Oh My Girl couldn’t enter the USA and neither can you – a quick primer about performing visas

It’s rare that an opportunity for me to drop a post about something extremely topical comes up, but occasionally k-pop will throw me a jewel like that and here one is.  K-pop girl group Oh My Girl had some visa issues recently when attempting to enter the USA and since touring headfucks is an area in which I’m uniquely qualified having managed many of them personally, here is now a quick, helpful trufaxual post for your entertainment and education!

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So, what actually happened?

Oh My Girl tried to get into the USA to do some shows or promotions or whatever, but without the required paperwork (a performing visa for each traveller).  When quizzed by US Customs, the girls and their entourage lied and said that they were “sisters” presumably to keep their “we’re not k-pop performers, honest” cover intact.  Customs thought that maybe eight mostly-above-school-age girls with different surnames plus entourage carrying a metric ton of frilly dresses, school uniforms and short skirts in their luggage looked a bit more like a fly-in brothel than a family get-together (because while k-pop fans think all that shit is “innocent concept wear”, people who live in the real world know what a fetish is), so naturally Oh My Girl were detained while everyone tried to work out what was actually going on.  Eventually it was decided that nobody could be fucked waiting around forever so the girls hopped on a plane back to Korea.  The agency later confirmed that this is what happened, so there’s no dispute about the facts.

(EDIT: actually, there is – but remember that US Customs have just as much vested interest in lying about this as the Korean agency do.)

Was the US Customs response reasonable or just racist?

It’s the job of customs officers in many countries to check whether people are legally allowed to enter a country or not and to investigate matters that may be classed as suspicious, and Oh My Girl in this instance would have looked suspicious as hell, regardless of where they were from and where they were going.  Of course if it was me I would have recognised the girls straight away and waved them through into the special caonima express baggage check but you can’t expect some random American to recognise a group only a few thousand people outside of Korea even know about.  The prostitute theory was obviously wrong (unless Oh My Girl do a little Tenpro agency work on the side) but it’s easy to see why they would have felt the need to consider that possibility, as a customs officer erring on the side of caution in the face of oddities is part of doing your job properly… and k-pop groups look pretty fucking odd to most people who aren’t embroiled in the world of k-pop fandoms and media.

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So why did their agency do this then?  Are they just dumb?

To enter the USA legally as performers, the agency would need to, on behalf of each of the girls in Oh My Girl, plus all support staff travelling with them:

So the agency are being cheap?

The difference in cost between performance and tourist visas has been pointed out, but if Oh My Girl were genuine tourists staying less than 90 days they wouldn’t have even needed a visa at all, because South Korea is a participant in the USA’s visa waiver program, they would have just had to make an electronic application and wait for approval.  However as performers they would require a performance visa (performance doesn’t come under the visa waiver program’s business exemptions).  So ultimately the entire cost of the performance visa could be dodged by Oh My Girl being passed off as “tourists”.  However, the cost saving is just an incidental (tiny) benefit to the agency (or would be, if they got away with it), and is highly unlikely to be the real reason for trying to pass the girls off as tourists.

How do you know this?

Let’s have a look at the two music videos that Oh My Girl have released so far.

Both are very high budget productions, featuring multiple elaborate purpose-built sets, the agency would have probably burned up a million dollars just on these videos alone.  It’s obvious enough that their agency has money to throw around and an extra few thousand dollars on some paperwork would be nothing in the grand scheme, especially for a shot at that American advancement that k-pop agencies so dearly covet.

So what’s the real reason then?  Were the agency just dumb?

Here’s a fun fact about getting a performance visa for the USA.  You’re not allowed to wait to sign any touring or performance agreements until AFTER the visa application is approved, you must do it BEFORE.  So if you play by the rules by booking your show, and then filing your visa application after, and then the USA says you can’t come in, you’ve not only wasted money on the application but you’ve also automatically breached a contractual agreement with your American business partners, which potentially means way more money than a few annoying filing fees, not to mention you’ve pissed off fans.  The USA can also delay your application almost indefinitely by asking for “further evidence”, insist that you pay union fees and any other manner of things, waits of up to six months for performance visas are extremely common.

What maybe could have happened in the Oh My Girl situation is this – the agency booked the shows first a few months ahead of time, then filed the correct paperwork (legally it must be done in this order).  The concert date drew closer and closer but either they got no response or they were requested to provide extra documents time and time again, stalling the administrative process.  The day that the girls had to hop on the plane and go to the USA for the show finally came along and there was still no final response so the agency said “fuck it, let’s just send them on the plane anyway, we’ll try our luck passing them off as tourists – it’s either that or just cancel the shows and give up so we’ve got nothing to lose”.

