As artists prepare for the South By Southwest annual convention (SXSW), one of the largest music, arts, and technology festivals in the world, a clause in the standard performance contract has been the source of great consternation.
The clause at issue mentions foreign artists in one provision, but the clause itself is addressed to all artists in attendance. It says that if an artist acts in a way adverse to the SXSW showcase’s viability, SXSW may take a number of actions. This includes removing the artist’s showcase, canceling hotels and credentials, and lastly, notifying U.S. immigration authorities. Below that provision, the contract warns international artists that they are not allowed to perform outside the scope of the festival if entering under the visa waiver program, a B visa, or any other non-work visa. Given the current polarized environment caused by negative immigration rhetoric, artists fear SXSW is threatening deportation if they perform outside the festival venues. While we haven’t spoken directly with SXSW about this, Linda Rose has been one of the SXSW attorney-referrals for immigration matters and has presented at SXSW on immigration matters. So we feel confident in saying that SXSW is not threatening deportation of attendees.
It’s extremely important that SXSW have a good relationship with immigration authorities who issue visas and permit artists to enter the U.S. And by doing so, SXSW will, as it has done in years past, facilitate artists’ lawful entry and period of stay in the United States. It is also in the best interest of SXSW and its guest artists to inform them that performing outside of the SXSW festival without work authorization is not permitted. Supposed negotiations between SXSW and the Department of Homeland Security would facilitate getting artists in, not keeping them out or removing them. Removing international artists is not in SXSW’s interest.
So let’s explain the law, provide some travel tips, and put your mind at ease. Because SXSW invites and attracts artists throughout the world, immigration issues arise every year. For many, a tourist visa or use of the visa waiver program (ESTA) is sufficient. For others, attending SXSW can require a more complex work-authorized status, such as O or P status. Depending on the nature of the visa and underlying make-up of the visa petition, some artists are limited to SXSW activities and venues while others can legally venture beyond the convention. Simply put, it just depends.
We strongly urge all artists to comply with their visa status, and we have to believe that SXSW does too. And while we believe it would be a rarity for SXSW to report foreign attendees to immigration, no one, not even SXSW, should tolerate visa fraud. So foreign national artists should understand the limitations of their status as well as their rights and obligations while in the U.S.
Before coming to the U.S., artists should discuss the purpose and scope of their trip with a U.S. immigration attorney, who can assist with preparing necessary documents to show the intention upon entry. The decision whether to admit a foreign national is determined by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers. This means a trip halfway around the world can be shut down the moment the individual steps foot into the U.S. if a CBP officer believes the artist’s intentions are inconsistent with his or her immigration status. For those using the visa waiver program (ESTA) or a B-1/B-2 visa, attending the performances is allowed, and in a very limited sense so might a showcase. But if the artist is showcasing and this comprises the focus of the trip, we would typically recommend a work-authorized status, especially given the current climate. Here are a few other pointers when foreign artists present themselves for inspection at a U.S. port:
1. Look the part: This doesn’t mean you have to wear a suit, but presenting well can be a step in the right direction. First impressions count. Tatoos, piercings, and clothing with derogatory language will raise suspicion, so don’t flaunt.
2. Be prepared, be honest: If your trip is consistent with the immigration laws and your intended immigration status, you have little to fear. Be prepared to explain the scope of the trip and do not misrepresent your intent. There are significant repercussions for lying to immigration officers.
3. Have documentation organized: If you are attending SXSW, bring your registration materials, hotel information, and other relevant documents in your carry-on bag. As you wait in line, have these documents easily accessible. If showcasing only, bring the invitation and a letter from an immigration attorney explaining that the showcase performance is consistent with immigration laws. If performing, bring the performance contract and a letter from your attorney explaining that the performance is consistent with your immigration status.
This list is not exhaustive. Consult with an immigration attorney to best prepare for the uncertainties at the border.
Linda Rose and Doug Russo are immigration attorneys at Rose Immigration Law Firm, PLC, in Nashville. Go to: Rose Immigration Law Firm. They also are musicians and play and perform regularly with RoseOnVibes jazz combo.