In one of his songs Benji Davis describes his life as a musician by saying, “Beggars can’t be choosers, but I chose to be a beggar.” That description isn’t far off since musicians sometimes find themselves begging for gigs.
For an up-and-coming artist or one that has yet to catch that big break, an annual artist showcase like SXSW, the Canadian Music Festival, and the CMJ Music Festival are essential. These festivals are week-long events where record companies show off their wares – new artists. While it is a great opportunity for new musicians to get that all important exposure, it does nothing to pay the bills because the artists don’t get paid.
These showcase festivals attract musical talent from all across the planet. The U.S. government has several different levels of visas for entry into the United States. One of those is called the ESTA or Visa Waiver Program issued to music artists who are scheduled to perform but are not getting paid for the gig.
In the past week, there have been four musical acts who have been denied entry into the United States despite having all of the correct documents including the ESTA visa. Those artists come from Italy, England, and Canada – none of which are on the “ban list.”
The Italian band, Soviet Soviet, was not only detained at the airport in Seattle, but were questioned, JAILED, and then deported the next morning. The trio had passports, the ESTA, and a letter from their record company explaining why they were in the U.S. and that they would not be paid for any of their performances.
Only a few days after Soviet Soviet was sent back home, three more artists entering the country via the west coast have been denied entry. Yussef, Ahmed and Kareem Dayes, along with Yussef Kamaal, had their visas revoked at the last minute. Despite being from London, the artists had their visas revoked. The record company stated that the guys were denied entry under the “New Executive Order.”
Vancouver rockers Massive Scar Era who also work in Cairo, Egypt also posted a message stating that they were denied entry in the U.S. despite having all their documents.
While two of the band members are from Egypt, one of them is a member of the First Nations and has only to show his Native card to cross the border as was agreed upon in the Jay Treaty in 1794. Band members state that the border guard told their Native band member that the next time he wanted to cross the border, he would need to provide a blood test to prove his identity.
While there were no definite reasons given by border patrol or immigration as for the denial of entry, various artists speculated that some authorities were not aware of the various visa and what they were for, while others felt they were being discriminated against because of their religion and ethnicity.
Immigration attorney Brian Taylor Goldstein spoke on the issue saying, “Given that the new Order specifically requires heightened vetting and screening of those ‘who seek to enter the United States on a fraudulent basis’, there is going to be even more scrutiny and less forgiveness than ever before with regard to artists attempting to enter the US on visitor visas (B-1/B-2) or through the Visa Waiver Program (‘ESTA’). We are already receiving reports of artists being held and detained for hours upon entering the US to determine whether or not they are performing. Even artists entering as visitors for the purpose of attending a conference or ‘performing a showcase’ are being pulled aside and, in many cases, being refused entry. Artists entering with B-1/B-2 visas or through the Visa Waiver Program (ESTA) are being pulled aside the moment they say that they are ‘entertainers’, ‘performers’, or ‘artists.’ … In short, an Immigration Officer has the unfettered authority and discretion to deny entry to any artist from any nationality for any reason. To what extent this authority will be exercised remains to be seen.”
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