Louder than War has been campaigning for a long time on the issue of musicians’ visas and the problems they have getting into the USA to tour. Last year LTW boss John Robb enlisted the help of Labour MP Kerry McCarthy and they had a meeting with the Culture Minister, Ed Vaizey in June to talk about it. The Musicians Union and AIM (the Association of Independent Music) came along to that meeting too. Other organisations such as UK Music, the Music Managers Forum and the Association of British Orchestras also gave their backing to the campaign, as well as promoters from the USA.
Musicians have been complaining about the US visa system for ages. It looks as if this meeting might have been the trigger to get things moving, although progress since then has been frustratingly slow. SXSW sparked all sorts of visa problems last year, and we expect we’ll be hearing soon about bands facing the same last minute panic to get visas sorted for the 2012 event, which is only six weeks away.
The Minister promised back in June to help set us set up a meeting with the US Embassy. This hasn’t happened (yet). We think they need to hear first hand from musicians about the problems this is causing, but at least the officials have been talking to each other and to “the industry”. In response to a recent parliamentary question the Minister confirmed that:
“This Department, together with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, is liaising closely with the US Administration as a whole on a range of issues around visas for UK musicians. The most recent meeting was in December and further meetings are planned. I am grateful to representatives from across the UK music industry for their support in informing these discussions.”
And in response to another question he replied that:
“My officials hosted a meeting with representatives of the UK music industry to discuss US visa issues on 15 December. The issue was also discussed at a meeting of the music industry’s International Strategy Group on 18 January. We will continue to pursue the interests of UK musicians through dialogue with all interested parties.”
One of the things we’ve heard on the grapevine is that the US Embassy is considering making it possible for musicians from the north to go to Leeds for their visa interviews instead of down to London, which would certainly make life easier.
Something else we are pushing for is for the USA to replicate the arrangement we have in the UK, where the sponsors of big events can help with visa applications. It would mean that the promoters could vouch for the musicians being established artists and having bookings in the USA, rather than the musicians having to compile great big bundles of press cuttings and fill in loads of forms (which, admittedly, they’re usually not very good at!) We’re told that this too is on the agenda for the talks with officials.
So it’s not no progress, but it is slow progress.