Sunday, June 10, 2007

Visa Processing Fees and Reverse Outsourcing

It is good news that the issue of visa processing fees is becoming a bit better understood. We know that the AFM receives these fees for their so-called service of validating Foreign Musical Groups (not just orchestras). We also know that the amount received by the AFM ($853,929 for 2005-2006 with more on the way for 2007) is keeping the AFM afloat.

I was pleased to see The AFM Observer's take on visa processing fees. Mr. Levine there commented,

"Touring is not usually a profit center for orchestras, and many of the ones he cites are artistically significant institutions with well-paid musicians who are not sleeping in tents and eating Purina Viola Chow while on the road."

This is undoubtedly true, and further makes my point. The Russian National Orchestra played four dates from March 13-23, 2007, and made $70,000 for each date. That is a total of $280,000 for roughly a week's work.

Whether the Russian National Orchestra considers this a "profit center" or not, it is important to remember that everyone connected to this tour is paid. The Russian Government pays the musicians' wages—it is a subsidized orchestra. The promoters, the booking agents, the stage hands, the caterers, the handlers, the record vendors, the souvenir vendors, and even the AFM—all are paid. Except, of course, for the Local's displaced musicians.

The AFM makes $200-$250 for a visa processing fee, while the Russian National Orchestra takes nearly $300,000 out of the Locals' jurisdictions, and back to Russia. This is "reverse outsourcing."

The AFM should charge as much for this "service" as the competition allows. If the AFM can get $600-800 a pop, it should certainly charge that much. If the Foreign Musical Group wants to record while in the U.S., charge another fee to allow it. Right now, the one-page "no-objection" letter does not prohibit recording by the Foreign Musical Groups—there is no contractual relationship between them and the AFM. The Foreign Musical Groups constantly exploit this.

Displacement is displacement. The argument for work dues is based on the invasion of the Jurisdictional Local—a "foreign AFM musician" must pay work dues to the "invaded" Jurisdictional Local. Similarly, the AFM should negotiate to mandate a fee for the Local in which the Foreign Musical Group performs. Call it a "venue fee."

Foreign Musical Groups displace Local musicians. Although it currently collects hundreds of thousands based on this very displacement, the AFM does nothing to help the injured Local musicians.

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