Q: I have often travelled with my community band into the US to play concerts and thought this was a good thing. Imagine my surprise when the band was stopped at the border last month and denied entry into the US because we did not have a P-1 visa. We’ve never been asked for one before—is this something new?
Border woes such as the one described above are all too common and could easily be avoided. The short answer is that, of course, this is nothing new: the temporary work visa requirement for foreign artists entering the US to perform, whether for pay or free, has long been on the books. The enforcement of the regulation was stepped up several years ago, and a temporary work visa is almost always required. However, entry into the US is still solely at the determination of the US Customs and Border Protection Officer at each border crossing, and it is not entirely surprising that this band was allowed in several times over the years and then suddenly challenged with the visa requirement. It all depends on who you get at the border.
So, how does one avoid border woes? Simply put: do your homework well in advance.
1) Get the right temporary work visa. For performing groups I highly recommend the P-2 visa available through the AFM. The musicians’ union has capable, experienced staff members who will assist with the process, and the reciprocal exchange program under which the P-2 visa is administered, provides a streamlined procedure for Federation members.
2) Make sure that all documents are in order: Passports should extend beyond performance dates (some passports may be required to be valid for six months beyond that date).
3) Make sure that all group members qualify for entry. Seventy-five percent of your band members must have been with the group for at least one year.
4) Deal with any issues of criminality for anyone in the group. Any conviction, however minor, can cause problems at the border. There are ways of dealing with this issue well in advance (Look into Waivers of Ineligibility and Criminal Rehabilitation documentation).
5) Deal with the problem of getting merchandise across the border in advance. Send merchandise in via courier or mail, if you can. If you are carrying merchandise make sure it is properly manufactured, or properly labelled (for example, promotional copies). Have the invoice of manufacture with you. For a large quantity of merchandise, you may want to use a customs broker.
6) Look into customs regulations about carrying instruments containing endangered species across the border. There’s no point in trying to cross a border to perform when there’s a danger that your instrument might be confiscated because it contains something from an endangered species. Check out the Musical Instrument Passport program http://www.fws.gov/international/permits/by-activity/musical-instruments.html.
7) Deal with the problem of transporting instruments, especially if you are flying: Make sure you know the regulations adopted by different airlines for transporting instruments.
8) Work out a strategy for dealing with the border crossing. Rehearse straightforward answers to the typical questions you might be asked by a US Customs and Border Protection official. Coach everyone to be honest and forthright. Answer questions succinctly and do not volunteer additional information.
With a little more knowledge about the regulations for performing in another country and a lot more common sense, border crossing woes can be avoided.
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