Making the leap from national to international touring is rough for musicians, and after new fees from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services take effect Dec. 23, it may get much more difficult for artists coming into the United States.
On Oct. 24, the USCIS announced that fees for many immigration applications and petitions will be increasing for the first time since November 2010, in order to cover the costs of USCIS services, such as fraud detection, case processing and national security measures.
One immigration benefit request that the increase will affect is I-129/129CW, the "Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker," which includes "artists or entertainers, either an individual or group, to perform, teach or coach under a program that is culturally unique," and "persons with extraordinary ability in ... arts," among other fields.
At face value, raising the I-129 fee from $325 to $460 isn't so great a leap, but when one considers that this fee applies to every band member and person that the band employs, the cost certainly adds up. The increase will also affect bands of all sizes in different ways, of course.
For example, say there are two bands performing in Jackson: Band A, which is moderately successful stateside and plays at a larger venue such as Thalia Mara Hall, and Band B, which is perhaps newer to international touring and plays at smaller venues such as Martin's Restaurant & Bar.
The fees may seem like less of a hit to Band A, but larger audiences also mean larger expenses. These acts tend to have more musicians onstage and have their own sound engineers, lighting engineers and other employees to boost the quality and value of a live show. That means either the band sheds crew members or shells out the $460 fee for each person.
Meanwhile, the less-well-known Band B won't be much better off. Even with a smaller crew and fewer members, the group still has those fees to tend with on top of regular touring expenses and smaller payments per show.
It's worth noting that record labels tend to provide some financial backing for their artists. However, that's less common among independent labels, and a large majority of touring acts are self-supporting.
For some foreign artists, the fee increase will undoubtedly mean that, come 2017, touring in the United States will no longer be tenable.