Are you an American citizen who has a cool little show you want to produce on the Canadian Fringe Festival Circuit? No problem! You DO NOT need a work permit if you are a performing artist who:
- will perform in Canada for a limited period of time,
- will not perform in a bar or restaurant,
- are not being hired for ongoing employment by the Canadian group that has contracted you and
- are not involved in making a movie, television or radio broadcast.
You just need a letter from the festivals you will be participating in confirming the items above.
Are you a Canadian citizen who would like to take your cool little Fringe show to one of the American Fringes (New York, Orlando, San Diego, Indianapolis, San Francisco, and Boulder) who are members of the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals, or one of the many other unrelated Fringe Festivals in the U.S.? No probl...
As some of you may know, I was accepted into the Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival where I was planning on producing Roller Derby Saved My Soul. Going into the US to produce/perform in a show is way more complicated for Canadians than it is for Americans coming our way. Some folks have whispered to me that perhaps it might just be easier to lie and say I was going on vacation. I'm not comfortable with that for one second. I am the worst when it comes to lying to authority figures and the BORDER is the very last place where I would like to push my luck. I've heard too many nightmare stories of people being detained or, even worse, banned from entering the States to ever want to do that.
However, by wanting to produce my work honestly and following the rules, I now found myself in a bureaucratic nightmare worthy of Asterix & Obelix's task in "The Place That Sends You Mad". I expected some fees and some paperwork, but this is just too much and, as such, I've had to sadly withdraw from the Orlando Fringe.
While this was one of my favorite Asterix & Obelix movies as a kid, it is my hope that if you want to pursue this avenue, my adventures might save you from going completely insane in the process.
Please note, I am not an immigration lawyer, nor have I consulted one at the moment. This is simply the process that I have been going through. If there is an immigration lawyer out there who would be able to speak to me pro bono about all this, I would be very happy to hear from you.
It all started with the CAFF website and their page on Information for Canadian Artists Entering the US where I learned about the P-2 Artist Visa, which is for a reciprocal exchange with a labour organization in the States and one in Canada. For me, that comes from the agreement between the Canadian Actor's Equity Association and the American Actor's Equity Association. The association needs to petition on your behalf to the US Government in order to let you into the country. If you are not a union member, I don't know what other options are out there for you unless you are internationally recognized in your field.
I called CAEA, but they did not have any information for me, so I then called the AEA. If you call them, make sure you contact the national office and not the regional ones. I was informed that I should send them Form I-129 with all proper support materials. But more on that in a second.
First you need to fill out a form called DS-160. Other then the completely un-user friendly name, this form is pretty basic and requires you to include your name, address, passport info, US travel history, ect. Make sure you save your application I.D. number in case you want to finish it at a later time. You'll also need to upload a picture of yourself. You need to fill out this form if you want to get appointment to talk to someone at a local U.S. Embassy. For some reason, you can't just call or walk up to the Embassy for a chat... imagine that.
That was the easy part. Now, since you're looking for a P-2 Artist Visa, you also need to fill out Form I-129. This is a 34-page document (yes, 3-4) that typically your US employer would fill out for you that needs to be submitted in duplicate. However, you're doing a Fringe show, so technically you don't have an employer. No, the Fringe does not fill out this form. From my understanding, I think AEA should be the ones to fill it out, but trust me they are not going to do it for you. But don't worry, US Citizenship and Immigration Services has come up with a little 24-page instruction manual on how to fill out this form that should clear everything right up...
Oh and signatures need to be original and not photocopied. My research tells me you should sign everything in blue ink so that this fact can never be contested.
I'm not quite sure how long every step takes, but from my understanding it can take anywhere from 14 days to 60 to more... Basically, one site tells me you should get started at least 6 months in advance.
- Letter of no objection from your labour organization
- Artist Background Info
- Travel itinerary
- Contract or support letter from the festivals you are attending
- Cover letter
- Proof of residency in Canada to prove you have no plans of staying in the U.S.
Now, once all of this gets approved *fingers crossed* which can take up to 60 days, you should get something called an I-797, which you will need to include in your Visa application. Because up to this point, none of this is your actual application.
I believe you then have to go to an interview where they will collect your fingerprints (?!) and officially determine that you are not a crazy person or a threat and that you are not there to take jobs away from hard-working Americans.
Now here's the tricky part. I can't seem to get much of a straight answer anywhere, but here's what I have found out so far:
These are just the dollar amounts that I was able to find on my own. I'm pretty sure there are more surprises out there too. If anyone has any additional info on this, please let me know in the comments.
Please note that at any step throughout this process, someone could say no and there are no refunds. And even if you get all your papers in order, you could still get turned away at the border.
I did find one website who will do all the work for you by charging a legal fee of $645 and a filing fee of $420. I don't know how legit that is, and they say there are no hidden fees, but I'm pretty sure there has to be more to it than that.
If you would like additional information, this handy website called Artists from Abroad has a lot to get you started.
The sad thing about all this is that my participation in the Orlando Fringe does not take jobs away from American citizens. Fringes reserve a certain number of spots for international performers as part of their mandates. If anything, I would have been investing into the U.S. economy through my Fringe fees, travel expenses, food & lodging, ect.
Also, to be clear, I don't blame the Fringes for any of this. The staff at the Orlando Fringe and CAFF have been very kind and offered up any information they might have. This is purely a government matter and as such I am putting together a dossier that I will be sending to my local MP, as well as other key members of the Canadian government in the hopes that one day we may have the same access to the Fringe and other small festivals that our American peers get here.