Cross-Border Gigging Petition: Facts & Responses

by SaskMusic

July 31, 2009 in Industry Developments

Many of you have already seen the following petition, which has been circulating via email for the past few months...

"Supporters of the Canadian and American Music Industry demand that bands who wish to play across the border be allowed to do so.

Crossing the border to play a concert is almost impossible for both American and Canadian acts. We are tired of paying for concerts with an out-of-country headliner only to find out that they couldn't get across the border.

We are tired of booking tours for our bands only to be turned away. We believe it is imperative to assert a new law that will make it easier for touring bands to get into Canada and the United States without applying for a work permit that costs more than most local bands make playing across the border."

The wording of this petition suggests that the procedures and laws are unclear, so we'd like to clarify the actual procedures and what you need to know.

Keep in mind that what this petition suggests - opening the border to playing in the U.S. - means that U.S. bands would in turn be performing in Canada and competing for the few gigs currently available.

First, it is not impossible to perform in the U.S. If you have a well-paying gig booked, it's actually quite painless. Yes, you must be a member of the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada (AFM). Yes, there are fees that take a bite out of your paycheque, BUT they are mostly tax deductible, and amount to about $182. Bands who go through the recognized process (see below) generally find it very easy to cross the border and work in the U.S.

The local AFM office notes that there are a lot of U.S. bands performing in Canada; in fact, in over 18 years there has only been one instance where the Local has not given its approval for a U.S. band when requested (and there must be a good reason). What artists have to realize is that both governments are trying to protect job opportunities for their own citizens - that's their job. A description often heard in the U.S. was "prospecting". In other words, bands were going into the States with one confirmed gig and then floating around trying to dig up other work. This is not looked kindly upon by either authorities. IF YOU HAVE PROOF THAT YOU HAVE THE WORK - NO PROBLEM. The AFM can also negotiate special clearances for groups who want to go into the US to do legitimate "showcases" or audition, provided certain criteria are met.

The U.S. IS a foreign country, even if it's only a few hours away. You should never plan to tour another country without having confirmed, paying gigs before you leave Canada.


by Alan Willaert, International Representative, American Federation of Musicians (AFM)

  • 5,000 Canadian musicians are approved every year to work in the U.S. via Class p2 Approvals (known as a Owork permit' or Ovisa', although technically it's not).
  • You must have guaranteed work (i.e. a signed contract for the booking, including specific performance dates) before you will be allowed entry. (Foreign countries do not take kindly to people coming in and taking jobs away from their own citizens. If you already have a job in place before you arrive, that's viewed differently.)
  • The U.S. and Canada have a reciprocal agreement in place. Canada is allowed to send an unlimited number of musicians to the U.S. (using the P2, at $110 U.S. per band), and in return U.S. musicians may enter Canada on a Cultural Exchange permit, for which the Canadian Government charges $150 per musician, or up to $450 per band. It took a fair bit of lobbying by the AFM and U.S. government to have this system agreed to in the first place.
  • There is a risk that if we DO get in the U.S. government's face about the current arrangement, they may wake up and
  • charge our musicians much more to work in the U.S.
  • put quotas on how many musicians are allowed in or
  • decide they don't want Canadians, period.
  • There are many other dangerous possibilities. Although the intentions of the above petition are certainly well-meaning, it could end up damaging what we have already fought hard to gain.
Touring in the United States
Today's musicians often find themselves in a position where they have outgrown the Canadian market, or perhaps have a CD that they wish to support by touring - especially in the United States. The U.S. market is the largest in the world, and musicians quickly learn that access to that market can boost their careers. Therefore, performing in the U.S. is considered a critical part of a musical career. However, touring in the U.S. is considered working by the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), and doing so illegally (i.e. without a work permit or visa) has serious consequences. In fact, being arrested and convicted can lead to deportation from the U.S. - for life.

To obtain the necessary paperwork, you could spend $1,800 to $3,000 going through an immigration lawyer, or you could have the AFM petition on your behalf - for free. Because the AFM is an international union (hence the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada), we are able to represent our members directly to the INS, and obtain Class P2 Approvals for work in the U.S.

Applications for P2s must be made at least 35 days in advance of the departure date, and involve: 
  • signed forms from each band member and any other crew members
  • copies of engagements contracts/tour itineraries
  • INS Petition Filing Fee of $110.00 U.S. for each petition. Sound and light technicians must be on a separate petition from the band.
  • $15.00 Canadian payable to the AFM (Canada) if the application is filed with proper notice. (This covers courier fees, long distance, photocopying, etc.)
  • All involved must be "paid-up" union members (including until the tour is complete) 
P2s are approved for the period of time necessary to complete contracted engagements, up to a maximum of one year.

For further information, please call the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada at 1-(800)-INFOFED (463-6333), or visit the website at

You may also address email to

Access to P2s is not the only benefit the AFM can offer to musicians. Please continue on to the AFM article below, and if you'd like more information, please contact one of the below or visit their website at

Brian Dojack, Secretary-Treasurer, Local 446, AFM (Regina)
(306) 352-1337 or email

Vesti Hanson, Secretary-Treasurer, Local 553, AFM (Saskatoon)
(306) 477-2506 or email

Alan Willaert, International Representative, AFM
email or (

By Lorena Kelly  with assistance from Brian Dojac, Local 446 (AFM) for SaskMusic. Originally published February/March 2001.

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