• Saturday, May 18, 2024
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BusinessDay

US visa fee hike seen delaying Nigerian artists’ tour dreams

US opens doors for Nigerian talent through EB-1 visa program

Performing for an international audience is the dream of virtually every Nigerian artist, and the United States is one of the major countries many would want to tour.

Now, a threefold increase in the price of visas for international artists may choke this ambition out of many up-and-coming Nigerian artists.

Recently, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services announced an over 250 percent visa fee increase for global musicians hoping to tour the US, which kicked in on April 1, 2024.

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This increased the visa application price from $460 to $1,615 and $1,655, a 259.78 percent increase. The express application price rose to $2,805 from $2,500. According to the Musicians Union (MU), these increases include fees to subsidise the US Asylum Program.

The last time the US reviewed prices was in 2016, when it raised the application fee to $460 from $3,235. These hikes translate to a significant financial burden for artists who travel with bands. For many from developing countries like Nigeria, the cost of touring has increased. For instance, applying for a four-member band has increased from $1,840 to $6,460.

In recent years, Nigerian musicians have leveraged the international stage to achieve substantial financial success and recognition. A recent report from ChartsAfrica on X revealed that Burna Boy had eight of the 10 highest-grossing concerts by an African artist in the last two years (2022 and 2023).

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Notably, five of these eight were in the US. Also, Wizkid’s two Madison Square Garden shows were among the top 10 shows by an African artist, grossing $1.95 million (between 2022 and 2023). In 2023, Asake became the first African artist to headline and sell out a show at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. On July 2, 2023, Davido sold out the 21,000-capacity Capital One Arena, underscoring the growing popularity of Afrobeats and Nigerian music globally.

Touring plays a crucial role in launching new artists to Western audiences. After his debut album in 2021, Joeyboy embarked on his first major US tour in 2022. Touring is also a significant income source for musicians. Burna Boy, for instance, earned $11.8 million from eight international concerts in two years.

“Most Nigerian artists take pride in touring different countries and headlining shows in countries like England and the United States,” Oyinda Olukanni, a music executive and founder of Party Monkz Entertainment, told BusinessDay recently.

This visa fee increase will pose a significant challenge to new artists. Bemigho Awala, a documentary filmmaker, told BusinessDay: “I think it will affect upcoming artists as they do not have the structure and the requisite representation to make the tour happen or have time and financial capability for it.

“Tours require a lot of money. The capital outlay is huge as you travel from city to city, book venues, buy tickets, etc. You need to be backed by a management team with the financial capacity to do it.”

He said up-and-coming artists who are signed onto management with the right financial muscle will not be impacted by any extra cost.

Matthew Covey, US immigration lawyer at Tamizdat and Covey Law, in a post by MU, described the visa fee hike as a major blow to the international performing arts sector.

Dave Webster, MU head of international, said: “While any increases in US visa fees are a bitter blow to the industry and go against the grain when it comes to cultural exchange, the global response to last year’s proposed increases have certainly ensured that these increases are not as bad as originally feared.”

A petition launched by the United Musicians and Allied Workers on actionnetwork.org warns that the consequence of the hike will not only affect international artists but will have broader impacts on the US music and cultural industries.

The association argued that combined with the rising costs of touring and the tripled cost of a visa, the desire and ability for international artists from lower-income and marginalised parts of the world to perform in the US will wane.

“Venues, festivals, booking agents, labels, and promoters will all bear the brunt of these via increases, and consumers will see prices increase for concert tickets and merchandise from international artists,” it added.

Some experts told BusinessDay that up-and-coming artists might not necessarily be impacted by the hike because of the growth of streaming revenues.

A 2023 report by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry disclosed that music revenue in Nigeria and other Sub-Saharan African countries grew by 24.7 percent, driven by a surge in paid streaming revenues, which climbed 24.5 percent.