Business News Gigs & Festivals Legal Live Business

SXSW says those visas were just fine

By | Published on Thursday 16 March 2017


South By Southwest has issued a statement refuting US Customs And Border Protection’s pronouncement that basically said that all artists entering the US to perform at the festival require a performance visa.

The festival says that the visitor visas (aka B visas) and visa waiver forms that have seen several acts turned away by officials at the US border while on their way to SXSW are perfectly acceptable for playing at the festival, and that they are working with the authorities to clarify this.

SXSW has now hired immigration lawyer Jonathan Ginsburg to act on its behalf. In a statement, he says: “US immigration law allows foreign nationals to enter the US using a B visa or the visa waiver programme to conduct business, but not to render services. The US Department Of State, accordingly, has long recognised that entertainment groups may enter the US to ‘showcase’, but not to perform under contract with US venues or other employers”.

He continues: “SXSW is working in concert with other US organisations 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”.

Although some entertainment visa experts still advise their clients to apply for a proper performance visa whenever playing in the US, even if they are only playing unpaid gigs, SXSW’s statement is a firmer commitment from the festival itself to the viewpoint that playing its event on a visitor visa is fully legit.

Though obviously that belief only covers official SXSW showcases, and leaves ambiguity around any other unpaid unofficial gigs played alongside the event, which the festival has always warned might not be allowed under the visitor visa. That being the warning that caused some PR hassle for the showcase festival ahead of this year’s edition, and which is set to be revised in artist contracts next year.