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June 3, 2009

Immigration rules threaten to destroy Britain's arts reputation

Ballet dancers - Times of London - immigration

Rosemary Bennett, Social Affairs Correspondent

Stringent new visa controls have brought one ballet company to the brink of collapse and threaten dozens of concerts, festivals and exhibitions.

Rules designed to prevent illegal immigration have left international performers struggling to gain access to Britain, a report says. Other artists have decided that it is simply not worth the hassle to travel.

It is feared that the new rules could destroy Britain’s reputation as a centre for international arts.

Among the cancellations were two concerts by the Russian pianist Grigory Sokolov, and the deportation of the Canadian singer Allison Crowe from Gatwick because she did not have a certificate of sponsorship. Her passport has been stamped “barred from entry” and she could find it difficult to perform in Britain again.

Cosi fan Tutte opened at the English National Opera this week but Abbasa Kiarostami, its Iranian director, has had to run it by e-mail because he could not get a visa in time. He complained of “disgraceful treatment” from British Embassy staff.

The Swansea-based Ballet Russe company, which has been performing for more than ten years, faces closure after months of expensive and unsuccessful negotiations to try to obtain visas for its dancers, who are stuck in Russia.

The visa controls are part of the new points-based system for immigration. The rules for touring artists, which came into force in November, include a requirement for each artist to show £800 of savings, and financial support and constant monitoring by a “sponsor” to make sure that they do not abscond during their visit. Artists must apply for the visa in person, supplying biometric data and a digital picture. That has proved difficult in Africa in particular, with artists being told to travel to countries where biometric equipment is available to obtain their visas.

In the past artists have been able to obtain, within a few days, a simple short-term visa to tour in Britain.

The report, UK Arts and Culture: Cancelled by Order of the Home Office, was compiled by the Manifesto Club, which campaigns against red tape. The group said that the report gives the first indication of how many organisations have been affected since the changes came into force. It found evidence that more than 20 major events had been cancelled or badly affected by the new system. Other groups told its researchers that it was becoming impossible for them to invite non-EU visitors to perform or speak.

Tango and salsa dance festivals have been badly hit, with Argentine and Cuban dancers unable to obtain the right paperwork. An International Tango Festival this year has become a “bureaucratic nightmare” according to Simon Whittle, the administrator.

Anthony Howell, the celebrated tango dancer, said: “No small venue can afford to pay the fees to the Government on top of the fees for the performers. These restrictions drastically reduce the chances of good Argentine tango dancers being able to enter the country.”

Universities say that lecturers are also finding it impossible to obtain the necessary short-term work visas. Dmitry Vilensky, a Russian academic, cancelled a seminar in January when he was denied a visa on the ground that he was not being paid a fee.

Helen Gilbert, professor of theatre at Royal Holloway, University of London, said that the new laws were turning Britain into a laughing stock.

The UK Border Agency said that it wanted Britain to stay open and attractive for creative artists. “But at the same time we are determined to deliver a system which is among the most secure in the world.”

Cancelled or in jeopardy

Abbas Kiarostami The Iranian film director cancelled trip to direct Così Fan Tutte at ENO after “disgraceful treatment” by immigration officers

Allison Crowe The Canadian singer-songwriter was detained at Gatwick and deported

South Asian Music Festival Closing performance was cancelled as artists failed to gain visas

Les Amazones de Guinée The African jazz band had to cancel their tour after being refused entry. They had spent £3,500 to travel across Africa to get biometric visas

Mtiebi Georgia Choir Tour in jeopardy as visa requirements are now too expensive and complex

Huang Xu The Chinese artist was refused a visa to open his exhibition at October Gallery in London

Wiwik Wulandari The Indonesian artist’s three-month residency at Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery was cancelled after visa delays

Russian Church Choir Concert in Torrington, Devon is in jeopardy as choristers struggle to get visas

Plymouth Jazz Club It says that it will be almost impossible to feature musicians from outside EU in future Source: The Manifesto Club



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