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The Visa Crisis That Makes US Tours Impossible

Less than two weeks before the departure of a US flight that had already run out of 27 appointments, Idles members went to the US Embassy in London. They were afraid that they would have to erase everything.

They had spent the past 10 months desperately trying to get a visa and September 24 was the first useful date, with embassy staff overburdened with work. Even on that occasion they were given no guarantees that they would actually be able to leave for the tour, which was scheduled to begin on October 7.

“Insane,” says Mark Bennett, director of Idles, who has spent the entirety of 2021 trying to navigate the legal woes of organizing a tour during the pandemic. “Most people don’t understand how difficult it is to organize an international tour these days.”

For foreign musicians, going to play in the United States always means dealing with a lot of bureaucracy. But in recent years, due to Trump-era policies aimed at limiting the number of foreigners able to enter the country, on the other hand, the Covid nightmare, the process has become more and more expensive, to the point that many. The musicians were forced to cancel their tours at the last minute. This means that after nearly two years without a job, some musicians are still unable to win over and nurture their fans.

Spanish indie rock band Heinz recently wrote that “the US government does not grant visas through the embassy in Spain,” which had to cancel a US tour with Future Islands. “We don’t know what to say. Our spirits are low and our projects are collapsing. We hope your summer will be better than ours. We will see each other soon (?)”. The band eventually managed to get the visa and started touring in October, but they missed an entire month of appointments.

The tallest man on earth, the stage name of Swedish singer-songwriter Christian Matson, had to cancel a US tour shortly before it even began. He wrote to fans: “For over a year, the United States has not granted work visas to Swedish citizens due to Covid.” “We know that some musicians got exceptions to this rule, but despite all the efforts to get it, even though I’ve been vaccinated and I’m negative for Covid, I’ve been denied entry to the country multiple times,” he added.

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English cellist Isata Kanneh-Mason, French DJ Brodinski, French electro 79 and many others also had to cancel their US tours at the last minute. Puy Pablo Nicolas Muñoz was forced to play in Lollapalooza without his squad, which failed to enter the country. The list is long.

Fiona McInty, an immigration attorney, says she’s never seen anything like this before. “It’s very frustrating, the delay due to Covid is understandable, but it’s crazy. If you think that many of the musicians and artists I work with haven’t been able to work for the past year and a half, I can’t imagine how bad it has been for them.”

Idle people are frustrated. The British band Post-punk has built a huge following in the US over the past decade by touring often, and this year was finally able to sell multiple times in a row at a place like Terminal 5 in New York. It can accommodate 5000 people.

Their troubles began in January 2021, when a girl submitted a visa appointment application to the US Embassy in London. This is a necessary step for a US tour. Anyone traveling with the band, including assistants, must submit in person to the Embassy for the verification process prior to the grant of a visa. In Idles’ case, when Bent submitted the application, he was told there were no dates available until January 2022.

“Covid has screwed everything up,” says Bent. “But we decided to go ahead and do all the other things that needed to be done in the meantime, to be ready in case we could get an appointment early. The best thing was to be ready, with all the documents in order.”

They eventually manage to set a date for September 24, although they were supposed to open that evening for Liam Gallagher in Belfast. Bent, who has spent the band at least $20,000 to deal with the situation, went to great lengths to allow all band members to be in London on schedule and not in Northern Ireland. A few days before the concert, Gallagher was injured while getting off a helicopter and the concert was canceled. “The day suddenly became clear, and we were fortunate that it happened on the day we needed it. At the embassy they are usually very fast, but this time no. There were some complications with some documents, and the process was much slower and more difficult than usual.

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idleness. Photo: Tom Hamm

A big part of the problem is that embassy staff are downsized due to covid just as there are an unprecedented number of people who will need her services due to COVID-19. travel ban America affects UK and EU citizens which is expected to expire in November. There are exceptions for travelers with “extraordinary abilities,” which include artists who have to go on tour, but having this exception makes things more difficult.

To obtain this exception, it is necessary, among other things, to provide signed contracts for concerts on US soil. “The problem is that musicians are reluctant to officially make appointments without making sure they get a visa,” McEntee explains. “It’s a paradox. ‘We don’t give you a visa until the concerts are fixed’ and people reply, ‘I don’t fix the parties until you give me the visa’.”

Even before Covid, the visa process was already much more difficult by the Trump administration. “His ‘Buy America, Hire America’ policies helped keep aliens away,” explains immigration attorney Lauren D’Alessio. “It’s rules that require you to have a good lawyer.”

And good lawyers cost, which adds another cost, which in the end can act as a barrier to entry for lesser-known musicians. All this also applies to artists from Canada. “Expedited visa processing rates have skyrocketed after Covid,” says Michael Demulas, guitarist for the Canadian tribute band Hotel California: The Original Eagles Tribute. “It cost $400, today it was $1,500. There was a time when it cost $2,500. We play 150 times a year and we can afford it, but smaller teams? They don’t.”

If this was the situation Idles was born in ten years ago, the group would never be able to build the next necessary to fill a place like Terminal 5. “We owe it all to the possibility of traveling, doing small concerts, and growing up with a girl,” says Bent. $10,000 to do that, either there’s a sticker that gives them a hand or they just can’t afford it. The problem is that no one is giving you that kind of support these days, you have to do it yourself.”

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Even after going to the embassy at the last minute appointment on September 28 – nine days before the tour began – Idles received an email saying that two photographs that were part of the documents submitted for the visa were rejected, without explanation. Reason. The entire visa process was in jeopardy.

“We just announced the album (i.e. creeping (to be released November 12, editor),” says Bent. “And Joe Talbot, the singer, would have had to appear in some press to promote it. Instead, he was forced to go to the race to try and get a professional photo to attach to his visa application. We had to cancel the promotion. Drummer John Bevis printed the papers and went to the post office and mailed them. All because the email arrived at 3pm and we had to send everything by 4:30pm. We had an hour and a half to solve the problem.”

For McEntee, the situation is absurd, given the benefits of tours and concerts. “The beauty of music is that every concert is unique,” ​​he says, “It’s not that musicians who come here to play steal jobs from American musicians. A campaign is underway to keep independent clubs and concert halls open. Well, to stay open, we have to Musicians come to play. So, yes, there are jobs at stake but in other words.”

Eventually, Idles got the visa approved on October 1, at the last minute. Bennett said he is very relieved, but also frustrated that it took so much fanfare just to get the right to play in the United States. And he explains: “Only America has these problems. In all other places the process is very simple and costs less. Everywhere, from Japan to Australia. Even going to Russia is easier than going to play in America ».

This article was translated by Rolling Stone, United States.

Earl Warner

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