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Well known people who have been denied a US Visa, ESTA or entry into the U.S.

Updated: Jan 21, 2024  | Tags: ESTA Denied, Denied for US Visa

Every year, millions of people apply for a visa to enter the United States. Applying for a US visa can be a challenging process and making just a small mistake can mean that your visa will be delayed or even denied. It’s essential to make sure that you keep yourself well-informed about any changes to the rules regarding US visa and ESTA applications, for instance, making sure that you apply for the right category of visa. While most US visa and visa waiver applications are granted, there are numerous reasons in US law as to why an application might not be approved, as some very well-known travellers have found to their cost.

[1] Daniel Radcliffe

In 2014, Daniel Radcliffe, the star of the Harry Potter movies and West End and Broadway stage productions, was barred from reentering the United States after a trip to Canada for the premiere of his movie, What If?

The British actor was stranded in Toronto over some confusion regarding his visa status. He possessed a P-2 visa, designated for foreign entertainers and actors, and was in the process of applying for an O-1 visa, granted to those individuals with extraordinary abilities in the fields of science, art, sports or entertainment.

While the P-2 visa remains valid only for the period the holder is working on a specific project and must not exceed one year, the O-2 visa permits the holder to remain in the US for up to three years. Whilst Daniel Radcliffe’s application for an O-2 visa had been successful, he should have had it stamped by the US embassy in Toronto before returning to the US.

[2] Nigella Lawson

Celebrity TV chef and cookery writer were barred from boarding her flight from Heathrow to LA in 2014. She had been set to film a series of The Taste, her TV cooking contest show. The ban followed a courtroom admission during the fraud trial of her former assistants when she owned to having used cocaine and cannabis during the breakup of her marriage to wealthy art collector Charles Saatchi.

Drug abuse no longer triggers an automatic ban on entering the US but the ESTA form requires an applicant to answer a question as to whether they have ever taken illegal drugs in the past and it is on these grounds that Nigella was refused entry to the US. However, she had previously visited the United States once since then and had also discussed the case while promoting the new TV series.

Her lawyers sought a “waiver of inadmissibility” and US immigration officials invited her to reapply for a visa soon afterwards; she was permitted to travel to the United States to begin filming in the autumn of that year.

[3] Diego Maradona

Although he’s remembered by millions as one of the greatest footballers of all time, the US immigration authorities had no hesitation in revoking Diego Maradona’s visa during the 1994 World Cup after he tested positive for cocaine use. In 2018, he was handed yet another ban; this time, however, he was denied entry because he had insulted Donald Trump on South African TV show. When asked about his opinion of Trump, he referred to the US president as a chirolita, an Argentinian insult implying that someone is a puppet. Maradona later denied that he was in the process of applying for a US visa but he was said to have needed to travel to Miami for a court case regarding his former wife.

[4] Amir Khan

The welterweight boxer has a history of being denied entry to the United States. In a notorious incident in 2015 on the anniversary of 9/11, jumpy US officials stopped Amir from boarding a plane to Las Vegas, where he was planning to watch a fight between Floyd Mayweather and Marcos Maidana. No reason was given at the time, Amir was told simply that his visa was refused. Later it appears that the refusal was due to a case of mistaken identity.

Luckily, the Bolton-based boxer has friends in high places: Amir Khan was able to call the then British Prime Minister, David Cameron, to put in a word for him. The problem was quickly sorted out by lawyers in LA and London and Amir Khan was cleared to travel. Once in the US, he met Hillary Clinton and to date has had no further visa difficulties. 

[5] Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam)

Cat Stevens, now known as Yusuf Islam since his conversion to Islam, was denied entry into the United States in September 2004. Upon landing in Washington D.C., he was detained and later deported back to the United Kingdom. The U.S. authorities cited national security concerns as the reason for his deportation, stating that his name was on a government "no-fly" list, a measure aimed at preventing those who may pose a threat to the country from entering.

The situation was controversial and widely publicized at the time. Yusuf Islam himself was surprised by the action, stating that he had frequently visited the U.S. in the past without any issue. He denied any involvement in terrorism or activities that would make him a threat to U.S. national security.

The exact reasons for his placement on the no-fly list were never fully disclosed, but it was suggested that the U.S. authorities had concerns about alleged associations between Yusuf Islam and potential terrorist fundraising activities. Yusuf Islam vehemently denied these allegations and expressed disappointment that his philanthropic activities could be misconstrued as supporting terrorism.

The incident led to diplomatic conversations between the United States and the United Kingdom, as Yusuf Islam is a British citizen. Over time, the situation seemed to resolve itself, as he was eventually allowed to enter the United States again. He has since traveled to the U.S. for various events, including concerts and speaking engagements.

[6] Lily Allen

British singer-songwriter Lily Allen was denied a U.S. visa in 2007. The denial was generally attributed to her having been arrested earlier that year for an altercation with a photographer in London. Although she was not formally charged for the incident, the arrest was likely a significant factor in the U.S. authorities' decision to revoke her existing work visa at that time. In the United States, visa applications and renewals can be affected by arrests or criminal records, even if those events occurred in other countries.

The visa denial led to the cancellation of some of Lily Allen's planned activities in the United States, including performances and appearances. The situation was highly publicized at the time, drawing attention to the complexities of U.S. visa policies, particularly as they apply to artists and entertainers.

Lily Allen's situation appears to have been resolved in subsequent years, as she has since been able to travel to the United States for various activities, including tours and performances. However, her case serves as an example of how legal issues—even those that may seem minor or are not followed by formal charges—can impact one's ability to travel internationally.

[7] Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse, the late British singer-songwriter, was denied a U.S. visa in 2008, which prevented her from attending that year's Grammy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles. The reason for the visa denial was widely reported to be linked to her legal troubles at the time, which included drug-related issues and a pending investigation into a video that allegedly showed her using illegal drugs. U.S. authorities generally take into account an individual's criminal record or ongoing legal matters when reviewing visa applications, and this likely influenced the decision to deny Winehouse's application.

Despite this setback, Amy Winehouse was still able to participate in the Grammy Awards ceremony through a live satellite feed from London. The singer ended up winning five awards that night, including "Record of the Year," "Song of the Year," and "Best New Artist," making her absence from the ceremony due to visa issues even more notable.

[8] Amir Benayoun

The popular Israeli singer was refused a visa in 2018, on the grounds that he had performed a song critical of President Obama. Amir was scheduled to perform at the Holocaust Remembrance Day at the UN in New York bu the US embassy in Isreal declined to renew his visa. The reason they gave was that Benayound was planning to stay without permission rather than returning to Israel after the concert.

However, many observers believe that the real reason behind the visa refusal was that officials were bearing a grudge because Amir had written a song about an “evil” pet crow named Obama. Two other Israeli singers due to perform in New York were granted visas without any problems. Luckily for the singer, the decision was later reversed and he was able to perform his song “The Last One” at the Remembrance ceremony as planned.


It's important to note that visa application processes are generally confidential, and the details are not usually disclosed by the government. However, some individuals and celebrities have publicly spoken about being denied a U.S. visa or have been reported in the media. Reasons for visa denials can vary, ranging from legal issues to political stances or even diplomatic tensions between countries.

It's worth noting that visa situations can change, and individuals who were once denied may later be granted entry under different circumstances or after fulfilling certain conditions.