Music Industry

The new visa fees for foreign artists are out. This is not good. In fact, this is an all-out DISASTER.

When an artist wants to tour the US, they need to apply for a special visa. That application has to be made weeks and months in advance. If you show up at a US port of entry and you don’t have one of these visas, you’re screwed.

Because the US can’t seem to get a handle on its borders, it has decided to take it out on people like touring musicians by hiking these visa fees. Let’s take a look.

Before April 1, the application fee was US$460 per person. It is now between US$1,615 and US$1,655 per person, regardless of the size of your group and your commercial popularity. That’s an increase of more than 250%. Here’s how that translates into the real world.

Let’s say there are four people in your band. Getting the necessary visas used to be US$1,840. For that same group, the cost is as high as US$6,620. And that’s just for the bandmembers. Any additional staff–road managers, roadies, security, backup dancers, sound and lights people, etc.) each require their own approved application. All fees must be paid in advance.

If you’re in a hurry, you can ask for an expedited process, but that’s an additional US$2,805. Per person. Paid in advance, of course.

And what if your application is rejected? Sorry, no refunds.

These new fees apply to all foreign acts, including Canada, Mexico, the UK, Europe, Australia, South Korea, Japan, India–everyone who’s not American. (BTW: What does Canada charge for visas for American acts who want to come north? ZERO.)

This is going to result in several things: (1) A drastic reduction in foreign acts touring the US. This will hit small- and medium-sized venues hard because many of them depend on a steady stream of foreign acts to fill their buildings and buy beer. (2) increased ticket prices. For those acts who afford the upfront costs will simply pass everything along to the fan. (3) Less exposure to non-American acts for Americans. That’ll just make the market all that more insular and ignorant of what’s happening outside America. And (4) acts of all sizes and types are being willfully shut out of the biggest music market in the world. Not exactly free trade, is it?

In other words, no one wins except the US Government. Feels pretty xenophobic and unfair to me. Thoughts?

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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9 thoughts on “The new visa fees for foreign artists are out. This is not good. In fact, this is an all-out DISASTER.

  • First thing, it’s happening under Biden, so people can’t blame Trump for this one.
    Second, I wonder how this will impact Canadian bands doing the Buffalo stop. Bands like The Trews, Tea Part, etc always dip down across the peace bridge when they do their tours. Wonder if they will do that less? Bring a skeleton crew? Or, just have the venues pay more and jack up prices to cover?
    Third, maybe it leads to more extended tours? A lot of times bands come and play the big markets, maybe they will add a couple more stops to try and break even?

    • No one said anything about Biden. It’s an internal Homeland Security thing.

  • Maybe those bands will tour Canada instead and have Americans come to those shows? Could be an opportunity for us in Canada. Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal are so close to the boarder…

  • It is not directly Biden since he himself didn’t put pen to paper, but it is the Biden admin. Specially, Ur Jaddou, who is a Biden appointee. It’s just another admin decision that will hinder business and feed the bureaucracy. So come January, when this admin is out (most likely), it will probably be very low on the priority list to deal with this (if at all). So unless this seriously impacts touring, it’s not going to change.

  • Of the three times I’ve seen Sloan live has been in the US. Granted, I live in the Niagara Region. Now it makes me think how mush more inclined that band might play on my side of the border next time they swing down my way.

  • I feel like like for smaller, lesser known bands, just passing on the costs to ticket buyers might not be an option. Because unless you have a big enough following where your show is a guaranteed sell out, if you raise the price, fewer people will buy tickets.

    Also I wonder if Canadian venues or promoters or cities are going to try to take advantage of this. Since it is always super frustrating when a band will post their north American tour dates and it will include Toronto and the next stop will be like Rochester NY or Burlington Vermont, cities that are tiny compared to the population of Ottawa.

  • Economist as a job, music buff as hobby. TLDR: A clear protectionist move. The US will get more US. Only the big shows can afford to pass this to consumers.

    bands: Small and mid range bands are out. I think their chance of passing to consumers the cost is not there (too few consumers).
    venues (similar to bands): small and mid venues will substitute foreign acts for more domestic acts, no chance they’ll pass those to consumers because => If a venue chooses an international band and spike prices, they will get f***ed by the next small venue keeping prices down by choosing a US act. Only bands differentiated enough to have serious amount of people going to their shows can justify the price hikes.
    politics: Politically speaking, yes we usually see these policies more from Rep admins, but lately also from Dem.
    culture: It _does_ help US acts business position, but impact on culture is likely negative (presuming more insular worse than more international), culture is certainly deemed a secondary priority here.
    Enjoy the US, US!

  • I’ve always played strictly by the books at the border (a VERY good policy) with my career’s performance touring – and still always will – but that means that traditional tours in the US are financially out of the question for now.

    There is an important legal loophole worth considering, that I have used successfully, but it only works in the case of one-off shows or very short (2-3 dates) tours. If you can find a reputable (as in commonly known) record company that would be willing to attend your show as a showcase, it is considered a US company commercial activity. The red carpet is rolled out for you at the US border at $0 for you.

    Now, the caveat is, you must have a formal letter (on company letterhead from a company representative) – and contact info if the border guards wish to verify. Secondly, the performance(s) must be technically unpaid – so loophole but to-the-letter-of-law arrangements must be made with all parties to make it worth it for you (and everyone).

    This can work very well. But no cutting corners with the law. Also, not commonly known, the Canadian federal government can help you set this up – and even contribute to expenses. Look into it.

    In the meantime, there are many ways to connect with folks around the world – much of Europe remains very Canadian artist friendly in my experience.

    ~Baron Marcus

  • In my country of Iceland a decision like this would fall on the desk of the minister of culture. Would the US Department of the Arts and Culture not have a say in this?


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