by Ember Swift
Despite the economy, artists still want to travel in the US. Especially those living in Ontario and comparing drive lengths between Toronto-Edmonton versus Toronto-Albany, it makes sense for us to dip down south of the border to try our luck there.
While that’s true geographically, all artists need to be aware of the paperwork required to make this happen legally. There’s nothing worse than booking shows, organizing a tour and then getting turned away at the border. It’s bad for your professional rep and it leaves a permanent mark on your border crossing record. Not worth it.
Here are some easy steps:
- You must be an American Federation of Musicians (AFM) union member: This is a vital first step. There’s a musicians’ union in every geographic region in North America, so find your local and join up! (Also consider local1000.org, a non-geographically dependent union for travelling musicians.)
- Secure bookings in the United States well in advance: Thanks to nine years of advocacy, AFM has rallied for shorter processing time for applications (from 4-6 months down to 35 days for regular processing! Thanks AFM!), but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth your while to be organized. Provided you have at least 1 show for every 30-day period, with one application you can secure a single work permit that can last up to 365 days. This takes lots of advance organization, but it saves money and hassle!
- Contract your bookings on an official AFM contract: Contact the office below that handles what are called “P2 Work Visas” (what you need!) and they will send you a package with full instructions (See Contact Details below). Within this package is a blank contract that you can forward to your venues. Don’t forget that the gigs must pay union scale!
Phone: 1 416 391 5161 x222 or 1 800 463 6333 x222
Fax: 416 391 5165
75 The Donway West, Suite 1010; Toronto, ON; M3C 2E9
- Submit All Paperwork Including both the AFM Processing Fee & US Immigration Fee at least 2 months before the first date: The AFM processing fee is now $100 CAD and the US Immigration fee is now $325 US (get a money order!). Even though regular processing time is only 35 days, I really recommend submitting your application at least two months in advance. Remember: AFM acts as the “middleman” and they submit your application to the US government on your behalf. When the US government receives everything, the 35 days of processing begins. Factor in mailing time (to/from/back to you), correction time, transfer time and any other possible delays!
The most important thing to remember, though, is not to be intimidated by the paperwork required to make this happen. It’s more than doable. It will expand your possible market, exponentially. What’s more, gas is cheaper down there!
This article is republished from the 2011 edition of Songwriters Magazine.