Manchester musician John Robb calls for US visa shake-up

John Robb
Image caption John Robb said the current visa system had prevented UK bands from touring America

The US visa system needs changing to make it easier for British bands to tour America, according to musician and author John Robb.

The Manchester-based singer said the current system was "difficult to work and very expensive".

Mr Robb, who recently toured the US with his band Goldblade, said he wanted "the system made simpler and cheaper".

However, a spokesman from the US Embassy said there were no plans to reform the visa system.

Mr Robb has joined Bristol East MP Kerry McCarthy to lobby Culture Minister Ed Vaizey to examine the process.

The "process is very difficult to understand and full of potential pitfalls", he said.

"On top of this, you have to go to the American Embassy [in London] at eight in the morning for an interview - easy for a London band but an expensive two-day trip to the capital for everyone else," he said.

"This year, so many bands have been prevented from touring in the USA because of the problems with visas.

"We understand why they have visas, we just want the system made simpler and cheaper."

The campaign by Mr Robb and Ms McCarthy has been backed by the Musician's Union, the Association of Independent Music and the Association of British Orchestras.

Ms McCarthy raised the matter in parliament in March and said she was "surprised by the responses from right across the UK music industry".

"This is a real difficulty for musicians and that it is becoming more and more critical," she said.

"We hope the government will speak up."

Cultures 'entwined'

Mr Robb said it was important for bands to be able to perform in the US as "America is still the world's main music market".

"Our music cultures are entwined with the influence going backwards and forwards across the history of modern pop culture," he said.

"I would like the system simplified and made cheaper.

"At the moment, the process can drag on for months and the goal posts keep shifting."

Currently, the process requires bands to make a petition through an American sponsor to the US Citizenship & Immigration Services at the cost of $325 (£200).

The petition process can take between one and four months, but can be expedited by the payment of a $1225 (£750) premium processing charge which will see it dealt with within 15 days.

Once the petition is granted, the process moves to the US visa service, which requires applicants to attend an interview at the London Embassy, arranged through a UK call centre, and pay a $150 (£91) processing fee per person.

This takes a minimum of four days from initial application through a call centre to the visa being granted in London.

Debra Heien, chief of visa services at the US Embassy, said the process "does take time and bands need to leave themselves leeway".

"They can't file an application more than six months in advance, but they know when they will be playing, so they need to be sensible about when they apply," she said.

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