Artist visas for the US and Canada: your questions answered

Consultant Robert Baird clarifies some grey areas. Read the original advice column here.

Hi Robert,

I recently read your article about performance visas for the US and Canada.

Yes, the process for the USA is undoubtedly tedious and can be long, but you rather make it sound like nobody in their right mind would ever consider trying to do it at all.

It doesn’t have to be quite that bad!

The American Federation of Musicians can apply for a P2 visa for any of their members. You don’t have to be an American to join, anybody can. They do have to be a member in good standing (in other words to have fully paid their dues) up to the end of the quarter in which the performance in the USA happens. All the artist needs is a signed contract from the company, and needless to say to pay the required fees, and the AF of M will take care of all the paperwork with the USCIS. It’s usually all done within about three weeks but sometimes can take longer. Most companies agree to reimburse their artists either all or a portion of the fees that have to be paid. This way is much easier for everyone – just pay your dues and fees and let the AF of M take care of it!

Also, Canadians don’t need to go to a US consulate to get an actual visa. Just having the copy of the visa approval notice from the USCIS is enough. They show that at their port of entry, usually at the airport they’re flying from.

I guess that’s one of the perks of having an undefended border for more than 200 years now!


Paul Johnson
Dean Artists Management


Dear Paul,

Thank you for your response to my article. The points you make are valid, but the article I wrote was designed for artists residing outside of North America. The P-2 Visa programme is part of a reciprocal exchange agreement between the US and Canada and does not apply to foreign artists not resident in either country. Canada enjoys a special relationship with the United States and it certainly does make life easier for artists needing to cross that border. The series I am writing for International Arts Manager is designed to address issues most likely to arise for foreign artists coming to North America (and the O-1 and P-1 visas are a daunting enterprise for all artists). We are indeed fortunate in Canada to have access to special considerations as artists wishing to perform in the United States.

All the best,
Robert Baird


Hi Robert,

Your article in IAM was timely – I am struggling with a situation right now, trying to determine if I need work permits for a show we are presenting in Toronto.

We (Starvox Entertainment, a Canadian production company based in Toronto) have been hired by a US producer to general manage a musical theatre piece they will be producing in Toronto at the Wintergarden Theatre Centre.

There are Americans that will be coming into Toronto for what will sometimes be an extended amount of time.

They are: the creator and also a performer in the show (he will be here rehearsing from Oct 12 – Nov 16, and performing from Nov 17 – Jan 3 (2016) for a total of 12 weeks); the director (he will be here from Oct 12 – Nov. 20, mostly rehearsing); the sound designer (he will be here teaching his local apprentice and supervising load-in at the venue, for three weeks); the music supervisor/composer (he will be coming back and forth from New York, rehearsing with cast on and off for about four weeks in total); and the producer, who will be in and out over the 12-week rehearsal and performance period.

Everybody may be coming in and out for meetings periodically between now and 12 October when the rehearsal process starts.

All of these Americans have worked on the show when it was produced last year in Chicago. All of these Americans will be paid by the American production company. My company is renting the venue under our name, and is contracted by the American company to manage the show.

That should be the extent of the Americans coming into Canada to work on the production, although if we don’t find the right actors in Toronto after holding auditions, they may want to also bring some of the original performers from Chicago to perform in the show (so they would be here for the five-week rehearsal and seven-week performance period.)

My questions are: 

  • Who, if anyone, needs a work permit?
  • What kind, if any?
  • How much do they cost?

I asked an immigration lawyer and her answer was that everyone except perhaps the producer needs to file an LMIA and she of course charges $$$$ for each.

Thanks so much in advance for any light you can shed!

Lani Milstein
Starvox Entertainment


Dear Lani,

The Canadian Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations – R186(g) were amended in 2015 so that:

  • 186. A foreign national may work in Canada without a work permit (g) as a performing artist alone or in a group in an artistic performance — other than a performance that is primarily for a film production or a television or radio broadcast — or as a member of the staff of such a performing artist or group who is integral to the artistic performance, if (i) they are part of a foreign production or group, or are a guest artist in a Canadian production or group, performing a time-limited engagement, and (ii) they are not in an employment relationship with the organisation or business in Canada that is contracting for their services; From the description of the individuals entering Canada and the work they will be doing, they qualify to work without a work permit because they are part of a foreign production and are being paid by the American production company, they will be in Canada for a time-limited engagement and they are not in an employment relationship with Starvox.

This answer is based on the presumption that this is an American production, NOT a Starvox Canadian production and the billing will reflect this. The only other issue will be documentation required by individuals when coming into Canada to work on the show – proof of their contractual arrangements with the American company, confirmation of arrangement between Starvox and American company, etc.

All the best,
Robert Baird

Robert Baird is president of BAM! Baird Artists Management Consulting