Advice for Scottish artists planning to tour in the United States of America.

Newsflash: As of March 6, 2015, it’s official and no longer at the discretion of the various airlines. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, musicians who board planes must be allowed to carry on their instruments provided they fit in the overhead bin. If this space isn’t large enough, the musician is also permitted to purchase a second seat in which to stow their musical companion. One caveat: the airlines don’t have to prioritize musical instruments ahead of any other carry-on luggage, so if the bins are full, you’ll still have to check your instrument at the gate. To remedy this, the DoT suggests that musicians may want to pay the airline’s fee for priority boarding to ensure that there will be room for their gear.

For more information go here: http://www.bmi.com/news/entry/final_ruling_for_air_travel_with_musical_instruments.

Visa

Obtaining a visa to work temporarily in the US can be a long and expensive process. Fees, procedures and time scales are prone to change so please be sure to seek the advice of a qualified US-based immigration attorney for up to date advice.

Your attorney will more than likely require a retainer for your services, this could be in the region of £2500 or more do you will need access to this kind of funding well in advance of your tour.

The majority of costs will be for submitting the petition so make sure you have everyone you need on the petition. It’s better to include extra names than not have a visa for a replacement or extra person if required. Everyone will have to attend the embassy in London or Belfast so take that into account.

You will need to have at least some, but preferably all, shows booked and contracted before you can submit a petition. This can make it very difficult to allow plenty time for visa processing.

You will also be required to attend a visa appointment at the US Consulate. For UK residents this means visiting either London or Belfast so be sure allow time for such a trip! It’s possible to obtain expedited processing if something goes wrong and time is getting tight but be warned this is expensive! If you are going to London you will usually be required to attend early in the morning which can be difficult if you are travelling from afar.

The type of visa required for musicians will be one of the following:

  • O-1 individuals with an extraordinary ability in the arts
  • O-2 persons accompanying an O-1. This can be band members or crew
  • P-1B A Member of an Internationally Recognized Entertainment Group
  • P-2 Individual Performer or Part of a Group Entering to Perform Under a Reciprocal Exchange Program
  • P-3 Artist or Entertainer Coming to Be Part of a Culturally Unique Program

The US Citizenship an Immigration Services (USCIS) guidance on each classification can be found here http://www.uscis.gov/working-united-states/temporary-workers/temporary-nonimmigrant-workers

O visas can last up to 3 years but this will usually only apply to those who can show a history of regular US touring. P visas will usually be valid for 1 year but are often specific to the itinerary submitted on application. Just because you have a ‘valid’ visa does not mean that you will be allowed in. Check with your immigration attorney if you have any doubts. Being refused entry will cause you big problems in the future.

If you are an artist who qualifies for the kind of opportunities found via this website we’d say you are more likely to be applying for a P-3 (but obviously your attorney can advise appropriately).

Supporting documents required will vary depending on the type of visa applied for but generally you will be required to supply your attorney with passport photo pages, copies of any prior visas obtained, contracts for all the gigs, a tour itinerary, your artist biography and discography, confirmation of any awards and maybe press articles about your work.

If any members of the travelling party have a criminal record or have been denied entry to the USA before this will cause delays & may well mean that they will be denied a visa. Please allow extra time for anyone in this situation.

Once they have all the required information your attorney will file a petition with USCIS. Within a few weeks of filing you should receive a filing receipt. This allows you to book an appointment at the US Consulate in London (step 3 here http://london.usembassy.gov/niv/apply.html) or Belfast (step 3 here http://belfast.usconsulate.gov/apply.html).

Note that while your filing receipt allows you to book an appointment, your petition will not yet be approved, and you’ll need it to be for your visa to actually be issued. It can be tricky to get this right given the varying processing times! The US Consulate can hold on to your passport until the approval is received, but if you need your passport in the meantime and you don’t have a second one for situations like this then you might find yourself having to cancel the appointment and rebook.

Here are some of the companies who specialise in providing visa services to artists touring in the USA. We are not recommending or endorsing any of these companies & there are other who provide the same service who you may choose to use.

Blue Skies Immigration Services LLC, contact Andi Floyd andi@blueskies-imm.com

Tam Ray Touring, contact Katie Ray, katie@tamraytouring.com

Tamizdat, contact Brian Steele, brian@tamizdat.org

Tax

Your earnings in the US will be subject to withholding tax of 30% unless you enter into a Central Withholding Agreement (CRA) with the IRS (official guidance here https://www.irs.gov/Individuals/International-Taxpayers/Central-Withholding-Agreements)

Essentially this means obtaining a waiver to reduce the rate of tax based up your budget for the tour and your expected net profit (or loss!). If you’ve worked in the US before you will need to have filed tax returns in order to obtain a CWA (if this wasn’t done at the time you’ll need to do it now for the years in question). You will also need to agree to file a return for the current tax year.

You will need a Central Withholding Agent to arrange all this for you. These are professionals authorised to negotiate CWAs with the IRS. It might cost in the region of $750 for their services but could save you much more in tax across a whole tour. Your visa attorney can probably recommend someone and it’s a good idea to make a start on both fronts early on.

You will need to provide copies of contracts and a detailed budget of all income and expenditure for the tour.

When the CWA is granted the IRS will provide a letter of confirmation which can be distributed to each venue or festival on the tour confirming they do not need to withhold 30% of your fee.

Take note: In order to file your tax return you will need a Social Security Number or Individual Tax Identification Number. Applying for one of these requires a visit in person to the relevant tax office,so if you don’t already have one of these numbers you will need to make time to do this while on tour in the US. You will need to give a US address for your SSN or ITIN to be posted to, this will be the address of the Central Withholding Agent you have hired.

Here are some companies who provide CWA services. We are not recommending or endorsing any of these companies & there are other who provide the same service who you may choose to use.

CWA Management, contact Frank Page, frank@cwamanagement.com

Donenfeld Management, contact info@donenfeldmgmt.com

Jess S. Morgan & Co, contact info@jsmco.com

You can find thorough guides to both visa and tax requirements here http://www.artistsfromabroad.org/