Pic: PD from Pixabay
Pic: PD from Pixabay

Proposed Border Regs Could Heavily Impact Canada's Musicians

For American musicians entering Canada to work it is easy-peasy compared to the process we have to go through to enter the US. New regs could make matters worse with increased visa wait times, significant processing cost increases and the uncertainty that the requests will be approved.

Among changes the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is proposing is to charge 21% more, on average, for certain filing processes.

No date has been announced for when the following proposed changes would be implemented, but key points in the rewrite include:

  • Increasing filing fees for regularly-processed O visa petitions from US$460 to as much as $715 per petition. Filing fees for regularly-processed P visa petitions would increase from $460 to as much as $705 per petition.

  • The total number of individuals on a single petition would be capped at 25, multiplying the increased cost by requiring numerous petitions for larger ensembles. For example, a visiting orchestra comprising 110 musicians, plus a handful of accompanying support staff would require 6 visa petitions rather than 2.

  • The Premium Processing Service (unaffordable to most organizations at an additional cost of US$1,440) would take longer if USCIS were to be allowed 15 federal working days to complete processing, compared to the current 15 calendar day timeline.

Various orgs are vigorously fighting the changes. 

"We have officially objected, along with many other org’s from around the world to the fee increases and other revisions outlined in the proposed new USCIS Fee Schedule and Certain Other Immigration Benefit Request Requirements: DHS-2019-0010,” Canadian Live Music Association CEO Erin Benjamin said in an email yesterday.

Canadian Federation of Musicians Executive Director Liana White reports that the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada (AFM/CFM), a member of the (ad-hock) Performing Artist Visa Task Force (PAVTF), has sent a communication to oppose the proposed fee increases, and administrative, processing policy changes.  The PAVTF communication was issued to the USCIS Chief Regulatory Coordination Division Office of Policy and Strategy (in D.C.) on December 13th.

Out of the country on business Tuesday, White was quick to respond to a query from FYI about the proposed changes with a detailed outline of what may be in store. Among the highlighted points sent in an e-mail:

  • USCIS has not provided any timeline/effective date for proposed increases.

  • The proposed increase for the O Classification is up to 55%, from $460 to $715 (USD); the P Classifications is up to 53%, from $460 to $705 (the rates may not go this high if passed, but this will be the maximum).  The last hike (from $320 to $460) was in 2016.

  • USCIS claims there has been a 21% increase in petitions filed, and that the increases would be to “maintain adequate services”; but we oppose this as well, in that for such a hike we would expect immediate and measurable improvements.

  • Also, USCIS has stated to AFM’s lobbyist in past that: USCIS is severely underfunded with a backlog it just can’t handle. The backlog problem is mired in lack of manpower, in a Federal agency that is self-funded, with no authority to adequately increase staff. There has also been more work placed upon these adjudicators because the US has taken a very staunch position on America First, and keeping immigrants out (i.e. “The Wall”)

  • Orchestras and large ensembles/touring groups of over 25 persons would take the biggest hit, as a proposed administrative change would require such ensembles to submit 2 or more petitions – in short, at a 25-person cap per petition.

  • Also, USCIS does not adhere to its legislation, a matter we have been combating since June of 2001.  The Immigration and Nationality Act specifically states that all O & P Classifications should be adjudicated (approval or denial) within 14 calendar days. USCIS has adhered to this legislated requirement off and on over the years, and most definitely did comply from 1996 through June 2001. 

  • What happened in June 2001??  Well, the Premium Processing Unit was implemented, and as soon as that happened, all files were taking 90-120 days, and we had to claw our way back down to more reasonable processing times.  We finally achieved success again in July 2010 (along with a fee increase), but this didn’t last long.  I believe by 2014 we were back to 90-120 with no notice – all of a sudden, our approvals stopped arriving in a timely fashion.  

  • In 2016 (after a 42% fee increase), the processing time reduced again back down to about 45 calendar days (we recommend 60 days to be on the safe side), and has been consistent ever since (fingers & toes crossed as I type).”

White added that “Canadian citizen musicians do have a bit of an easier process than anyone else coming into the US from any other country. Those entering the US from anywhere outside of Canada must first be processed through a US Consulate, requiring additional time and fees.  Also, the AFM’s Canadian Office (CFM), does whatever possible in an attempt to make this process an easier one for musicians.

White also addressed the imbalance as US performers have a relatively easy time entering Canada for work. “In 2014 the Canadian government was lobbied to loosen entry requirements for any musician, from anywhere (not just USA) to enter and perform limited-time engagements in Canada (specific to live performance for multiple engagers – if one engager, including performing with a Canadian based band, or, if a recorded/broadcast performance there is a work permit requirement and extra processes).

“That lobbying attempt was successful, which makes the US process seem even more egregious.  There are many flaws with this new process, in that we don’t know how much work that could be going to a Canadian artist is now going to a US artist – nor is there any regulation of payment requirements for foreign artists entering.  There were changes necessary in 2014, but I’m not certain that the changes that were implemented were the best for the music/musician economy in Canada.”


Related reading:

DHS Proposes Steep Artist Visa Fee Increases and Policy ChangesArtists from Abroad

U.S. Work Permits for Canadian MusiciansCanadian Federation of Musicians

What You Can Do Today To Help Artist Immigration — Shawn Lent, The Clyde Fitch Report

Canadians Travelling to or Through U.S. Should Pay Close Attention to Their Withering Rights — H.M. Jocelyn, CBC News

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