US visa confusion blocks seven artists from performing at SXSW

US Customs and Border Protection officials issued a statement that artists could no longer travel on a P-1 travel visa, as they had done previously for the festival

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At least seven artists have been prevented from entering the US to perform at SXSW 2017, due to confusion over the validity of visas to the country.

Bands usually make use of a B-1 visitor visa for the festival, those issued by tourists under the provision they undertake no paid work, since the showcases put on by the festival do not pay the artists for their appearance.

On 13 March (Monday), U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials issued a statement to Billboard explaining that, "if an individual is a member of an internationally recognised entertainment group, they must apply for and be granted a P-1 visa", though this was not directed to any particular group or event. 

However, multiple artists appear to have been denied entry for possessing a B-1 visa as opposed to a P-1 visa, including members of Egyptian-Canadian post-hardcore band Massive Scar Era; with NPR reporting Italian band Soviet Soviet and United Vibrations - consisting of brothers Ahmed, Kareem, and Yussef Dayes - have also been denied entry. 

More disturbingly, Massive Scar Era's vocalist and guitarist Cherine Amr, who is Egyptian, stated the block may have had more sinister, ulterior motives; describing an encounter with a border official as, "He said that he knows that I’ve done everything legally, and that I’m not lying, but he’s still not going to let me in. He said that people are using the festival to protest, but I told him we are not going there to protest. We have no intentions of doing anything illegal or engaging in any political activity. We’re just going to promote ourselves, meet labels and bookers, and network."

The Dayes brothers - who hail from the UK - also issued a statement of belief that denial may have been racially-motivated: "We are sad to announce we will NOT be performing at SXSW in Texas because our ESTA's have been revoked under the new Executive order. We were looking forward to connecting with our brothers and sisters stateside to share our music. Why weren't we let in? Our Names? The music? The color of our skin."

Jonathan Ginsburg, an expert in immigration and entertainment law who is serving as immigration counsel to SXSW has stated: "U.S. immigration law allows foreign nationals to enter the U.S. using a B visa or the Visa Waiver Program to conduct business, but not to render services. The U.S. Department of State, accordingly, has long recognized that entertainment groups may enter the U.S. to "showcase," but not to perform under contract with U.S. venues or other employers." 

"SXSW is working in concert with other U.S. organizations in an effort to ensure that both the State Department and CBP continue to treat showcasing as a valid activity in B or Visa Waiver status. In the meantime, SXSW remains confident that the vast majority of consular officers and CBP officials understand and respect the need for, and the principle of, showcasing at promotional events such as the official SXSW event."

A spokesperson for SXSW has added that officials are aware of the situation and "have spoken to the artists"; with the festival itself recently having to remove controversial language from its contracts which appeared to threaten deportation to artists who played non-sanctioned events.

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