In a seemingly bizarre political maneuver, the Canadian government has changed its policies regarding foreign worker fees. If you’re a foreign artist looking to play some gigs in Canada, take note. It just got a lot harder.
Previous to the new policy, which took effect in late August, there was a $150 application fee per musician to play in Canada, and the cap for a musician was $450. Play in Canada three times, and subsequent visits are free, forever!
Many venues paid these fees, as a way of enticing foreign musicians into the Great White North, and because it falls on the employer to pay the fee. The new structure looks to be somewhat prohibitive.
Under the new policy, the $150 entry fee for a foreign musician still holds, but now there is a $275 charge “per entertainer” for every venue the “entertainer” plays . Or so the story goes, according to major media outlets.
There has been a huge outcry over the change, with subsequent internet petitions circulating to reverse this misguided move by the government. Club owners and musicians alike are rightfully vexed and concerned for their future. The official response, so far, is that “a wide range of stakeholders across the country” were consulted before the change was implemented. Which does nothing to engender public support.
Most people stop at considering the sensationalized spin about the outrageous change in policy, without looking deeper into the matter.
A September 4 press release from the Canadian Federation of Musicians, (CFM) explains the situation more explicitly:
Canadian Federation of Musicians (CFM), Canada’s leading professional organization representing Canadian musicians, assures that the recently announced changes to the processing fee implemented by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) for Labour Market Opinion (LMO) in no way affect AFM members. AFM members will continue to only require a work permit when performing for a venue that is not exempt and will not require LMO approval prior to entry into Canada. Venues that are not recognized as work permit exempt will incur the fees directly, as well as those which engage musicians who are not members of the AFM.
To clarify, the LMO is the $275 charge per entertainer that has everybody so riled up.
To make it clear, you have nothing to worry about, as long as you are part of either the CFM or AFM. For members of both of these unions, market prospects have been strengthened by what might be labeled as “government collusion.”
Is it a bad thing? CFM represents itself thusly:
Building on AFM Canada’s long and successful legacy, CFM will continue furthering the particular interests and needs of professional musicians who earn their living in this country. Everyday CFM helps thousands of musicians with any number of issues related to the recording and performing of their craft. The American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada draws on the experience and strength of more than 90,000 musicians, with over 17,000 active members in Canada alone.
This isn’t just about musicians. The Canada is making changes to its Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP), which was designed to relax laws surrounding the hiring of foreign workers. It was originally instated to help businesses meet hiring shortfalls by hiring international workers. The application for hiring the workers was intended to defer some of the economic burden of these hires from taxpayers to employers.
For a number of reasons, the policy was changed. The story is deep and murky, but as you can see, the Canadian government is partly making the changes to spur domestic hiring. Canadian businesses staffed by Canadians. It’s a patriotic move. Unfortunately, foreign musicians got caught in the net.
While redirecting employers to hire Canadians, the government has reinforced the position of both CFM and AFM, which have just strengthened their grip on the entertainment market in Canada. It is now harder for non-union members to play in union venues in Canada.
The consequences are pretty clear. Pay to play, or pay to be part of a union, which may or may not support your values. Indie artists, by and large, are the sort of people that support organized labor. Labor unions are responsible for many workers rights that ensure safe workplaces and humane occupational standards.
Musicians are classically poor people, and imposing such monetary obligations on them is restrictive. Can you afford to pay union dues? A movement towards a strengthened musicians union in Canada increases difficulty for the working class musician.
This situation forces musicians up against a hard line. Unions offer musicians the kinds of services that are enjoyed by workers in other industries. Unions make it easier for members to demand fair wages and give them institutional support to defend their rights. They’re also giant clubs, which define who can and can’t play when and where. This sort of governance flies in the face of free artistic expression, but it’s a symptom of the world we live in.
The Canadian government is standing on the side of unions with this move. Is it the side you are on?