WM Entertainment, the management company representing South Korean K-pop group Oh My Girl, released a statement last week accusing U.S. customs agents of profiling members of the group as prostitutes and detaining them for fifteen hours.
The management group claims that Oh My Girl intended to visit Los Angeles for a photoshoot and to make a promotional appearance at the Unforgettable 2015 festival.
According to Allkpop, WM Entertainment’s statement read:
[pull_quote_center]Oh My Girl and the staff had no problem with the procedures at the [Los Angeles] airport immigration office and passed through, but a problem arose while at customs… The person in charge of customs asked Oh My Girl and the staff what relationship they had with each other, and one of the staff used the word ‘sister’ and a misunderstanding occurred. They thought it was strange that we were not blood related, but said that we were ‘sisters’. And so they took extra attention to the large quantity of items and outfits we had. And since the members are young girls, they were mistaken as ‘working women’ (prostitutes) which the U.S. has a big issue with right now.[/pull_quote_center]
The statement continued, “After the misunderstanding was resolved, we were sent back to the airport immigration office, and had communication with the airport staff, and our opinion was not straightened out. And in the previous step, our phones were seized and it was an extreme situation where we could not contact anyone outside. The company was detained for a long period of 15 hours, and we decided to go back to Korea because of the members who were tired physically and emotionally.”
An anonymous U.S. Customs and Border Patrol official reportedly disputed WM Entertainment’s claims in comments to The Los Angeles Times, and said that members of the group had lied and claimed to be visiting the U.S. for a vacation rather than to work.
The official suggested that the group should have obtained a P1 performance visa rather than attempting to enter the U.S. under a 90-day visa waiver program. He said the group members were neither profiled as prostitutes nor detained, but were denied entry for failing to obtain a work visa and subsequently sent back on the first available flight, which departed 15 hours later.
However, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesperson refused to provide an official confirmation or denial of the claim, saying, “Privacy Act prevents CBP from disclosing arrival/departure records of international travelers.”
The Los Angeles Times’ Victoria Kim wrote, describing the local context surrounding the profiling allegations, “Korean-language media in Los Angeles have reported anecdotally that young South Korean women are increasingly facing scrutiny from immigration authorities based on the suspicion that they may be entering the country to illegally work in the Koreatown nightlife scene.”
WM Entertainment, who is in talks with a U.S.-based attorney about a possible lawsuit, is arguing that the group was only visiting the U.S. for a photoshoot for its own album release and that its appearance at Unforgettable 2015 was promotional in nature and not a concert for ticket-buying fans, adding “there was no need to receive a performance visa.“