Getting on Beat with Music Visas

While the Summer may be close to over, the festival season is still in full swing across the country. In fact, one of the most celebrated music festivals in Chicago – Riot Fest – is almost upon us. On September 16–18th, hundreds of thousands of people will flock to Douglass Park to spend their weekend rocking out to a stellar line-up of bands and solo musicians from around the world.

Our McEntee Law office is nestled in the music/entertainment hub that is 2112/Fort Knox ecosystem in Chicago and we do a lot of music visas for foreign acts. We feel very fortunate that we get to work with so many amazing musician clients and often get to see them when they play in Chicago!

 

Do foreign bands and musicians need a visa to play in the U.S.?

The United States has always been a destination for foreign artists looking to “break America”, but do they need a visa to play here? And if so, what kind of visa do they need?

Generally speaking, most foreign bands and solo artists need a visa to perform in the U.S. There are some very limited exceptions for non-paying showcases (like limited SXSW performances) and cultural programs sponsored by the musician’s home country, but typically professional musicians need a music visa to perform here.  If you’re a non-American musician and you’re unclear if you need a visa music, we recommend that you schedule a consultation.

 

What type of music visas do foreign bands and musicians get?

There are 3 main types of visas that foreign musicians get for their performances in the U.S.

 

What is the P-1B visa?

P-1(B) visas are for bands/groups of international renown i.e. those who are well known outside their home country. In this global digital age, it can be easier than you think to show reach outside your home country.

At least 75% of the band members must have had a relationship with the band for at least 1 year, and it’s the reputation of the group – not the achievements of any single member – that is important for the P-1 visa.

To qualify for the P-1 visa bands may provide evidence of receipt of, or nomination for, significant international awards or prizes for outstanding achievement, such as a Grammy. If they don’t have that – and don’t worry, a lot of bands don’t – they can provide evidence of at least 3 of the following:

  • DISTINGUISHED EVENTS: Your band has performed and will perform as a starring or leading group in distinguished production or events as evidenced by critical reviews, advertisements, publicity releases, publications, contracts, or endorsements.
    • Think of any festivals you’ve played in, headlining gigs you’ve done, upcoming leading gigs etc.
  • DISTINGUISHED ORGANIZATIONS: Your band has performed and will perform as a leading or starring group for distinguished organizations and establishments as evidenced by articles in newspapers, trade journals, publications, or testimonials.
    • We may be able to use the distinguished events here and “double dip” so to speak e.g. you played at Lollapalooza which is a distinguished event but it’s put on by C3 Productions, a distinguished organization etc. so we could use evidence of that for this criterion too.
  • PRESS: Your band has achieved international recognition for outstanding achievement as evidenced by reviews in major newspapers, trade journals, magazines or other published material.
    • Not all press is created equal – the more widely read the publication, the better. We typically stay away from blogs as evidence unless they are very well known in the industry.
  • SUCCESS: Your band has a record of major commercial or critically acclaimed successes, as evidenced by indicators such as ratings, box office receipts, record, cassette or video sales, and other achievements as reported in trade journals, major newspapers or other publications.
    • Top hits or top album charts are great, as are streaming stats on Spotify and YouTube etc.
  • EXPERT RECOGNITION: Your band has received significant recognition for achievements from critics, organizations, government agencies or other recognized experts in the field.
    • We can use letters from experts to satisfy this.
  • HIGH SALARY/PAYMENT: Your band has commanded and will command a high salary or other substantial remuneration compared to others
    • We could show contracts, payments etc. for this but a lot of bands do not tick this box, which is fine as you only need 3 of the above.

 

What is the P-3 visa?

P-3 visas are for bands/groups or individual musicians/entertainers who are coming to the U.S. for culturally unique performances or events. An example would be a traditional Irish band or a musician who performs folk music of their home country coming to perform that music in the U.S.

To qualify for the P-3 visa, the band or solo artist must show that they are coming to “perform, teach or coach as artists or entertainers, individually or as part of a group, under a program that is culturally unique.” It’s important to note that the musicians may have experience doing other non-culturally unique music, in addition to culturally unique music, but for the P-3 visa, we need to show that they will only be engaging in culturally unique activities whilst in the U.S.

