Visa refusals starve UK’s arts festivals of world talent

LAAF is a signatory of a recent letter, published in The Guardian, calling for new developments for overseas artists applying for UK visas:

Visa refusals starve UK’s arts festivals of world talent
Directors of some of Britain’s international festivals warn that artists are being deterred from coming to the UK because of Home Office visa application procedures

As international arts festivals in the UK, we are very concerned by the rise in refusals of artists’ visas to perform at festivals, including the Edinburgh international book festival and Womad.

The current visa application process for artists is lengthy, opaque and costly, with artists and/or festivals often spending thousands of pounds on visas and associated costs for a visit of often only a few days. The overly complex process leads to mistakes being made by both applicants and assessors, and refusals being made for visas that could theoretically be granted.

Artists have to surrender their passport while the application is considered. Although the Home Office aims to complete most visa applications within 15 working days, applications can take much longer. There is no way for the inviting festival to find out the progress of a visa application, or answer any questions that arise, leading to refusals where missing information or documentation could easily be provided.

The situation has led to artists now telling festivals they are much more reluctant to accept invitations to come to the UK due to the visa process, despite the assistance we receive from bodies such as the British Council and UK embassies across the world.

While we recognise the need for scrutiny of visa applications, and appreciate mechanisms such as permit-free festivals, we suggest a number of key developments which we believe will help alleviate this situation, including the following:

• Direct contacts for registered sponsor organisations within the UK visas and immigration and/or visa application centres.

• Reduction in costs for artists’ visas.

• Passport pass back as standard procedure.

• Clarification of appeal procedure.

• Online updates on process of visa applications.

The UK has a rich history of hosting the best artists from across the world, and these refusals directly reduce UK audiences’ opportunities to see and engage with international artists. We request that the UK government considers these changes to ensure the free flow of arts and ideas into the country.

  • Nick Barley Artistic director, Edinburgh international book festival
  • Chris Smith Director, Womad festivals
  • Eckhard Thiemann Artistic director and Daniel Gorman Executive director, Shubbak: A Window on Contemporary Arab Culture
  • Syima Aslam Director, Bradford literature festival
  • Monica Ferguson Chief executive and artistic director, IF: Milton Keynes international festival
  • Bill Gee Creative director, IF: Milton Keynes international festival
  • John E McGrath Artistic director and chief executive, Manchester international festival
  • Emma Gladstone Artistic director and chief executive, Dance Umbrella
  • Peter Florence Director, Hay festivals
  • Andrew Comben Chief executive, Brighton festival
  • Melanie Iredale Deputy director, Sheffield Doc/Fest
  • Donald Shaw Director, Celtic Connections
  • Ruth McCarthy Artistic director, Outburst Queer Arts festival
  • Helen Medland CEO and artistic director, Sick! festival
  • Richard Wakely Artistic director and chief executive, Belfast international arts festival
  • Kris Nelson Artistic director and joint CEO, Lift
  • Liz Holmes Director, Knockengorroch World Ceilidh
  • Adrian Turpin Artistic director, Wigtown book festival
  • Taher Qassim Chair, Liverpool Arab Arts festival
  • Miguel Oyarzun Co-director, BE festival
  • Eleanor Livingstone Director, StAnza festival
  • Donald Smith Director, Scottish international storytelling festival
  • Alistair Moffat Director, Borders book festival
  • Bob McDevitt Director, Bloody Scotland festival
  • Tom Baker Director, Field Day

Image: Tal National from Niger perform at this year’s Womad Festival. Some members of the band were unable to obtain visas to play at the event. Photograph: Judith Burrows/Getty Images

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