Photo ©️2023 Neil Turkewitz

A Tale of Two Visa Regimes: A Dickensian Parable

by Neil Turkewitz

On January 4 of this year, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a Federal Register Notice announcing its intention to significantly increase the cost of visas to enter the United States, and requesting public comment. As noted by the Canadian Federation of Musicians, the proposed changes:

“Would make touring in the United States for international artists significantly more expensive.

The proposed rate increase would see the filing fees for regularly processed O-type visa petitions increase from $460 to $1,655, an increase of 260%. Processing fees for P-type, including P-2 petitions would rise by 251% from $460 to $1,615.”

But it is not only non-US performers that are concerned about the implications of this proposal, and various US performers are, I understand, preparing comments to be filed in response to the FR Notice.

One such performer — famed guitarist and artist’s advocate, Marc Ribot, recently penned a response and kindly shared it with me. With his permission, I have reprinted it below. I hope that DHS and other relevant agencies will carefully consider these perspectives, and will fully grasp some of the potential unintended consequences and harm to the US economy if the price hikes move forward as currently proposed.

Statement of Marc Ribot

I have been a working recording artist, band leader, side musician and AFM member since 1976 — performing and recording in the rock, jazz, R&B, world music, Americana, and alt country genres. Foreign — in particular European — touring, has been an important part of my income since 1979.

Since the post Napster collapse in recording income, foreign touring has been, by far, the major part of my income. My bands and I have, for the last forty four years, toured without any work visa requirement in the entire Schengen Area of Europe (which permits work for 90 out of every 180 days), and with minimal requirements in many neighboring states.

The proposed increase in US artist visa costs would throw fuel on a fire of discontent already stoked by the disequilibrium between the European Union’s open welcome of US touring artists, and the US government’s highly restrictive impediments shown our European colleagues; by the lack of reciprocity in terrestrial radio artist royalties; and by disequilibrium in Covid travel and visa restriction policies.

The danger of DHS’s policies provoking a backlash are very real. I can assure you that any such retaliation would be devastating to the tens of thousands of middle and down-market US touring musicians whose already narrow profit margins — still subject to Covid related disruptions and higher fuel/transportation costs related to the war in Ukraine — would be pushed even further into precarity.

The imposition by the EU or other key foreign markets of anything close to reciprocity would effectively kill Jazz, New Music, and cutting edge forms of Rock (foreign touring has long been our economic engine), and hurt every form of US music, with the possible exception of symphonic music.

In the event of retaliation/reciprocity, the reduction in US touring opportunities would carry over into losses in sales of US artists’ recorded music, which touring is intended to promote.

International touring supports local US musical artist communities, and is a key pillar of the US based global record business.

The 2017 Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment “Music In NYC” report is worth quoting at length:

“…New York City…music ecosystems support… nearly 60,000 jobs, accounting for roughly $5 billion in wages, and generating a total economic output of $21 billion …. This music ecosystem is composed of four key pillars: local artist communities, mass music consumption, the global record business, and infrastructure and support services…. these pillars are interrelated and mutually reinforcing….. A disruption in one pillar would impact the others, underscoring how critical it is to take a holistic view across all four pillars of the ecosystem.”

In addition, the touring and sales of US music outside the US are key factors in encouraging music motivated tourism of the US:

“… tourism spending that can be attributed solely to attending music-related events — amounts to $400 to $500 million [annually, in NYC alone]..

Each year, well over 5 million music event tickets are sold…These events trigger a fourth and final economic impact: tourism spending attributable solely to the music ecosystem. This ancillary impact…includes the hotel, local transportation, food, and other expenditures that result only because an individual visits New York City to attend a music-related event.

“… music tourists help… to cement New York City’s reputation — and future — as a premier music city.”

Risking the disruption of this multi-billion dollar ecosystem in order generate at most a few million in increased visa fees or avoid a few million in visa processing expenses is highly reckless and counterproductive.

The potential economic damage would not be evenly distributed between US and foreign musicians, but would fall primarily on US musicians: whose live and recorded work are both major US exports, disproportionally affecting Black and Latinx US artists, whose creative work has long been highly popular abroad, and represents US culture to foreign audiences.

In the event of reciprocity, any gains in revenue would be offset many times over by losses in the taxable income of US touring musicians, travel companies, booking agencies, managers, road managers, road crews, record companies, and the ancillary tourism/hospitality businesses mentioned above.

I hope the DHS USCIS will withdraw this ill timed, culturally and economically reckless proposal.

marc ribot.



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