Live & Touring

Price hike for touring visas is a bad idea coming at the worst time

Proposed increases of 205% and more for visas for foreign musicians performing in the U.S. threatens to make coming to America to tour financially impossible for most artists.

By Rufus Sivaroshan, a student in the Bandier music business program, a signed recording artist, and a proud Malaysian. This first appeared in Bill Werde’s free, weekly Full Rate No Cap email.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) proposed to adjust certain immigration and naturalization benefit request fees charged by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), including the O and P visa classes commonly used by foreign performing artists, including touring musicians. The proposed rule, if passed, would increase petition fees for O visas from $460 to $1,665 and for P visas from $460 to $1,615; a 250+ percent increase for both. Both visas would also require an additional $600 surcharge

This is an issue that will impact many industries. But for the rapidly-globalizing music business, this should raise serious concerns about the viability of U.S. stop for international touring acts. And for me, this is both a personal and an existential professional matter.

I moved to the U.S. from my home in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to study. But also, significantly, to work on my aspirations as a recording artist. Before I came to the U.S. in 2021, I had managed to create some success with a song called “useless,” and my debut EP, which reached 3 million+ streams. More recently, I’ve released two songs through a label deal with Nettwerk, including my single “tryhard,” which was released Friday. 

The suggested price hike for visas is not a theoretical problem, but a literal, financial one for me and for countless other artists – especially those from less-moneyed emerging markets. I am currently in the U.S. under an O-1 visa (this is a longer-term visa for working immigrants). Getting a visa is already a daunting, expensive, time consuming process for foreign artists. I can tell you that increasing the petition fees by 250% may well be the last straw for the ability of many of them to come to the U.S., let alone tour.

This specific proposed policy change would mean additional costs of about $1,800 for me. That’s in addition to an already prohibitively expensive process: attorney fees average $4,000 to $6,000; filing fees of $190 per person; and, if necessary, premium processing fees for a two-week turnaround which add $1,410 per visa and would otherwise be a three-to-five month turnaround. This visa could easily cost more than $10,000 per person. Now multiply that across a three-piece band and a tour manager. A foreign artist going on tour in the U.S. might need to pay as much as $50,000 solely in visa-related costs to enter the country. Unless their guarantee for these shows are more than six figures, it’s unlikely that these foreign artists will break even on tour, even if you cut production costs to the bare minimum and travel as cheaply as humanly possible.

English alternative indie pop group, “easy life”, recently shared that numbers just like this were why they cancelled their North American tour, and noted that the proposed Visa increases would have added an additional 15 percent in costs to a bare-boned tour that was already hard to financially justify. This, despite their boasting hundreds of millions of streams and having a successful touring career in the UK and Europe. If that’s the case for them, again, imagine how detrimental these policies will be for artists who are less successful or from countries with less robust economies.

The truth is, these price hikes, if they become official policy, will create an enormous barrier for entry for working class (or poorer) musicians hoping to enter the US music business. And this is happening just as many of these artists–hardest ht by the pandemic–are beginning their recovery. The potential creative drain on an industry increasingly reliant on the creativity and vision of international acts should find this highly concerning. Do we really want to limit musical contributions by economic class?

Act Now!

If the answer to that is “no,” please head to the online, open comment period regarding this policy, amd share your thoughts. Here’s one of mine: if you want to have a class system, then acknowledge reality and create an income-based fee scale, instead of penalizing the less fortunate. This visa increase may amount to a marginal tax on superstar acts. But it can be the difference of a future for just about everyone else. 

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