P-3 visa holders can be coming to develop, interpret, represent, coach, or teach a unique or traditional ethnic, folk, cultural, musical, theatrical, or artists performance or presentation.

For a P-3 visa, evidence may include:

  • EXPERIENCE IN CULTURALLY UNIQUE MUSIC: We provide evidence that shows how the bands or individual musicians/entertainers has experience with this culturally unique music, what instruments they use (if any), and some of the background into the culture.
    • To document this, we can use articles from newspapers, journals or other press, expert letters talking about how the music/art form is culturally unique.
  • EVENTS IN THE U.S. WILL BE CULTURALLY UNIQUE: We provide evidence (itinerary, contract, press releases etc.) to show that the bands or individual musicians will be participating in culturally unique activities.

 

What is the O-1 music visa?

O-1B visas can be used by solo artists/leading musicians if they have extraordinary ability in their field. It’s worth noting that backing musicians, guitarists, drummers, tour managers, crew etc. can apply for an O-2 support visa if they are an essential part of the primary O-1 visa holder’s performance.

To qualify for the O-1B, a musician can show that they have received, or been nominated for, a major, internationally recognized award such as a Grammy, American Music Award, Billboard Music Award etc. Again, like the P-1B, if you don’t have this – and the vast majority of our O-1B clients do not – you can provide evidence of at least 3 of the following which almost mirror the P-1B visa criteria:

  • DISTINGUISHED EVENTS: You have performed and will perform as a lead or starring participant in distinguished production or events as evidenced by critical reviews, advertisements, publicity releases, publications, contracts, or endorsements.
    • Think of any festivals you’ve played in, headlining gigs you’ve done, upcoming leading gigs etc.
  • DISTINGUISHED ORGANIZATIONS: You have performed and will perform services as a leading or starring participant for distinguished organizations and establishments as evidenced by articles in newspapers, trade journals, publications, or testimonials.
    • We may be able to use the distinguished events here and “double dip” so to speak e.g. you played at Lollapalooza which is a distinguished event but it’s put on by C3 Productions, a distinguished organization etc. so we could use evidence of that for this criterion too.
  • PRESS: You have achieved national or international recognition for achievements as evidenced by reviews in major newspapers, trade journals, magazines or other published material.
    • Not all press is created equal – the more widely read the publication, the better. We typically stay away from blogs unless very well known in the industry.
  • SUCCESS: You have a record of major commercial or critically acclaimed successes, as evidenced by indicators such as ratings, box office receipts, record, cassette or video sales, and other achievements as reported in trade journals, major newspapers or other publications.
    • Top hits or top album charts are great, as are streaming stats on Spotify and YouTube etc.
  • EXPERT RECOGNITION: You have received significant recognition for achievements from critics, organizations, government agencies or other recognized experts in the field.
    • We can use letters from experts to satisfy this.
  • HIGH SALARY/PAYMENT: You have commanded and will command a high salary or other substantial remuneration compared to others
    • We could show contracts, payments etc. for this but a lot of bands do not tick this box, which is fine as you only need 3 of the above.

 

Regardless of the visa type, the band or musician will need a sponsor/Petitioner to file the case on their behalf. Some people who typically act as sponsor for music visas are managers, agents, record labels, event producers etc. We also need to get a “no objection” letter from the union – typically, the American Federation of Musicians.

Finally, the musicians need to show evidence of what they will be doing in the U.S. throughout the period requested in the visa. This always seems like a “cart before the horse” situation – the bands don’t want to book shows unless they know they have a visa, but they won’t get a visa unless they have evidence of shows/work in the U.S.

Applying for a visa can take time, and the pandemic has exacerbated this. As our Managing Attorney, Fiona McEntee, explained to Rolling Stone:

“It’s understandable there would be some delay in the process because of Covid, but the types of delays we are seeing now are just crazy. And many musicians and artists I work with haven’t really been able to work in a year and a half, so I cannot imagine how awful this must be for them.”

So… if you’re a band who wants to “break the U.S.” give yourself plenty of time to get your visa ducks in a row. And feel free to contact us if you need help….

And if you’re a fan seeing your favorite foreign artist, we hope this gives you a greater appreciation of what they’ve gone through to be here in the U.S. performing for you! We hope this helps get you on your way to ROCKING your music visa here in the U.S.!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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