Ask Allison

Ask Allison
Is it true that in order to apply for a P2 visa to play in the U.S., you have to be a member of the CFM [the Canadian Federation of Musicians, aka the musicians' union]? My band have been CFM members in the past, and we have been approved for P2s, but we feel like other than the visa thing the union is kind of useless. So we wanted to know if it's possible to take care of next year's P2 without paying up our union dues.
Pam P., Toronto

There are a couple of visas that allow Canadian musicians to work legally in the U.S. The most popular is indeed the P2. It's designed for artists who are members of a "reciprocal organization," meaning a union or professional association that has an equivalent in the U.S. So that doesn't mean just the musician's union ― it includes actors, writers and other artists' organizations. Provided your dues are paid up, the CFM can put your P2 application together for cheap (filing costs plus $25), and being an CFM member gives you credibility with Homeland Security, if not the fast track. Non-union bands can still play in the U.S. under a P1 or P3 visa. Solo artists can try to get an O-1.

If you're not union and not interested in going that route, or if you're not up to scratch on your union dues, there are lawyers and other services that help you put visa applications together, but they are expensive, starting at $500 U.S. and up. One popular service is Tamizdat:

Just between us and the multitudes who doubtless pore over my every word, I've heard of musicians who've gamed the union system by submitting some random amount to their AFM local in payment of dues just to get a P2 underway. They justify it by stating, as you did, that the union is otherwise kind of useless. I have mixed feelings about this. Anyone else have union and/or visa experiences they can share?

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