Mass. AFM Local Pres Says AFM Visa Approval Fees Should Be Used To Rescue Music Performance Trust Fund

By • March 3, 2010

AFM Local 143 (Worcester, Mass.) President Ed Shamgochian has proposed that fees collected by the AFM to process visa approval letters for visiting foreign orchestras be used to rescue the Music Performance Trust Fund (MPTF) which the fund trustee says may fail in a matter of months without additional funding. AFM International President Thomas Lee says if Shamgochian’s proposal is adopted, “the government may be able to open the flood gates and rampant replacement of work traditionally completed by US musicians may very well be threatened.”

The MPTF is a fund that has supported live performances by musicians for over 60 years and operates on a co-sponsorship basis with the co-sponsor paying 65% of musician costs and the MPTF paying 35%. The fund may be used for live performances that are free and open to the general public, such as park concerts, school educational concerts, performances at senior citizen residences, etc.

Under federal law, musical groups from foreign countries that wish to perform in the United States are required to provide a letter of consultation that may be solicited from the AFM. The AFM charges $200-$250 for a visa processing fee to generate a letter, and Shamgochian says these fees totaled more than $2.7 million for the period 2004-2008. Click to download samples of these approval letters and foreign orchestra agreements provided by Shamgochian.

Shamgochian, in his blog “Sounds”, says that many of the orchestras who visit the US are subsidized by their own countries and performances of these orchestras in the US are displacing work for US musicians. Shamgochian also says that the AFM’s “no-objection” visa approval letter “does not prohibit recording by the foreign musical groups” as there is no contractual relationship between the foreign musicians and the AFM and that foreign groups constantly exploit this loophole. For a complete listing of Sounds posts regarding the visa approval fee issue, click here.

Shamgochian, in a statement yesterday to Film Music Magazine, said that Lee had not responded to the MPTF trustee John Hall’s Nov. 19 letter (click for PDF) outlining the dire financial condition of the fund.

In a statement to Film Music Magazine (click here to download the entire response) regarding using visa approval fees to fund the MPTF, AFM International President Tom Lee said that in the case of foreign orchestras visiting the US to perform, “In the huge majority of the cases the groups coming into the US are not replacing US workers. In those instances where the AFM believes that the group that has been granted a visa to perform in the United States has violated the law by filing a document that contains misleading or false information, the AFM objects and follows up by filing a protest letter with the appropriate Federal agency.”

In his statement, Lee cited a Russian orchestra’s work recording a film score while in the US as a visa violation that the AFM strongly protested.

Regarding Shamgochian’s proposal, Lee stated that “The fees collected by the Federation are used to cover the costs of the department including personnel, equipment and time, and partial costs of the AFM’s department of government relations. Any decrease in funding of the costs of processing this department may well make it difficult for the AFM to monitor Visa requests and the result may be an increase in foreign musicians coming into the United States that may have a detrimental effect on the very musicians the AFM is sworn to protect.”

Lee states in his response that the AFM is seeking to negotiate with the record industry for MPTF funding, an assertion Shamgochian challenges. “Tom Lee has been President of the AFM for 9 years and he personally has dominated all CBA negotiations with the recording industry and has never had any positive discussions nor negotiations with the record industry regarding royalty payments to the MPTF,” said Shamgochian.

Lee said that the AFM is “100% in favor of finding alternative funding” for the MPTF and said that the proper place to hold the debate on Shamgochian’s resolution would be at the upcoming AFM Convention this summer.

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