At Least 7 SXSW Artists Have Reportedly Been Turned Away At The U.S. Border

There seems to be some confusion about visa requirements for touring musicians.

March 14, 2017

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Seven music performers have reportedly been turned away at the U.S. border, according to a story from Billboard. The wave of rejections is allegedly due to an tightening of visa regulations that have historically been fairly lax.

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The artists impacted include groups Massive Scar Era, Soviet Soviet, and Yussef Kamaal. According to the report, members of Soviet Soviet were "arrested at Seattle-Tacoma International airport, detained over night in jail cells and deported back to Italy the following day," while others were denied entry.

Most artists who enter the country on tour typically do so on a performance visa (P-1), while artists performing for free at events like SXSW have used tourist (B-1) visas. A spokesperson for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection told Billboard that "if an individual is a member of an internationally recognized entertainment group, they must apply for and be granted a P-1 visa." SXSW performers usually span a broad range of fame and exposure, but most are undiscovered acts.

Cherine Amr of Massive Scar Era told The FADER about her experience at customs, stating that despite her visa meeting legal regulations, she was banned specifically from playing at SXSW. A Canadian permanent resident, the Egyptian-born singer has played the festival twice under the same B-1 visa in past years. While she was worried about questioning at customs due to her background, she was not expecting to be turned away.

"The officer told me, 'I don't mind you playing your shows, I mind you playing SXSW under a B-1 visa,'" Amr said. "When he said that the festivals were being used as protests, I knew this is because of my skin color, my accent, my background, it's not about the visa. It was brutal."

Amr says one of her bandmates who has First Nation status was also denied at the border. She says that despite having his Canadian identification card, he was asked to show a DNA test by the customs officer.

"I left Egypt two years ago to become closer to the music industry, because I was told that no label would ever sign a band that lives miles and miles away," Amr said. "You leave your country to play music here, and then they don't want you, and it just makes you feel like there's nowhere to go."

The FADER has reached out to a SXSW representative, Soviet Soviet, and Yussef Kamaal for comment.

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At Least 7 SXSW Artists Have Reportedly Been Turned Away At The U.S. Border