Musicians’ Union reacts to UK artists being denied entry to the US to perform at SXSW


The Musicians’ Union (MU) is dismayed to learn that at least five musicians have had their permission to travel to the United States (US) to perform at the international showcase festival South By South West (SXSW) unexpectedly revoked.

The MU had reassurances that SXSW falls into the very narrow exemption, which allows artists invited to perform at official SXSW showcases entry to the US under the Visa Waiver Programme (ESTA).

We are aware of many artists who have been allowed into the US and will be performing, but for a few it is a very different story. The Department of Homeland Security, which administers the Visa Waiver Programme, has revoked the ESTAs of five UK musicians leaving them no time to allow an alternative O, P or B Visa to be sought.

Three of the musicians perform in two bands; none of them have received any reasoning from the US authorities as to why this revocation has come about. This renders the advice – that performing under an ESTA for an official showcase is acceptable – as unreliable.

It remains unclear as to whether this is specific to SXSW, or part of a much wider strategic change; the MU is working with partners in the UK and US to uncover the true situation. That said, it would appear that O, P and B Visas with their associated costs and time constraints would appear to be the only safe option for artists performing in the US, whether for an official showcase or not.

Dave Webster, MU National Organiser for Live Performance, and Chair of the Music Industry Visa Task Force, says:

“We have escalated this to the highest level in the UK to try to ascertain what is going on. It is appalling that these artists have been denied the opportunity to showcase at SXSW. The US Embassy in London has provided no explanation. A letter from Nigel Adams MP and Kerry McCarthy MP requesting an urgent meeting with the US officials has been sent.

“Since the formation of the Music Industry Visa Task Force in 2015 some progress on these issues has been made, however this latest development represents a huge setback.”

Horace Trubridge, MU Assistant General Secretary says:

“The amount of public funding that has gone into getting our UK artists to perform at SXSW this year will have been wasted. It is outrageous that these ESTAs have been revoked and more outrageous that the musicians affected have not been told why.”

For further details please email Dave Webster or call 07811 179576.