This might go on record as being the most “un-fun” blog post that I have ever written. However, I feel diving into the process of applying for a U.S. temporary work visa is important for a few reasons:
1) I hope other musicians can find this post and use it as a resource. I remember being quite lost when I started looking into the logistics of being a foreign musician wanting to perform in the U.S.
2) To provide a helpful resource to those who book my performances and would like to know more about the legal side.
3) To provide an explanation of why I sometimes have to say “no” to gigs. Not because I don’t want to perform, but because it’s illegal for me to do so because it wasn’t part of my visa application.
I am a Canadian musician specializing in children’s music. I have a very cool niche educating children about food allergies. I perform primarily in schools and also for support groups and community events. I would say that:
- 90% of my performance requests come from the U.S.
- 10% of my performance requests come from Canada
Thus, it is very important to me that I hop “on the road” to the U.S. two times a year and tour. However, the planning that goes behind each tour is HUGE and starts about 6-8 months in advance.
All of the information below is specific for a Canadian musician and I cannot speak for the process of other nationalities. Also note that this is only for ONE musician. It gets more complicated when you have others on board such as crew, lighting, band members etc.
The P2 Visa
Foreign musicians require a Class P2′ non-immigrant work permit which can ONLY be obtained through the Canadian Federation of Musicians (CFM). They will file it on your behalf to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. However you need to get yourself organized in order to apply for the P2.
It should take under 45 days for a “petition to obtain a P2” to get approved. Thus you need to work backwards to figure out when you need to have your package ready to send. E.g. My first show in the U.S. is on May 8th, therefore I mailed my package to the CFM in mid-March just to be safe. Your P2 will cover you from the day of your first gig (or day before) until your last gig (or day after). You can stay for long periods of time given you have at least one gig per month.
What’s Needed to Apply:
I remember getting my first “union card” at age 24 and feeling like I really made it! My name is on a piece of official looking paper saying I am a musician! There are a few other benefits including a great magazine, instrument insurance, but I really only use mine to be eligible to work in the U.S. Yearly membership seems to be $140 and up. Locals can be found on the AFM website.
I’ll start off by saying that I don’t like contracts. I am a man of my word and I don’t care much for “putting it in writing”. However, “my word” does not fly when proving that I have shows in the U.S.
You must provide a contract on letterhead for every single show that confirms all of the key details. The CFM provides a generic contract template on their website. I decided to create my own using the same fields so I could make it easier to navigate.
THIS is the longest part of the process as it involves many parties. Often people will be ready to book you but cannot confirm details like venue or performance times. Thus it’s a good idea to get your contracts out the door early and give a deadline of when you need them by. If you are getting close to the deadline and still have not received a contract, send a reminder email. You don’t want to lose a gig because you were unable to get the proper paperwork in time.
All of your contracts must be sent with your package. At that time you are not allowed to add more U.S. shows. You can only perform the shows that are under your P2 Visa. Therefore I occasionally have to say “no” to gigs because they are past the deadline. I wish it wasn’t so, but I don’t take risks when it comes to the border. Being blacklisted because you tried to sneak in another show is just not worth it in the long run.
- $100 to the CFM
- $325 to the Department of Homeland Security ($1,225 for premium processing…pays to be organized)
This is a no-brainer for travelling abroad, but a scan of the biometric page also must be included in your application.
Point of Entry
You need to know the exact name of the border crossing or airport that you will be entering the U.S. from.
I’ve got my letter of an approved petition for a P2! Now what?
First off, don’t lose it! Buy a shiny page cover from Staples! Bring it with you when you go to the border. You will need to get your actual P2 visa at that point. If you go by car, you’ll have to go inside their building. If you go via plane, you can get it as you go through customs (much quicker experience!).
For more information visit the immigration page of the Canadian Federation of Musician’s website. It has a great checklist of everything you need as well as all of the downloadable paperwork.
Is it a lot of work just to put on a children’s concert? Yes.
Is it all completely worth it? Absolutely!