Artists’ testimonies

The regulations, which were officially put into effect on 27 November 2008, have meant a number of artists have been refused entry. Read testimonies below, and email to post a comment.

An update from Flavia D’Avila, a Brazilian theatre star

Ruganzu Bruno, a Ugandan Visual Artist which tells the despairing narrative of how African artists are treated by visa officials who create an arduous, costly and impervious system that is insurmountable for up-and-coming artists who don’t earn a substantial income from their art.
Read the full testimony.

Flavia D’Avila is a theatre star facing deportation. Read the full testimony.

Visual and physical theatre artist Anna Masing invited her friend, a dancer from Malaysia, to collaborate and participate in a performance which would contribute to Masing’s PhD study. The dancer Maryline Semba Mani was detained, treated with suspicion of being an “exotic dancer” and deported back to Malaysia. She was not being paid a fee for this engagement, as the relationship was based on a close friendship with Masing. She was not informed by the UK consulate about the new Permitted Paid Engagement visitor route. In fact, the consulate couldn’t see a problem about her coming to the UK as a tourist on a general visitor visa. Yet again, this incident illustrates the mind-boggling position that artists and performers find themselves in where coming to visit in the UK means that you must agree not to be an artist.

Read the full testimony from Anna Masing

The film-maker Meghan Horvath has written a beautiful and moving testament about the uncertainties of her visa situation – an excellent combination of personal narrative and the de-humanising facts of bureaucratic points-based scoring. Read then full testimony here…

Jesmael Mataga is a Curator of Ethnography at the Zimbabwe Museum of Human Sciences

I had the same experience [when I made an application for a visa on 29 September] 2008 when I had been given an ICOM [International Council of Museums] grant FOR YOUNG PROFESSIONALS to atttend an ICOM conference in Edinburgh in 2008. Everything was paid for complete with a ticket. After going through the horrendous process of having to travel to Pretoria (you have to be there physically to apply), the Biometric tests and not so friendly application forms, waited for 4 days in Pretoria since I couldn’t come back to Lesotho becaue they had my passport. The application is handled by a third party private company and as an applicant you have no contact with the embassy itself. I was not allowed to appeal. On the 4th day the refusal to enter read exactly as you have put here. It would seem they probably have a standard template – it reads exactly the same and i still have it.(I was heartbroken because they cited my financial situation, that I had bolstered up my financial position by making huge deposits in my account which were not related to my salary- they wanted my salary slip and 6 month bank statement, that I had claimed that I had a family but had not shown it in the application etc)They want to know how many cars you have, how much money you have , kids, your family backround etc. After providing all this detail they refused me the visa even with letters from my employer stating that i had been given leave to go for the conference. I was so furious and I swore I would apply for a British Visa only when my life depended on it. I felt violated, treated like a criminal who wanted to sneak and hide in the UK. I can imagine how many artists go through this dehumanizing process. Why on earth would I go to the UK and not come back. There is an irritating moral high-ground taken by the British regarding this.
One wonders what has to be done.

Here is a summary of the immigration case of Ellen Hawley and Ida Swearingen:

My partner and I moved to the U.K. in 2006 with one-year visas under the Writers, Composers and Artists category. In 2007 we were granted three further years leave to remain. Since our visa category then led to indefinite leave to remain, we bought a house and thought we had settled in this country.

I’ll skip some of the technicalities and cut to the introduction of the points-based immigration system (and here I’m quoting from our legal papers). “From the 30 June 2008 the writers, composers and artists category was replaced by Tier 1 (General) of the points based system. This new system contains no specific provision for writers, composers and artists. Transitional provisions for deleted categories were ‘announced’. Thus, in the Explanatory Memorandum to HC 607, paragraph 7.34 it was stated that the Secretary of State had decided to allow people with leave as a self employed lawyer, writer, composer or artist to apply for further leave in that category at any time before HC 607 came into force on 30 June 2008. If they were successful, they would be granted enough leave to take them up to the threshold for being eligible to apply for settlement.”

We were never told that the rules were changing or that we needed to do anything but wait until our visas were about to expire so we could apply for renewals, so we missed the transitional period. The points-based system limits artists, writers, and composers to one-year visas. The only exceptions (to the best of my understanding) are artists etc. with a significant income from their art form. I don’t believe it’s possible to stack up enough points without that.

When we saw that we couldn’t reapply as writers, we applied in another category, which turned out to be closed to new applicants, and received letters telling us to pack up and leave the country. At this point, we hired a solicitor, who found us a barrister and filed an appeal.

Our appeal was based on several grounds, which I can go into if that’s useful, but the one the judge’s decision relied on was that we were fully settled in the U.K. and had tremendous support in our village. (We presented a petition, many individual support letters, and a resolution from the parish council supporting our appeal.) Our solicitor came to the hearing with a decision he’d won the previous day (UE [Nigeria]) that strengthening the judge’s right to consider this material.

I have since heard of a musician in Wales, with similar community support, who had to appeal to win the right to stay. We have been granted indefinite leave to remain, and the musician also won his appeal. The Home Office sent a representative to our hearing, although he didn’t bother to contest any of our barrister’s arguments, leaving me to think that the Home Office uses the appeals process as a way to filter out immigrants who either can’t afford to appeal or are too overwhelmed to put up a fight.

