While it might be true that musicians based in the United States are envious of the grants and support systems in place for Canadian musicians to help them get their careers started and flourishing, many Canadian bands look longingly to the States as a place they’d love to play and find success. Some bands are thrilled to get the opportunity to play in border towns and beyond but find themselves dealing with frustrating and time-consuming immigration issues when trying to cross into the US. Just last year, both the Sheepdogs and The Trews had to cancel shows in the US for immigration and visa issues.
A group of US legislators is trying to make it easier for Canadian artists to tour in the US in the hopes of making those types of cancellations a thing of the past.
On March 21, Representatives Dave Trott (R-Michigan), Chris Collins (D-NY) and Peter Welch (D-Vermont) introduced the Bringing Entertainment Artists to the States (BEATS) Act in Congress, which would speed the process by which Canadian musicians can apply for, and obtain, the P-2 visa necessary for touring in the US.
As Nicole Daley, a policy intern with the Future of Music Coalition in Washington, DC, writes, Canadian musicians need a petition from an organization—usually a venue, booking agent or manager—to obtain this visa. The petition includes a list of places where the band or artist is scheduled to perform. But these petitions are processed by mail, and we all know how long that can take.
If passed, the BEATS Act would allow musicians to apply for admission to the US “with an immigration officer at any Class A port of entry located on the border with the United States and Canada, or at any pre-clearance station at a Canadian airport, right on their way into the US,” Daley writes. All the musician would need to gain entry would be the paperwork signed by the petitioner and the supporting documentation. The proposed law would also make it easier for touring acts to change or otherwise modify tour dates from within the US without having to reapply.
In a joint statement released by Trott, Collins and Welch, the representatives—all from states that border Canada and would directly benefit from the ability of Canadian artists to play more dates in more venues in their states—refer to the legislation as “common sense” and a boon to their economies as well as the longstanding relationship between the US and Canada. They also mention that this legislation “mirrors regulations already in place for Canadians regarding other visa categories and track similar streamlining that the Canadian government recently put into place for American artists visiting Canada.”
The proposed legislation also has the support of Richard Burgess, CEO of the American Association of Independent Music, who adds: “We applaud this legislation streamlining the P-2 visa process, which will make it easier for Canadian recording artists to bring their talents to an American audience. It’s an issue of special importance to independent record labels, many of which are small businesses that depend on a predictable and reasonable visa approval timeline. The BEATS Act is a bipartisan, common sense proposal that will create jobs in the American music industry.”
The proposed bill also has the support of the American Federation of Musicians and the Recording Academy.
The Future of Music Coalition, which appears supportive of the legislation as well, points out that the proposed legislation was introduced just a few weeks after Canada’s new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, unveiled a budget that provides $1.9 billion in additional cultural funding. In releasing the budget, Trudeau noted that “One benefit to the music economy as a result of the Canadian arts budget is the creation of a program similar to the past Trade Routes program, which supported the promotion of Canadian artists abroad by providing grants for tours and funding embassy activities to introduce Canadian artists to the world.”
While the US has the National Endowment for the Arts, the funding for Canada’s Council of the Arts seems massive, even though the two endowments receive roughly the same amount of funding per year. The difference, of course, is that Canada has roughly one-tenth the population of the United States. “Now that the line item for the Canadian Council of the Arts will actually be doubled by 2020, the per capita arts funding disparity is even more embarrassing,” Daley writes. “Let’s hope that our nation’s leaders follow the example of our northern neighbors in this way as well.”