The Jamaica Federation of Musicians and Affiliates Union (JFMAU) is not happy with the proposed increase by the United States Department of Homeland Security in the cost of temporary work visas for touring musicians and artistes, and is calling on all those with authority to immediately intervene to ensure that it is withdrawn.
In a document titled Federal Register/Vol. 88, No. 2 and dated Wednesday, January 4, 2023/Proposed Rules US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) outlines that it “proposes to adjust certain immigration and naturalisation benefit request fees charged by US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). USCIS conducted a comprehensive biennial fee review and determined that its costs have increased considerably since its previous fee adjustment due to expanded humanitarian programmes, higher demand, increased processing times, and a need for more USCIS employees. USCIS cannot maintain adequate service level with the effects of the budget cuts and its current level of spending without lasting impacts on operations. DHS proposes to adjust USCIS fees, add new fees for certain benefit requests, establish distinct fees for petitions for non-immigrant workers, and limit the number of beneficiaries on certain forms”.
The proposal is to increase visa fees for foreign acts who are arriving in the US to perform temporarily and who qualify for ‘P’ and ‘O’ visas from the current rate of US$460 to US$1,615 and US$460 to US$1,655. Notably, both increases, which represent 250 per cent of the current rate, include a $600 surcharge to fund the US government’s asylum programme.
President of the JFMAU, Lowell Lawson, is adamant that this will deal a severe blow to Jamaica’s music industry, which is just reviving out of the pandemic.
“This will further cripple the Jamaican music sector, destroy the earning potential of our creatives and practitioners who seek to work overseas, with a sector that has been dealt its blows, just starting its recovery process from the devastating effects of COVID and billions of dollars lost. With close examination, why are the proposed fees so high in a third world country? We call upon the Department of Homeland Security to provide an explanation, strike a balance and to roll back these proposed new fees as the US market is and has always been an important one, with both countries sharing good economic relations and interests,” Lawson said.
According to the DHS, the increases are needed due to high demand and insufficient staff at the Citizenship and Immigration department.
He is also questioning the US$600 surcharge.
“Why would that fee for asylum seekers be placed on entertainers? We definitely need clarity on that,” he added.
Lawson further pointed out that the music fraternity in Canada, through the Canadian Federation of Musicians, has called for a roll back on those proposed fees and noted that the JFMAU is totally in support of their efforts.
A report by cbc.ca quoted Frédéric Julien, director of research and development at the Canadian Association for the Performing Arts, as saying that the proposed increase will make it even more difficult for artistes to make a living.
“We’re appalled and we’re concerned for members. Artistes struggle to make a living even in Canada and this creates a major barrier for those who attempt to tour in the US,” Julien said, adding that the association is watching the issue closely, and working with partners in the US to lobby against the change.
As far as Lawson is concerned, “These fees, if put into effect, are unsustainable as touring has proven to be costly and won’t be lucrative for practitioners. A CBC news article titled ‘Island musicians concerned by soaring cost to tour south of the border says that for American musicians wanting to perform in Canada the temporary work visa fee starts at $155 for an individual, and $465 for a group of three or more artistes and their staff travelling together. Just look at that comparison.”
In its article, cba.ca interviewed Rob Oakie, executive director of Music PEI who told them in a statement, that “anything that adds to the cost of touring (which seems to be everything these days) is a concern for touring artistes”
According to the report “Oakie said he believes the only way the proposal will be withdrawn is if members of the US music industry – including venues, festival organisers, agents and artistes – raise enough opposition. He said he doesn’t believe US officials will listen to Canadian or other international artistes. In the meantime, Oakie said Music PEI has been advising artistes who want to tour internationally to go to the United Kingdom or the European Union.
“Sad, since we share so much with the US and it’s so close,” Oakie reportedly said.
Lawson shared that his organisation is looking to garner support from overseas partners and is intent on setting up a meeting with the US Embassy in Jamaica to discuss the proposed fee hike and other issues.
“We are working on establishing that partnership to establish stability and working relationship which is critical to at this juncture. Our vision is to have them working with us closely to create some standards. For example, we want the embassy to insist that those who pass through should be verified by the union. That system was in place before but we want to reinforce it. And of course, high on that meeting agenda is the roll back of the proposed hike.”
In making a plea to the industry, Lawson stated that the JFMAU is encouraging all music associations to lobby for change, for practitioners and creatives to work smarter, educate themselves about their craft, protect their music and royalties, and to unitedly support and strengthen the calls to action by joining the JFMAU, the labour representative of the Jamaican entertainment industry.
The DHS documents states that “Written comments must be submitted on this proposed rule on or before March 6, 2023. The electronic Federal Docket Management System will accept comments before midnight eastern time at the end of that day.”