Oh.  Okay, I feel stupid now for assuming the agency were just a bunch of morons.  It might not even be their fault.

Well, saying “we’re sisters” at the airport was maybe a bit silly and the girls’ or the agency’s only real fuckup – but that could be down to language barriers or mistranslation of a comment made in jest or in the “we’re like family” spirit that these k-pop groups are probably in the habit of acting like when in public.  When appearing before customs you have to be really careful what you say and not try any funny business, because these people are on the lookout for anything that doesn’t square off neatly – after all it’s their job, and it’s not their fault if the visa rules suck dick and you’re trying to get around them, you sneaky caonima.

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I’ve never heard of anything like this before – is it common for performers to try and travel with incorrect visas?

OH FUCK YES, it’s very, very, very common.  If you want a k-pop example JYP did visa scams with The Wonder Girls and got away with it but this is a practice far from limited to just k-pop groups.  US punk group Black Flag famously lost their drummer when his visa expired in the UK and he wasn’t able to return to the USA due to his status as an illegal immigrant.  Visa entry issues are also not just restricted to USA entry – the Japanese punk band Limited Express (Has Gone?) tried to enter Australia on tourist visas in exactly the same type of situation as Oh My Girl, and were busted the same way – their language barrier meant they ended up saying the wrong thing to customs who realised that the group might be in the country for performance work rather than tourism, so they promptly got sent back home.  I could give dozens more examples including a few personal ones (but I won’t because my lawyer has read this post and wants a chat – but maybe they’ll appear as blind items one day?).  Customs officers in Australia now actually actively scan gig guides and keep on the lookout for international performers expected to be entering the country.  Artists have risen to the challenge – check any insider musician blogs for plenty of “how to convincingly pretend you’re a tourist” style advice, and you’ll see why customs officers everywhere are becoming super-vigilant about this.  I would say that for any artist anywhere in the world who is touring internationally but not A-list in their respective genre, cheap and dirty “tourist” tours are the norm, not the exception.

Wow, I guess that might be the real reason why my fave group suddenly cancelled their tour to my country only a day or two before it happened.

Yes, it might.

Wow Kpopalypse, you’re so brainy.  How can I be more like you and less like some of the dickheads I see on other k-pop related websites?

  • Question everything.  Especially question the people who tell you to question everything, because a lot of those people just like questioning everything because they can.
  • Just because someone is a deluded fangirl or a media outlet is corrupt and petty doesn’t mean that they’re wrong.  It doesn’t mean that they’re right either.  Take informations on their own merit, or lack thereof.
  • Don’t let morality cloud your rationality.  Stop thinking about what’s right and wrong, instead worry about what’s true and false.  Adhere to Kpopalypse standards of trufax.
  • Enjoy life and k-pop in your newfound wisdom and knowledges!

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14 thoughts on “Oh My Girl couldn’t enter the USA and neither can you – a quick primer about performing visas

  1. Damn, this was fast! I expected you’d say something about this next week or so.
    I suspected the schoolgirl fetishes were involved, but I didn’t know what a clusterfuck of paperwork performers have to deal with to enter the States.

  2. Wow this was a really great article, my favorite thus far. As someone who’s considering going into music law and the topics related to that, this was a really enlightening read. Thanks for posting it!

  3. Very good piece, one of those “I never thought about it but it makes perfect sense now” kind of things.

    What do you think about this response from the feds, btw? Anyway to tell which side is lying? Not that it matters that much, I guess, and obviously your post holds up either way.

  4. 36 pages…. ouch. Everytime I see documents like this or other tax documents I’m happy I live in Sweden, because the Americans loves to have a lot of pages in their documents and make things complicated.

  5. well, it seems that the company is just miking that shit for publicity

    http://www.laweekly.com/news/feds-say-they-never-suspected-k-pop-performers-of-prostitution-6376397

    the feds cameo out and said that OMG were never suspected of prostitution, they were only suspected of not having the required visas

    “Essentially, the official said, the women lied, and when feds discovered that they didn’t have a necessary visa, they were instructed to catch the first flight back to South Korea.

    In fact, he said, the members were not held for 15 hours: They simply had to wait for their flight.”

  6. Err, it wasn’t the girls who lied about them being sisters, it was their staff who made that statement. The girls aren’t fluent enough in English to be able to answer any of the questions Customs gave them.

  7. Shrine of Raina, eh? You subliminal, sneaky caonima!

    Though I must say, I didn’t find Raina attractive at all before I started reading you. I don’t know how you did it, but you made me see the light. All praise Raina!

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