Three American congressmen have introduced legislation designed to streamline the P-2 visa process for Canadian artists entering the U.S. to perform. The Bringing Entertainment Artists to the States (BEATS) Act was introduced in Congress on March 21st by Representatives Dave Trott (R-Michigan), Chris Collins (D-NY), and Peter Welch (D-Vermont).
According to a joint statement released by the three congressmen, the BEATS Act “will modernize the P-2 visa process for entertainment artists and speed up the admission process for applicants who want to perform in the United States. This reform will make it easier for Canadian artists to bring their talents to American consumers while not compromising U.S. security or border protection procedures in any way.”
Currently, Canadian musicians must obtain a P-2 visa if they plan to play even one gig in the United States. Each member of the band and crew requires a P-2 visa, which currently cost $325 USD plus a $100 CAD processing fee paid to the Canadian Federation of Musicians (CFM) union for its work as an authorized petitioner for temporary work permits. The costs can add up quickly. Assuming the musician/band has the money, they also need the time. Currently, the CFM advises submitting the P-2 application package at least 75 to 90 before the first show of the tour. Significant delays in receiving visa approval are common place. There is also the Catch 22 of artists needing to have their tour booked in order to qualify for the visa, but it is risky to book a tour before a visa is approved.
The changes outlined in the BEATS Act mirror regulations already in place for Canadians regarding other visa categories and track similar streamlining that the Canadian government put into place for American artists visiting Canada, according to the statement.
This is a matter that has been under the microscope of the American Association of Independent Music (A2IM), which represents American indie labels. In the January/February 2016 issue, Canadian Musician spoke with Fawn Goodman, the A2IM’s director of industry relations, who is leading these efforts.
Here is that interview from January 2016:
CM: What specifically is the A2IM lobbying for with regards to visa requirements for Canadian artists?
Fawn Goodman: That’s really interesting because we’re still forming our strategy. I would just say that, topline, what we’re really looking for is to make the process less unpredictable, less costly, and more streamlined.
You’re probably very aware of what the problem is, which is that Canadian artists – many of which are signed by U.S. labels of folks that A2IM represents – in order to get the visa, you have to have a tour booked. So, you’re booking a tour without knowing whether or not your visa is going to come through in time for your tour. That creates a situation where you’re spending a lot of money, sometimes you’re spending even more money to expedite the visa, which obviously hedges your bets a little bit better, but you book the tour and then you think you gave it enough time and then, of course, six week go by, which is way longer than it is supposed to take, and you still don’t know if your visa is approved or not and you have to cancel shows on your tour.
So, we see this as a huge problem that effects a lot of artists that our labels sign and market, it effects those commercial tours, and it effects showcases like the SXSWs of the world. We’re now working with some immigration specialists to come up with a strategy on how we’re going to come up with a legislative solution to make this better.
CM: In Canada, there was a clear economic motive for getting rid of visa requirements for foreign musicians because of how much economic activity is generated from Americans touring Canada. I would assume that Canadian artists touring in the U.S. are less economically important to the health of your live entertainment industry. Is that true?
Goodman: Well, unless you’re a Justin Bieber fan [laughs]. But it’s interesting, that is something that we expressed when talking to potential allies in our fight in congress with this issue. It is a local economics issues. I can’t necessarily compare it to how much it is a local economics issue in Canada, because the U.S. is a bigger population and there are more touring artists, et cetera, but think about it this way; especially in the border towns on the northern border –Buffalo, Seattle, Detroit, etc. – what happens is that you have all of these clubs and theatres that are booking these talents and if the visa doesn’t come through, the show goes dark, right? Now you have lost wages from local crew, from the venue, from hotels, from alcohol sales, et cetera, et cetera. That absolutely has an effect on the local economy.
So, I definitely think that we have to phrase this as a local economic issue because it is that, as well. It is an economic issue for our labels because it is greatly increasing their cost to develop their artists, some of which are Canadians in the United States market, but it affects the local economies as well.
CM: How long has this been on the A2IM’s radar? Did it start with the visa changes for American artists entering Canada in 2014?
Goodman: You know what, and I’m being very candid with you, we are taking a page from what we saw with our friends up north and what they were able to do for our artists. So, it is in the spirit of reciprocating what they’ve done for us. It is in the spirit of NAFTA, even. It is just the right thing to do. In Canada, you guys have seen firsthand the positive impact it’s had on your local music communities, especially at the venue levels.
CM: Who in government do you need to lobby to get these changes made?
Goodman: In order to get legislation passed, you do have to have both the House of Representatives and the Senate onboard. We will likely start with the House of Representatives because that is where laws originate. But we’re even taking a step back from that. We do want to secure co-sponsors and interested members and we have a couple members who are potentially interested but because we don’t have anything firm right now that we’re ready to announce, I don’t want to get into the specifics of that. But we would start with our friends in the house while simultaneously getting support in the senate.
CM: Is this seen as a partisan issue with the Democrats and Republicans?
Goodman: No, that’s a great question. You know, supporting middle class, local economics, supporting small businesses, this is bipartisan. By and large, this is a bipartisan issue and we see interest and we’ve met with both house Democrats and house Republicans and both are overwhelmingly supportive of what we’re trying to do because they understand that this is a local economics issue and it effects small and medium businesses and mainly American independent record labels and they want to be supportive of what we’re doing.
CM: The end goal, I believe, would be to completely remove the P-2 visa requirement for Canadian artists touring the U.S., but are there incremental changes that you think are more likely, at least initially?
Goodman: Yes. So we’re not seeking a full visa waiver at this time. I think you’re probably well aware that now would be the worst political climate to do that, given what’s been going on overseas and terrorists and the concerns that the American public has about terrorism and how permeable our borders can be and protecting our borders, both the Canadian and Mexican borders, and just general immigration issues. Because of that, we would be shooting ourselves in the foot if we didn’t understand that this needs to happen through incremental changes.
I think we’re going to start with making the process better and more predictable and not having these weeks going by with the uncertainty of not knowing if visas have been approved. We’re coming up with a strategy to make the process better and down the road the hope is to duplicate what you guys have done with American artists coming into Canada.
CM: Is cost of the visas part of what you’re also looking at with these incremental changes?
Goodman: Yes. I think one of the costs that would be easiest to take off the table would be the cost of expediting visas, which is nearly $2,000 just to make sure your visa’s approved on time. That is something that we can immediately, depending on how things go, kind of take off the table, which I think would be very beneficial and reduce the cost of touring, for sure.
CM: Is there a reasonable expectation of success on this issue?
Goodman: You know, this is one of those things that if you’re betting on legislation in this congress, who knows [laughs]. If I’m going to frame it one way, I’ll say I am very cautiously optimistic and I have reasons to be optimistic in that we have not encountered anyone who is not supportive of what we’re trying to do. I think that is more than half the battle and I feel we have the right team that is investigating the right legislative language and solution for us and hopefully that will be worked out soon. But all the signs right now are green lights because we’ve been very smart about not asking for things that are probably unattainable right now.
CM: What is your timeline moving forward?
Goodman: We’re hoping to have a final strategy nailed down in January and then present it to potential co-sponsors and then get a timeframe after that.