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MU calls for clarification on US visa rules in the wake of SXSW deportations

By | Published on Friday 17 March 2017


The Musicians’ Union has announced that it is seeking to ascertain exactly why certain UK artists were refused entry to the US to perform at SXSW this year, despite them having what they believed to be correct documentation. It also revealed that MPs Nigel Adams and Kerry McCarthy have requested a meeting with officials to discuss the matter.

Like many of the musicians refused entry into the US to play SXSW this year (both from the UK and elsewhere), the MU says it “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)”.

It said that many UK musicians heading to SXSW had been able to enter the US under ESTA, but it was now aware of at least five who had been turned away without explanation. “None of them have received any reasoning from the US authorities as to why this revocation has come about”, says the organisation. “This renders the advice – that performing under an ESTA for an official showcase is acceptable – as unreliable”.

“It remains unclear as to whether this is specific to SXSW, or part of a much wider strategic change”, it adds. “The MU is working with partners in the UK and US to uncover the true situation. That said, it would appear 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”.

The MU’s Dave Webster, who is also Chair of the Music Industry Visa Task Force, an initiative launched by the MU and British Underground last year, says of the action being taken: “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”.

Assistant General Secretary of the MU, Horace Trubridge, adds: “[Some of the] 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 It is outrageous that these ESTAs have been revoked and more outrageous that the musicians affected have not been told why”.

As previously reported, after a number of its international acts were refused entry to the US on ESTA or visitor visas, SXSW has said these documents are perfectly acceptable for acts performing at the event (providing they are only performing at official showcases). The festival’s organisers added earlier this week that they were working with the US authorities to ensure that border officials are aware of this.