couple days earlier. They are Canadian citizens, and were heading home to Toronto by way of Winnipeg, but were already getting prepared to have trailer and and van gone over with a fine toothed comb. Fred's drummer, Kori Heppner, said that during past crossings they had been held in a cell at the border for hours while agents inspected their vehicles and gear.

When I brought all this up in our lunch table conversation, a co-worker who had been helping with the tour of Finnish vocal ensemble Rajaton mentioned that they had gotten harassed by border agents when crossing from Canada to the U.S. last month. Among other things, the officer at a station in Alberta said "Those are weird names!" and was generally rude to the band. FYI, their names are Essi, Virpi, Soila, Hannu, Ahti, and Jussi.

What gives? Is the U.S. border patrol really gunning for musicians? Are musicians just troublemakers? Or is really just random, like Gino's coin toss?

What about the cost of artist visas? I know they doubled and tripled in price after 9/11, and sometimes we still hear of tours being turned back at the border because of visa problems.

Well, there's the bill in the U.S. House, H.R. 1312 which passed there this spring, which contained a provision to streamline and simplify the process for "O" visas, those given to "expedite adjudication of employer petitions for aliens of extraordinary artistic ability." Among other things, the bill asks that requests for such visas are processed in 30 days or less." Understand, however, that"O" visas are few and far between. One has to be Academy Award winner status in one's own country, as in very established, very honored.

But what about your average unknown folkie or world music or punk band from Europe or Africa or even Canada? Their visas still can take months to arrange, and they cost hundred of dollars. It's interesting that athletes or an athletic team can be issued P1 visas, for "up to five years. The USCIS may grant further extensions in one-year increments with the total stay on P1 artist visa not exceeding ten years." For musicians and artists, however, it's the "P1 valid for the period necessary to perform the event not exceeding one year. An entertainment event could include an entire season of performances. The USCIS may grant further extensions of stay in one-year increments with a total stay on P1 artist visa not exceeding ten years." So, why does the soccer team get a 5 year visa right of the bat and the musician only gets to come for the duration of their event? Hmmmm.

In Great Britain, the cost of artist visas was called "crippling" as in
"A crippling increase in the cost of visas for visiting artists has been reversed by the Home Office.

But following campaigns by industry groups, the figure has been reduced to £99 for artists who do not require a work permit to enter the UK, with immediate effect.

National Campaign for the Arts director Louise de Winter said: “We are delighted the Home Office has partially reversed its decision. We understand that the intention was not to target artists, but they were caught up in large-scale changes when they should have been treated as a special case.

“The decision establishes an important precedent that a negative economic impact on the arts can have an effect on how visa prices for artists are set and recognises the international environment in which artists work.”

The change will particularly benefit performers at permit free festivals such as the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, where many performers this year will require visas."

OK, but 99 pounds is still plenty of money.

So, I stayed up far too late nodding over my partner's laptop on the couch researching this stuff and I am going to report some those findings next week. Suffice to say, even touring across the U.S. - Canadian border is far more money, hassle and paperwork than I ever imagined. Tune in next week for details!


Didja see the comment on last week's post about Darol Anger? The man himself found our blog and thanked us for writing about him! How cool is that?

Take care of that arm, Darol, and we'll see you at the Cedar sometime soon, I'm sure.

Hey, and I wasn't kidding about that Crooked Still photo...somebody must've got a shot of their costumes, right? Contact us!

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