Following discussions in early 2015 between the Musicians’ Union (MU) and USA Homeland Security, the MU and British Underground (BU) have released a ‘Guidance Note’ for musicians travelling under the Visa Waiver Programme or ESTA and showcasing at events in the States such as A3C, CMJ and SXSW.
Last year, the MU received horrendous reports of cancelled tours and rearranged flights due to failures in the US work visa processing mechanism. In response, the MU and BU invited industry organisations to form a taskforce to look at how these issues can best be addressed. The taskforce met for the first time in December and are now consulting a wider industry group of musicians and managers who have suffered under the current process.
One of the priorities for the taskforce will be lobbying for greater parity between UK and U.S. visa costs and processes. The cost of a four-piece band requiring work visas and petitions can cost in the region of £6000, and that’s before any crew costs are also factored in plus before any flights and accommodation are sourced. Whereas in the UK a tier 5 visa can cost just £900 or a sponsored work permit just £84.
In November, Nigel Adams - Conservative MP for Selby and Ainsty - initiated a debate in Parliament on UK musicians performing overseas. Adams’s motion was fully supported by all speakers in the debate and the MU has written to Culture Secretary Ed Vaizey proposing a meeting to further discuss the issues raised in the debate.
According to PRS for Music Foundation, visa costs represent 18% of the total amount requested by International Showcase Fund applicants and Joe Frankland of the PRS for Music Foundation says, ‘It’s fair to say that roughly 50% of those invited to showcase at SXSW aren’t able to attend, partly due to the restrictive costs of visas.’
Dave Webster, MU National Organiser for Live Performance and Chair of the Music Industry Visa Task Force, says, 'This longstanding issue remains a huge concern to the MU. The aim of the task force is to persuade the US authorities to work with us to find workable solutions to the problems musicians encounter. UK musicians have always fared well in the US and it’s a significant market for our members.’
Crispin Parry - CEO of British Underground - says, ‘A vibrant and workable cultural exchange between the US and UK is essential. The music industry is a significant generator of revenue so we are keen to see issues around US work visas for musicians resolved asap.’
Jo Dipple - Chief Executive of UK Music - adds, ‘UK music is an industry that generates nearly half of its £4.1bn GVA from exports. Europe and America are our biggest markets. Having access to those markets it vital. The restrictions, cost and delays created by the current US visa system act as a barrier to trade. We look forward to participating in the task force and developing workable solutions with the American authorities to overcome the problems our musicians face.’