Musicians from Canada, Egypt, Britain, Italy, and Denmark are among the scheduled South by Southwest performers who have been barred from the U.S. over the past week, mostly due to questions over what now constitutes a valid visa for playing unpaid showcase performances.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB) told Billboard on Monday that members of "internationally recognized entertainment" groups "must apply for and be granted a P-1 visa," not a B-1 visa for tourists — though B-1 visas were allowed in the past. SXSW, in Austin, dismissed that statement as an advisory "boilerplate email response," telling Pitchfork the festival "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."
CBP officials did not agree with SXSW when members of the Canadian-Egyptian hardcore band Massive Scar Era tried to cross into the U.S. near Seattle on Sunday using B-1 visas plus other documents. British jazz band United Vibrations said Monday that its visa-free travel status had been revoked, barring brothers Yussef, Ahmed, and Kareem Dayes from traveling to Austin for SXSW. United Vibrations, like the Egyptian members of Massive Scar Era, questioned whether their names or religion were behind the CBP actions, though a Canadian member of Massive Scar Era was denied entry, too.
Visa problems aren't a new thing for foreign bands wanting to perform in America, or at SXSW — Adele had to cancel a 2008 SXSW appearance because her band didn't have the correct visas. But detaining, handcuffing, and deporting musicians doesn't seem like business as usual.
Danish artist ELOQ said Monday that he'd been "denied entry" to the U.S. "even though I was informed by SXSW I had the right visa," then was "handcuffed and detained in a small very bright room plus a very unpleasant jail cell for 23 hours" (though he later tweeted that he will be performing in Austin on Friday, so apparently he got his visa straightened out). The Italian band Soviet Soviet shared a similar story on Friday, saying they had been stopped by CBP at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, told their visas were not valid for SXSW, and then "treated like criminals," handcuffed, sent to jail for the night, then deported to Italy. "We were relieved to fly back home and distance ourselves from that violent, stressful, and humiliating situation," the band said.