Sunday, January 6, 2013

What It Means To Take A Gig Across The Border

Recently the five-piece band I play in had an opportunity to negotiate for a gig across the border in Niagara Falls, NY. While it sounded very intriguing, and while I've heard that there are local groups who regularly play across the border, I wasn't sure what else was involved.

All of us knew that a passport was required, and we were thinking about going ahead, but our bass player, Brent Malseed who happens to sit on the Hamilton Musicians Guild local executive, provided the following valuable information to help us make our decision.

Hi band members:

If we are to play a gig in the United States, not only do we need a valid passport, but we also have to have a Work Permit (P2 Visa) to do so.

Canadian musicians who want to perform in the United States can legally enter the U.S. to work by obtaining a P2 Visa in advance. The P2 Visa is intended for artists, entertainers, and athletes, and by far the simplest way for a musician to obtain one is through the American Federation of Musicians (AFM). There is an agreement in place between the AFM and the Department of Homeland Security that allows us to petition on your behalf, streamlining the process enormously.

The P2 is not a temporary green card, and it doesn't allow you to add dates after it is received. It is a work visa valid only for the contracts that are submitted at the time of application. Once the P2 application is submitted no more dates can be added to it–you must apply for another P2 if you wish to add more performance dates. The maximum length of time given for a P2 can be up to one year, if there are no more than 30 days between contracted dates. The current fee for applying for a P2 Visa is $325 USD, plus a $100 CAD fee to AFM Canada for administration costs. An additional $20 fee is applied for each additional musician in a group. For example, the administration fee for a (5) piece group will be $180 [$100 + $80 for the 4 additional musicians]. You may also incur Fedex charges for shipping documents to Toronto. 
The above also applies to applications for technical crew and other essential supplemental support [i.e. tour managers, back-up singers/dancers, etc.]. One crew person will be an additional $100 (over and above the musician administration fee); two crew would be $120.00.
P2 Visas should be applied for at least 45 days in advance (this varies - always contact the office for current turnaround times). If this is impossible, you can apply for “Expedited Processing,” which takes 25 days and costs $1,225 USD, in addition to the $325 mentioned above. 
AFM Canada provides an up-to-date package of P2 documents online in pdf format (http://www.cfmusicians.org/services/work-permits). These documents can be downloaded, printed and completed by the member before bringing them in to our office for final processing of the visa application

The total cost for RPG would be $505.

Some musicians, when faced with the above paperwork, may be tempted to simply throw their instruments in the car and head to the US, claiming at the border that they are "just visiting." Advanced computer systems are now in place that can track every individuals crossings, either entering or leaving the United States. US border agents have the authority to search your car when they suspect something, even seize it if they find a trace of drugs. How are you going to feel trying to explain to some big, burly agent, with a huge gun on his hip, that the instruments in your trunk are just for "practicing" while you are on your "vacation" in the United States? You run a very good risk of being turned away at the border, and perhaps being black-listed in the computer system!  I know of a band from Hamilton that tried this and were caught. All members of the band have been banned from entering the United States for any reason and this decision cannot be appealed for 10 years.

If the group interested in booking us will pay an extra $505 over and above our regular charge for the gig, then I say let's do it.