Category Archives: Updates

USCIS Increases Premium Processing Fee from $1440 to $2500

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced it will increase fees for premium processing, effective Oct. 19, as required by the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2021 and Other Extensions Act, Pub. L. No. 116-159, signed into law on Oct. 1. The USCIS premium processing service allows petitioners to pay an additional filing fee to expedite the adjudication of certain forms, generally within 15 days. The Act included the Emergency Stopgap USCIS Stabilization Act, which requires USCIS to establish and collect additional premium processing fees, and to use those additional funds for expanded purposes.

Pub. L. No. 116-159 increases the fee for Form I-907, Request for Premium Processing, from $1,440 to $2,500, for all filings (except those from petitioners filing Form I-129, Petition for a Non-immigrant Worker, requesting H-2B or R-1 non-immigrant status. The premium processing fee for petitioners filing Form I-129 requesting H-2B or R-1 non-immigrant status is increasing from $1,440 to $1,500. This applies to seasonal Agricultural Workers and Religious Workers)

Any Form I-907 postmarked on or after Oct. 19 must include the new fee amount. If USCIS receives a Form I-907 postmarked on or after Oct. 19 with the incorrect filing fee, we will reject the Form I-907 and return the filing fee. For filings sent by commercial courier (such as UPS, FedEx and DHL), the postmark date is the date reflected on the courier receipt.

For more information, please visit https://cfmusicians.afm.org/news/uscis-increases-premium-processing-fee or contact Kaitlyn kvleming@afm.org  or Jill jleger@afm.org in our Artist Immigration Department.

Transitioning from CERB to the new Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB)

The Canada Recovery Benefit will provide eligible workers with $500 per week (taxable, tax deducted at source) for up to 26 weeks for those who have stopped working and who are not eligible for EI, or had their employment/self-employment income reduced by at least 50% due to COVID-19. This benefit will be paid in two-week periods.

https://www.canada.ca/en/services/benefits/ei/cerb-application/transition.html

P2 Visa Fee Increase on Pause

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California has issued a nationwide preliminary injunction that prevents U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) from implementing fee increases and new forms, which were originally planned to go into effect on October 2, 2020. USCIS has acknowledged the injunction but its webpage for the Form I-129 does not yet reflect this news, nor have the new Form I-129O and I-129MISC been released yet. For now, when filing for O and P guest artists and continue to file with the $460 filing fee. CFM petitioners are monitoring the USCIS website for the very latest information and version of forms before completing and submitting a visa petition.

In other USCIS fee news, the signed legislation that ensures the U.S. government is funded through December 11, 2020 included a section that authorizes USCIS to increase and expand the Premium Processing Service (PPS) fees for certain immigration-related applications. In most cases, the current $1,440 fee for Premium Processing is now authorized to increase to $2,500 and the O and P guest artist visas would fall into this category. The bill also authorizes the Secretary of Homeland Security to establish and collect a premium fee for “any other immigration benefit type that the Secretary deems appropriate for premium processing,” and premium fees may be adjusted every two years.

The bill directs the Secretary to “develop and implement processes to ensure that the availability of premium processing, or its expansion to additional immigration benefit requests, does not result in an increase in processing times for immigration benefit requests not designated for premium processing or an increase in regular processing of immigration benefit requests so designated.” However, it has long been the experience of arts petitioners that unexpected and lengthy processing delays of regularly filed petitions will necessitate upgrading to PPS.

It’s not yet known when a new PPS fee might go into effect and whether legal challenges may be filed to prevent their implementation. Until USCIS details its plans for increasing PPS fees, petitioners should continue to file the Form I-907 with the current fee of $1,440.

If you have recently submitted a P2 with the new fee – please email Jill Leger & Kaitlyn Vleming – jleger@afm.org  & kvleming@afm.org  (or call Jill in the office Friday, October 2; Kaitlyn on Monday, October 5).

For more info:

https://cfmusicians.afm.org/news/p2-visa-fee-increase-on-pause

https://cfmusicians.afm.org/services/work-permits

Important P2 Visa Update

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) fee increases effective October 2, 2020.

Tuesday, SEPTEMBER 29th is the DEADLINE to apply under CURRENT FEE ($460USD)

P-Visas $695 USD – recommended processing time 60 calendar days.

