Thursday, 23 August 2012
Problems for UK bands getting US visas UPDATE
The British are coming! The British are coming! Or not as the case may be...
Ladies and Germs of Rebellion, we appear to have a problem. Well collectively we have many problems, but the one I want to bring to your attention is the problem that America has with British music. To play in the States, bands should apply for work visas, which includes an interview at the US Embassy in London and the requirement that you prove you're a band worth letting in. The American visa system seems to be keeping UK bands out of its borders based on nothing more than whether the random jobsworth who gets your file has heard of you or not.
It's an uphill struggle anyway. Trying to tour in America is beyond the financial and organisational means of most of the bands I know. Then you have to factor in that the country is bloody enormous, some of the people very strange and their tastes in music stranger still. The sticking point really though is that tough visa requirements have been made tougher by increased bureaucracy and more money needed to actually make it happen.
Over the last ten years there has been an increase in rejections for British bands. There is no appeal process once you've been rejected, they don't give you any explanation, and none of the money you've shelled out is refundable. Musicians and their promoters have wasted considerable money, as well as having to rearrange and cancel tour dates. The system is making it too expensive and unpredictable to book tours in the US, and is not favouring the bands that don't try and fly under the radar. We've all heard of a band that either got rejected or didn't have enough time to apply properly, turning up to gigs with little or no equipment because they're playing on a tourist and not a work visa.
The madness gets madder still. What if one of you can't get the time off work to tour so you get another mate to stand in on bass? The problem is that your drummer has only been in the band for 11 months. To even get anywhere close to near being granted a visa, the rules require that at least 75% of the members of the group must have a substantial and sustained relationship with the group for at least one year. And there's no flexibility in this at all, no extenuating circumstances can be given.
These words 'sustained and substantial' come back to bite British bands in the arse in another ridiculously impractical demand. I mentioned earlier that part of the process is to prove that the band is a legitimate band that deserve visas? Did I tell you that it has to be a substantial bundle of evidence (at least 30 pages) showing that the band has an international reputation and has attained a high level of achievement for a “sustained and substantial” period of time. Define high level of achievement to a punk band.
The costs can become prohibitively expensive for non-London based bands. I heard of an 80 piece orchestra from Manchester who had to cancel US gig dates (or I suppose it's a concert with an orchestra!) because coordinating getting all of them to the interview at the London Embassy for the 8am time slot just wasn't going to happen in the real world. This problem is widespread across the music industry, an industry which generates over £6 billion per year for the UK economy and employs over 130,000 British jobs.
In March, for the first time in 25 years, UK acts occupied all 3 top slots in the US album charts. But it's not the Adele's of this world who are being denied visas - although interestingly she had to get the UK Culture Minister to phone the Embassy and vouch for her as her fast-paced success didn't meet the requirements on her first US tour. It's the non-superstars who don't have the spare cash to pay for the fast-track process or a consultant's fee to get it done.
Louder Than War is working with professional musicians associations and MPs in campaigning for this process to be reformed and for the US to show the same love to UK bands that we do to their artists. If you have any experience of this we want to hear from you. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
The campaign is calling for American immigration policy to be reformed:
- To implement their proposed plan to reduce processing for visas to 15-20 days, which was announced in July 2010 and never enacted.
- To consider exempting particular showcases and festivals from visa requirements, such as SXSW, CMJ festival (for which bands do not get paid either) and Coachella Festival and, along the same lines as currently happens for Glastonbury, the Proms, etc. Managers in the industry have got together to lobby for such an exemption for trade events.
- The system could certainly be clearer and more transparent, to the extent that this is consistent with security concerns – so that bands don’t have to either pour money into the system or risk cancelling their tour. This should including clearer eligibility criteria for demonstrating international reputation, so that record labels etc do not waste huge amounts of money applying for visas for bands that will be rejected.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad