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Visa Requirements for Canadian Musicians Working in the U.S.

Author: Brad Howland
First Posted: July, 2005

Question

"I'm a musician living in Victoria, and I was offered a gig in the San Juan Islands. How to I get a visa to go down and work in the U.S.?"

Answer

You basically have two options, either the P2 Visa or the H2-B Visa.

P2 Visas

The P2 Visa is intended for artists, entertainers, and athletes. It can be obtained for a maximum one year period, but is limited to the time period of your actual gigs. The best way to obtain a P2 Visa is through your Local of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM). There is an agreement in place between AFM Canada and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that allows the AFM to petition on your behalf, streamlining the process enormously.

The current fee (as of Dec. 2009) for applying for a P2 Visa is $320 USD, plus a token $35 CAD fee to AFM Canada for administration costs ($70 for musicians and technicians). You may also incur Fedex charges for shipping documents to Toronto.

P2 Visas should be applied for at least 120 days in advance (the wait time is 90-120 days). If this is impossible, you can apply for "Expedited Processing," which unfortunately costs $1,000 USD, in addition to the $320 mentioned above.

H2-B Visas

The H2-B Visa is available for "temporary, non-agricultural workers that are in short supply." The procedure for obtaining one appears to be:

  1. Your prospective employer files Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker with USCIS, accompanied by the required payment and documentation; and
  2. Once the petition is approved by USCIS, you apply for a visa, either at the U.S. consulate in Canada, or, if eligible, at the port of entry where you will enter the United States.

There are only a certain number of H2-B Visas allowed to be issued each year. Earlier this year, USCIS had reached its quota and was not issuing any more visas. However, I was just told by AFM Canada that they recently extended this quota and are now accepting more.

Sneaking Across: Don't Do It!

Some musicians, when faced with the above paperwork, may be tempted to simply throw their instruments in the car and head south, claiming at the border that they are "just visiting." I think these people are crazy.

As we all know, the old days of crossing the border with a valid driver's licence are all but gone. Nowadays, heading south without a passport is nuts. Advanced computer systems are being put into place that can track every individual's crossings, either entering or leaving the United States. U.S. border agents have the authority to search your car when they suspect something, even seize it if they find a trace of drugs. How are you going to feel trying to explain to some big, burly agent, with a huge gun on his hip, that the instruments in your trunk are just for "practicing" while you are on your "vacation" in the United States? You run a very good risk of being turned away at the border, and perhaps being black-listed in the computer system!

Is it really worth it for one measly gig? No! If you can't get the proper visa, your best bet is to turn the gig down.

Related Websites

My AFM Local (247), has a wealth of P2 information available on its website.

USCIS - Temporary Workers

USCIS - H2 Visa Package ($54.95 USD)

A good, concise description of the H2-B Visa by an attorney


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