UK Musicians’ Union Addresses SXSW Visa Fiasco

With a number of bands from Europe being refused entry into the U.S., and many of them being detained, the Musicians’ Union (MU) has spoken out. 

“The MU had reassurances that SXSW falls into the very narrow exemption, which allows artists invited to perform at official SXSW showcases entry to the US under the Visa Waiver Programme (ESTA),” the organization wrote in a statement.

According to the Union, five acts with members from the UK were refused entry into the U.S. en route to South by Southwest in Austin, Texas.

The band Massive Scar Era, whose members are from both Canada and Egypt, posted on Facebook it wasn’t going to “jump to conclusions” about why they were denied entry. But they noted they have gotten to SXSW twice before with the same documents. The United States Department of Homeland Security, which administers the Visa Waiver Program, has revoked the ESTAs of the affected bands, “leaving them no time to allow an alternative O, P or B Visa to be sought.”

The MU takes this as proof that ESTA is an unreliable option for bands with the intention to perform at showcase festivals in the U.S. It is trying to work out with partners in the UK and U.S. “whether this is specific to SXSW, or part of a much wider strategic change.”

According to the organization, it appears “that O, P and B Visas with their associated costs and time constraints would appear to be the only safe option for artists performing in the US, whether for an official showcase or not.”

Dave Webster, the Musicians’ Union’s National Organizer for Live Performance, and chair of the Music Industry Visa Task Force, said: “We have escalated this to the highest level in the UK to try to ascertain what is going on. It is appalling that these artists have been denied the opportunity to showcase at SXSW. The US Embassy in London has provided no explanation. A letter from Nigel Adams MP and Kerry McCarthy MP requesting an urgent meeting with the US officials has been sent.”

Webster added that “since the formation of the Music Industry Visa Task Force in 2015 some progress on these issues has been made, however this latest development represents a huge setback.”

MU Assistant General Secretary Horace Trubridge said: “The amount of public funding that has gone into getting our UK artists to perform at SXSW this year will have been wasted. It is outrageous that these ESTAs have been revoked and more outrageous that the musicians affected have not been told why.”

Visa issues typically arise during South By Southwest, which features hundreds of artists from all over the world at its showcases. But the news comes on the heels of President Donald Trump’s executive order to prohibit travel from Muslim-majority countries.