Premium Processing $1440 USD (unchanged) – processing time 15 business days.

Large touring ensembles and orchestras of more than 25 performers will be required to remit double the fees noted, and must remit under separate money orders [similar to essential support workers falling under P2-S]

For more details, click HERE and please email Liana White lwhite@afm.org with questions on the fee & administrative changes.

CFM Submission for Federal Pre-Budget Consultations

  • Recommendation 1 (CERB): That the government extend the CERB (Canada Emergency Response Benefit) until at least March 31, 2021, but preferably until all crowd prohibitions have been lifted and government allows live performance venues to reopen.

OR: That the government extend the CERB (as above) and restrict the extension to entertainment workers.

AND: That the government extend the CERB (under either of the above scenarios), and increase the $1,000 monthly non-penalized earnings, with a gradual claw-back of benefits, rather than termination of the benefit if the maximum earnings are exceeded.

  • Recommendation 2 (UBI): That the government implement a Universal Basic Income.
  • Recommendation 3 (EI Expansion): That the government expand the Employment Insurance (EI) program to fully include the self-employed, both as contributors and recipients.
  • Recommendation 4 (EI Extension): That the government extend EI Regular Benefits, on a temporary basis, past the maximum claim period by 4-week increments, until such time as government lifts all crowd prohibitions.
  • Recommendation 5 (RRSPs): That the government allow Canadians with Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) accounts to make non-taxable, limited withdrawals and to repay these withdrawals over a defined period.

Respectfully,

Alan Willaert

AFM Vice-President from Canada

Complete submission:

https://cfmusicians.afm.org/uploads/file/2020.07.28%20-%20Pre-Budget%20Consultation%20Submissions.pdf

News release:

https://cfmusicians.afm.org/news/written-submission-for-the-pre-budget-consultations

USCIS P and O Visa Fee Increases

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has implemented fee increases and other changes effective October 2, 2020. These increases have gone through despite AFM’s vast lobbying in opposition to these amendments, the potential of which was announced by USCIS in December 2019.

The new fee for a P2 (and all categories of P Visa) will be $695 USD, and $705 USD for O Visas. At this time, the recommended processing time is still 60 calendar days.

The Premium Processing fee of $1440 remains unchanged, but the processing time has increased from 15 calendar days to 15 business days.

In addition to the fee increase, there is now a 25-person cap per petition. Therefore, large touring ensembles and orchestras comprised of more than 25 performers will be required to file more than one petition, along with the appropriate per petition fee.

USCIS did issue responses to the various lobbying efforts in opposition to the above changes. In summation, USCIS has stated that while they do not wish to unduly place financial and other constraints on performing arts workers, they cannot provide preferential treatment to one sector, which would place additional burdens upon other sectors as a result.  With respect to the O Visa now carrying a higher fee than the P Visas, and capping the number of musicians, the USCIS response is O Visas and large entourages, respectively, require more time and resources to process.

In spite of these recent changes, the AFM maintains its commitment to continued lobbying efforts to implement improvements benefiting musicians and all arts & culture workers.

For more info: https://cfmusicians.afm.org/news/uscis-p-and-o-visa-fee-increases and https://cfmusicians.afm.org/services/work-permits

 

The Music Performance Trust Fund’s Music Family Scholarship

The Music Performance Trust Fund invites young adults who have grown up in a musical family to tell us their story! Applicants must be a child of a professional musician, and pursuing further education after high school. The program is open to qualified students who meet all the minimum qualifications. Open to all students in the United States and Canada. Scholarships will be awarded based on the successful completion of this application form; the strength of the applicant’s essay; and the representation by the applicant that all answers are true. Please complete all items in the application and essay page/s within.

Scholarship Overview

Scholarship Application

The Show Must Be Paused

On June 2, 2020, the Canadian Federation of Musicians will be participating in the #TheShowMustBePaused Music Industry Blackout Tuesday, in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. We will be abstaining from social media engagement and taking a pause to encourage all to read and review anti-racist resources.

