Island musicians concerned about rising cost of touring south of border
The US government wants to more than triple the cost of a temporary work visa, raising concern among some musicians on the island.
The cost of a temporary work visa is currently $460, but the US Department of Homeland Security has announced plans to increase that fee to $1,615.
For island musicians like Gordon Belsher, that’s a problem.
“We play in halls with 100 or 200 people and fill in the gaps with pubs and house concerts,” he said The island morning Laura Chapin.
“For the fee to go up – triple it – we really need to think twice about going to the States.”
Belsher is booked to perform 12 concerts with PEI violinist Cynthia MacLeod in New England in May. He said he doesn’t think the raise will be complete by then, but hearing about the cost makes him worried about future tours.
“That’s $1,600, so that’s over $2,000 for this permit and that’s before any other travel expenses,” he said.
For the fee to go up – triple it – we really need to think twice about going to the States. —Gordon Belsher
The cost of a temporary work visa for international entertainers in the US has remained constant at $460 since 2016.
American musicians wishing to perform in Canada also require a temporary work visa. This fee starts at $155 for an individual and $465 for a group of three or more artists and their collaborators traveling together.
The Canadian Federation of Musicians is part of a larger group actively advocating for changes to US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
In an email, the association said the US immigration service cited expansion of humanitarian programs, government-mandated salary increases, additional staffing and other significant investments as reasons for the proposed fee increase.
Fees “a major obstacle”
Frédéric Julien, director of research and development at the Canadian Association for the Performing Arts, said the proposed increase will make it even more difficult for performers to make a living.
“We are appalled and concerned for the members,” he said.
“Artists struggle to make a living even in Canada and this presents a major hurdle for those trying to tour the US.”
Julien said the association is closely monitoring the issue and is working with partners in the US to campaign against the change.
“There was an earlier proposal, I think it was in 2019, for increases that didn’t move forward due to the sector’s successful push,” he said.
“So there are possibilities, some chances, that USCIS will back out of this proposal. But how high are these chances exactly? I honestly don’t know, we’ll have to find out in the spring.”
The US government is accepting comments on the proposed changes by March 6.
Other destinations an option
Music PEI executive director Rob Oakie told CBC News in a statement, “Anything that increases tour costs (which seems to be everything these days) is a concern for touring artists.”
Oakie said he believes the proposal can only be withdrawn if there is enough resistance from members of the US music industry – including venues, festival organizers, agents and artists.
He said he doesn’t think US officials would listen to Canadian or other international artists.
In the meantime, Oakie said Music PEI has advised artists looking to tour internationally to go to the UK or the European Union.
“Sad as we share so much with the US and it’s so close,” he said.