Visa issues–which have affected artists from the Mercury Prize-winning Klaxons to the fantastic Holly Golightly–have seemingly become the No. 1 reason for overseas artists to shelve their tours lately, so the Wall Street Journal took a look at the increasingly difficult process they have to go through to get their paperwork in order. At issue is the P-1 visa, which forces bands who are coming to the U.S. to prove that they have been “internationally recognized” for a “sustained and substantial” time period. Apparently, the perfect storm of increased “homeland security,” the fragmentation of the music industry, and rascally Internet buzz has resulted in the bureaucrats employed by our government to start passing muster on not just the musicians whose visa applications they’re processing, but the Web sites that help transmit news of said artists across the pond:
For the English band Klaxons, that meant submitting clips of magazine reviews as part of their visa application package last year. The band, which last week won the U.K.’s prestigious Nationwide Mercury Prize, is known for a driving mix of dance, pop and rock that sparks frenzied live shows. After forming in the fall of 2005, the group quickly ascended to fame in England, thanks in large part to buzz on MySpace.
Last fall, the group landed a spot at the CMJ music festival in New York, an annual showcase of new talent. But its visa request was delayed when immigration officials said they needed more evidence of the band’s longevity. About a week before its scheduled trip to the U.S., the band pulled the plug on the tour. The group waited another seven months to enter the U.S.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, says that the Internet has changed the kind of evidence that bands present — posts from blogs and online magazines now appear in application packages. But the agency says it will only consider these sources if the band can prove that they are well-read and influential. The burden of proof falls on the band.
“We’re not Simon Cowell. We’re the people who have to know why this group qualifies,” says Robert DeJulius, an adjudications supervisor at one of the two service centers that processes P-1 visas. Mr. DeJulius adds that his center has, in fact, processed the petition of Mr. Cowell, the “American Idol” judge.
Nice name drop there, Robert! Anyway, it’s not surprising that our seemingly clueless security-related agencies have fallen behind the times as far as what it takes to measure a band’s profile. (Not to mention that this whole “the burden of proof falls on the artist” idea is somewhat reminiscent of the fiasco ?uestlove endured a few months back when he was flagged by the DEA for carrying a lot of cash while flying back from a DJ gig.) What I don’t understand, though, is why ticket receipts for already-on-sale shows shouldn’t count as some sort of proof of demand for these artists; not only is it a more accurate indicator of these bands’ Stateside esteem than a blurb in Rolling Stone, it would result in a lot of clubs and promoters losing money on last-minute cancellations and fans being less frustrated. (Also, can’t someone give James Blunt this treatment? Please? Surely bad buzz should count for something.)