The Canadian Federation of Musicians stand with our black, indigenous, and people of colour members, staff and community-at-large against racial inequity, racial violence, and racist actions of all kinds.

https://www.theshowmustbepaused.com/

Not What I Meant By ‘Going Viral’

Not What I Meant By ‘Going Viral’ by Alan Willaert, AFM International Vice President from Canada

In 1927, a movie called The Jazz Singer was released. As the first “talkie,” it sounded the death knell for live music work in theatres throughout North America. The phasing out of radio orchestras resulted in a large number of musicians being unemployed. However, 2020 will be infamous in history as a virus now identified as COVID-19 effectively shut down an entire entertainment industry in an extremely sudden and devastating manner. This is not what we hoped for when using the term “going viral.”

On March 13, the Canadian Office (CFM) instituted reduced hours, a rotating but skeletal staff, and proceeded to provide services on a work-from-home basis. On that same March 13, work kicked into overdrive as the true extent of the damage became apparent, and action had to be taken quickly to mitigate the toll taken by a total work stoppage.

A letter from the CFM went out immediately to all levels of government because in the initial Federal response workers not normally eligible for Employment Insurance (EI) were off the radar—meaning 98% of Canadian musicians were excluded. The letter stressed the following points:

  • A waiver of the one-week waiting
    period for EI.
  • Expanding the benefit to include “gig economy,” or freelance workers.
  • Funding for symphony, theatre, and arts organizations to allow them to maintain payroll.
  • Assistance to stimulate and revitalize the industry once the crisis had passed.

Videoconferencing had begun almost immediately with other entertainment unions. CFM was an active participant, and signed on to a joint letter to government, along with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA), the Directors Guild of Canada (DGC), the Canadian Actors’ Equity Association (CAEA) and others. We also asked Canadian locals to track, as much as possible, the lost work suffered by their respective memberships. While this was clearly a monumental task, we were able to create a combined spreadsheet, updated weekly, in the event the government was insistent upon having backup data as the only justification for compensation.

Michael Murray, executive director of Local 149 (Toronto, ON), was instrumental in the creation and administration of an online petition containing several recommendations to the government for response to the crisis. A joint letter from CFM and Local 149 was sent to Heritage Minister Guilbeault on March 26. In short, the recommendations were:

  • Ensure that all musicians would be eligible for the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS).
  • Implement Live Arts Labour Tax Credits and Live Arts Labour Rebates.
  • Consider allowing arts and cultural industry companies, including small, medium, and large for-profit, not-for-profit, and charitable companies, to have access to the Business Development Bank’s working capital loans and that these loans are fully forgivable.
  • Consider providing significant targeted funds of at least $50 million to CBC/Radio-Canada to be put towards the wages, production, broadcast, and streaming of live performance studio recordings, within the bounds of public health guidance both during full COVID-19 restrictions and at a time of recovery.
  • Grant a reprieve on the remittance of Harmonized Sales Tax (HST).
  • Consider a contribution to each of the AFC, Fondation des Artistes and its affiliated funds, and Unison Benevolent Fund to support their Emergency Financial Assistance Programs at this time of high demand.
  • Consider advocating to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services for visa extensions and provide refunds on visa fees.
  • Consider the payout of all grants and subsidies from the Department of Heritage and waive the requirement for completed activity for those who have provided cancellation fees to musicians and other artists.

Rosalyn Dennett, who is an Electronic Media Services Division (EMSD) staff member at the Canadian Office, has been instrumental in posting updates for available subsidies, as well as all things COVID-19, in our social media outlets. In addition, she has created a one-stop centre for all information in the Canadian section of the AFM website, located at www.cfmusicians.org/resources.

The CFM was also asked to participate in a task force, spearheaded by the Canadian Media Producers Association (CMPA). This has proven useful because the employers of the entertainment industry are also shut down, and they have many of the same concerns as the musicians whom they employ. A united voice to government, on behalf of the industry as a whole, is far more likely to be a credible barometer, wherever our objectives are not contrary.

