Following a controversy surrounding the deportation clause in its performance agreements, SXSW finds itself at the center of further immigration-related chaos this week. At least 11 musicians have been denied entry to the U.S. on their way to Austin.
Spanish rapper Yung Beef, a member of the now defunct PXXR GVNG crew, was set to headline Remezcla’s Shattering Stereotypes showcase on Thursday, March 16. The MC was traveling with several other artists (Hakim Lemonhaze, AC3, Mthbts and ElRotwa) and was turned away at Barcelona-El Prat airport. According to a Facebook post, Beef was traveling on ESTA, a part of the U.S. Visa Waiver Program that permits citizens from 38 countries (including Spain) to perform in the U.S. for cultural exchange and showcasing purposes only.
In the past, many SXSW artists successfully gained entry to the U.S. on ESTA, though the festival’s website urges international artists to be wary of traveling to Austin under that program. “While the odds of success entering under Visa Waiver Program (VWP) are favorable, the consequences of being denied entry are determined by Customs Border Patrol agent during your screening at the port of entry,” the site reads.
The festival also warns international artists that playing paid (unofficial or otherwise) performances may jeopardize entry into the U.S. Because SXSW performances are designed as “industry” showcases rather than ticketed events, artists are typically able to bypass other visa options. Historically, performers have traveled to SXSW using a variety of other documents, including O, P, or B visas. The P-1 visa enables musicians to tour or perform for hire, while the B-1 visa is reserved for tourists who cannot legally receive compensation for performances during their visits to the U.S.
Chilean shoegaze band Trementina has also been denied entry to the US, as they announced in a Facebook post on March 12. The trio had planned a mini-US tour, including a stop at SXSW. “A few days ago we’ve received an email telling us that we were not allowed to be in the U.S. anymore,” they wrote on Facebook. “We were supposed to be on a [flight] right now. We’ve tried to contact the U.S. embassy in Peru, Mexico, and Chile, and they didn’t [give] us any answer or solution.” In an email with Remezcla, Trementina confirmed they attempted to enter on ESTA; since they had several gigs planned in the U.S., it is likely they were denied entry on the basis of the mini-tour.
According to NPR, several other international bands, including three members of Italy’s Soviet Soviet, three performers in Egyptian-Canadian band Massive Scar Era, and drummer Yussef Dayes, have also been denied entry to the U.S.
Entry on the Visa Waiver Program is at the discretion of CBP agents, and many bands have reported rigorous inspections (including searches and social media reviews) at the point of entry. It is possible that some artists attempted to enter under a non-work visa and were turned away because they had additional (paid) tour dates listed on their Facebook pages. CBP declined to comment on specific cases to due privacy policies, but in an email, the agency told Remezcla: “If an individual is a member of an internationally recognized entertainment group, they must apply for and be granted a P-1 visa. It is important to note that issuance of a visa or a visa waiver does not guarantee entry to the United States.”
Several publications speculate that tightened regulations surrounding President Trump’s March 6 executive order, which calls for enhanced “screening and vetting protocols and procedures associated with the visa-issuance process,” are the root cause for the chaos. Remezcla has reached out to a SXSW representative to seek clarification on the number of international artists who were denied entry in previous editions of the festival. Only time will tell if this will affect SXSW’s ability to book international artists in the future, or if other foreign artists will have difficulty entering the U.S. using visa options they have used in the past.