Workshop: Visas & immigration
Hosts: Sophie Amable, Artist & Entertainer Visas Global (UK) | Oleg Gaidar, Artist & Entertainer Visas Global (UK) | Brande Lindsey, Global Access (US) | Tina Richard, T&S Immigration (UK)
The labyrinthine world of visa applications may be the least rock ‘n’ roll aspect of the live music business but a working knowledge of this fast-moving world is essential as new markets open up and more acts lean on live as the major source of their income.
Richard of T&S Immigration Services second-guessed immediately what the audience would want to ask her and headed them off at the pass. “Please don’t ask me about Brexit,” she said. “I know as much as you do. The government doesn’t even know. They are in the starting process of Brexit and no one knows how it will pan out.”
She said issuing visas for acts in the UK is “generally pretty quick and painless,” although acts from certain markets (she cited Russia, Jamaica and certain African countries as examples) would need to start their applications earlier to ensure no hold ups.
“The current UK system is quick, usually low cost and very, very simple,” she said. “I am hoping it stays that way! Who knows?”
Gaidar of Artist & Entertainer Visas Global explained how unexpected immigration rules being imposed can wrong foot everyone. He gave the example of British nationals previously not needing work visas for Argentina but that all changed in December 2015, with the country insisting on them for acts and crew taking everyone by surprise. He said the initial weeks were a scramble for information and clarification, with them able to quickly process the visas for one act about to embark on a tour there by calling in favours.
While obviously promoting companies such as his, he said it is best to use visa specialists. Sometimes tour managers are tempted to sort everything themselves to save costs but often come unstuck and have to call in specialists to dig them out of a hole of their own making. “It requires a lot of time and co-ordination,” he said of the convoluted system one has to navigate here.
He added that biometrics are becoming the norm in some countries as border security measures are tightened. Fingerprints have long been required for the US and for the past two years have been needed for Russia. For acts tight for time (perhaps in the studio or on tour elsewhere), they can hire a fingerprinting mobile kit from the Russian embassy and bring it to where the act is. “It’s a VIP service and costs money,” he says, “but it is possible.”
Lindsey of Global Access spoke of the system in place for acts playing in the US. “Which is a hot topic right now!” she said, alluding to the travel bans that President Trump is trying to impose on certain (mainly Muslim) countries.
She outlined the Kafkaesque world that acts can sometimes fall into here and the endless and seemingly inexplicable bureaucracy they can run up against. Acts might be asked for additional information to prove they are in a band full-time and are known in their field, which can be frustrating for emerging and breaking acts. “We get mad with the government and fight back, telling them what they did wrong,” she says.
The staff at the US immigration centres might misunderstand the evidence being presented to them and this can be a cause of frustration and can seriously delay visa applications as they ask for extra information or clarification. “They are not at all as educated as they should be” she told the room.
There has been more of a clamping down on this supporting evidence in recent years, especially for newer act that require lots of supporting evidence such as festival flyers and social media accounts. Testimonial letters from promoters and venues in the US designed to smooth the process have now also become much stricter. “It has to be four or five paragraphs with tonnes of sugar in it – with a CV to back it up,” she said. “It’s pretty crazy.”
Finally, Sophie Amable of A&E Visas USA said that getting applications in early is the only way to behave. They can help rush through applications for the US as a VIP service but this is expensive. “The US embassy does not allow people to hire their fingerprint machines like the Russians do,” she said, pointing out there are between 500 and 800 applications a day in person at the US Embassy in London. “It is literally manic,” she said. “Hence the VIP service.”