We are also participating in a separate coalition of entertainment unions, specifically IATSE, CAEA, AFM, and Associated Designers of Canada (ADC). Again, as one voice, we are in the process of creating a letter to government to identify long-term issues, and make suggestions for the industry to re-energize, once clearance to return to work is given. These issues are:

  • Income earning thresholds should be implemented to allow live performance workers/artists to generate a reasonable level of “gig” income while still in receipt of Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) support.
  • Seasonal and contractor workers/artists who would have generated income from live performance work in the spring and fall of 2020 but for the health crisis should be entitled to the CERB.
  • The duration of the CERB for live performance workers/artists needs to be extended to at least until the end of 2020 given the fact that the recovery of the live performance industry to its pre-health crisis norm will take at least that long.
  • Live performance employers should be able to claim the 75% wage subsidy for all regular full-time, part-time, contract, and/or seasonal workers/artists.
  • Live performance employers should be able to claim the 75% wage subsidy for all workers/artists irrespective of whether those workers/artists are engaged as traditional “employees” or in a self-employed capacity.
  • The duration of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) for live performance employers needs to be extended to at least until the end of 2020 given the fact that the recovery of the live performance industry to its pre-health crisis norm will take at least that long.

In addition to the foregoing, we propose the following additional support initiatives for the federal government’s consideration to assist the arts and culture industry in its health crisis recovery:

  1. Specific Arts and Culture Emergency Economic Support
  • Increase funding allocations to the Canada Arts Council and various provincial arts bodies that will allow those bodies to utilize their expertise to allocate additional funds to arts and culture organizations to assist them in attracting live audience attendees—using an organization’s previous years’ ticket sales averages as the eligibility criteria for funding amounts (i.e. providing organizations funding equal to 50% of the average of the previous five years’ ticket sales so that the organization can attract audiences with reduced ticket prices).
  • It is our understanding that the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy does not include municipally/provincially run venues if they are owned by a provincial and or municipal entity. We therefore ask for the inclusion of municipally/provincially run venues in the CEWS or commitment of separate funds earmarked exclusively to assist in the recovery for municipally and provincially run venues.
  • Amend the Income Tax Act on a temporary basis so that live performance ticket purchases are treated as charitable donations for tax purposes for 2020 and 2021.
  • Devise and implement federal tax credit incentives for live performance organizations similar to the types of provincial tax incentive policies that have given rise to record-setting levels of film and television production across Canada.
  • Identify and implement longer-term financial assistance initiatives that recognize the recovery of the live performance industry will take much longer than any other industry.
  1. National Marketing Campaign to Rediscover and Support the Arts
  • Work with all arts and culture stakeholders to design, implement, and fund a national marketing campaign aimed at encouraging Canadians to return to the various arts and culture venues as patrons and audiences.
  • As part of any marketing campaign, allocate funding to provincial and municipal organizations to enable them to use their expertise to design and implement more focused localized campaigns collaboratively with stakeholders.
  1. Safe Return for Workers and Audiences
  • Work with all arts and culture stakeholders and all levels of provincial and municipal government to design and implement appropriate public health protocols that will provide an environment for the safe return of workers/artists and audiences to the various arts and culture venues.

As you can see, we continue to be involved in many initiatives in an ongoing effort to ease the stresses imposed on our members because of this worldwide phenomenon. But, make no mistake—musicians would have not been included in the CERB without the persistence of the CFM and our sister unions to ensure that “gig economy” artists would be covered, and that any incidental revenue they had because of students, royalties, or other small amounts of income would not render them ineligible. When I pressed him for answers during the CMPA videoconference, Minister Guilbeault stated emphatically that he had heard our message “loud and clear,” and that adjustments would be made to accommodate our freelance players.

While none of us can predict what the short-term future is of the COVID-19 fiasco, please be aware that your union is doing everything it can, along with our partners, to ensure our members are included in all government subsidies, and to provide a positive transition into the world post-virus. For now, please embrace safe practices and distancing, that you and your families remain safe and healthy.

 

AFM Musicians’ Relief Fund

The Musicians’ Relief Fund helps union musicians who work gig to gig and are confronting extraordinary financial challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Please note that you must meet ALL of the following five requirements to apply for financial assistance:

  1. You must currently be a member in good standing of the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada.
  2. You must be primarily engaged as a freelance musician.
  3. You must not be receiving post-COVID-19 lockdown payments of any sort from a musical employer, which payments flow from an agreement between an employer and AFM or one of its locals.
  4. You must reside and work in the United States or Canada.
  5. You have lost work due to COVID-19 (novel coronavirus).

Applications are considered on a first-come, first-served basis, and must be received by November 15, 2020. Payment amount is subject to availability of funds. Initial payments will not exceed $300 but may be revised upward if additional funding permits.

Application Form: https://www.afm.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Musicians-Relief-Fund-Application.pdf