This was posted in response to

  • Lyn Gardner’s blog, Guardian, 6 September.

    Our exhibition this summer with American artist, X (who prefers not to be named), didn’t happen for similar reasons.

    In 2009, X came to London to make a work for a commercial gallery show on a Visitors Visa (no one – including her gallery – knew this was not permitted) and was deported for trying to “work” without a correct visa (despite the fact that if her work sold, she would be paid by her US gallery).

    When she returned to London last month for our exhibition, she told the immigration officer that she was on a holiday. She was nevertheless interrogated for hours due to her previous art-related deportation. The immigration officer then phoned me to interrogate and threaten me. He warned me that if X was found to be making art on this trip, that I would be fined and blacklisted, and that he already knew all of my details. The officer then asked X to “prove” that she will not make art in London. When X said she did not know how to do that, the officer asked what he would find if he searched her bags. When she mentioned watercolour paints, he demanded to know what she planned to do with them. She replied that she may wish to make some paintings in her sketchbook of London’s architecture, etc. He then asked her to “prove” that she had made watercolour paintings in her sketchbook before. She flipped through her book and showed him some watercolours she had made. He said, “These aren’t watercolours of buildings. Show me a watercolour of a building.” Luckily she happened to have some sketches in another notebook. He was finally appeased (of what we still do not know), and let her through customs with a stern warning.

    X and I immediately started building our work, but during the week spoke with Visiting Arts and Immigration to find out more about what constitutes “work” (is it work even if no payment whatsoever is involved?). We learned that since the beginning of the recession, visiting non-EU artists are no longer permitted to make art without official sponsorship (expensive and time-consuming) by an institution, and while on ‘Visitors Visa’ are permitted to do nothing more than sight-see. If caught: deportation, a fine, and blacklisted forever.

    As the show was already listed in TimeOut, etc., we kept imagining the immigration guy googling us on his tea break and catching us in 2 seconds flat. X and I decided to pull out of the show.

    • The Russian artist and academic, Dmitry Vilensky, was invited by The Showroom Gallery and Afterall Journal in London to give a seminar on his work on 17 January 2009. The gallery was forced to cancel the seminar when Valensky’s visa application was rejected, on the grounds that he was not allowed to be paid a fee for participating in the seminar. A further appeal, with the proviso that he was not to be paid, was also rejected. Valensky had never faced such restrictions on his many professional visits to other European countries.
    • The Russian pianist Grigory Sokolov’s show at the Barbican was cancelled because of the necessity for the new biometric visa. For years Sokolov was able to apply for his visa by proxy, but the new regulations meant he would have had to personally travel from Verona, where he lives, to Rome, to provide fingerprints. His replacement show, scheduled for April 2009 at the Royal Festival Hall also had to be cancelled, after he lost a year-long battle to agree a mobile visa solution.
    • Chinese artist Huang Xu was refused a visa to attend his exhibition at London’s October Gallery, due to open on 12 February 2009.
    • British artist Anne Bean was selected for the Visiting Arts and Delfina Foundation ‘artist-to-artist international scheme’, and she wishes to invite a young Kurdish-Iraqi artist to the UK. Yet the invited artist is required to travel 900 kilometres to Beirut in person to apply for her visa and ID card, and may have to stay there for up to three weeks to await the outcome of her application.
    • West African jazz band Les Amazones de Guinée had to pay £3500 to travel from Guinea to Freetown, Sierra Leone, to obtain fingerprints for their visas. This was a waste of time and money, however, since the band was refused entry to the UK.

    These new restrictions bare all the hallmarks of xenophobia. The barriers they present to artists from around the world will make a terrible impact on Britain’s reputation as an international centre for the arts. For over 100 years, the Whitechapel Gallery has celebrated global cultures and generated dialogue between western and non western artists. This ruling will impede international exchange; and deny local and national audiences the opportunity to encounter important art from abroad. Iwona Blazwick, OBE, Director, Whitechapel Gallery

    I used to run Gasworks’ Residency Programme for international artists, whose raison d’etre was the mobility of artists as a key aspect of their artistic development and a vital part of the London cultural scene. The programme is the only substantially continuous platform for international artists’ residencies in the UK. We strove to provide as much opportunity as possible for non-EU artists to visit. This has always been a struggle due to the strong difficulties that exist in funding and visas. However, in the last year of my five-year experience in that role, I noticed the mounting of exceptional difficulties in bringing artists over – even from countries that had had a very smooth process in previous years.

    Only last year two residencies were significantly delayed due to astonishing and, frankly, bloody-minded delays caused by visa authorities. This is despite meeting all requirements, extremely strong planning, and the support of at least two high profile London institutions. While one delayed residency was of the Cameroonian artist Goddy Leye, whose high profile on the international artistic stage should have guaranteed a smooth visiting process; the other was for an emerging artist from Pakistan, Seema Nusrat. Both stories are worrying; one previously highly mobile renowned artist being suddenly barred at every turn (including being denied any help from the British Council in Cameroon, who could not have been more disinterested); and a young and otherwise unsupported practitioner who has had no opportunity to work outside her national context. Both artists lost six weeks of a three-month residency; rents to hosts still had to be paid, as well as repeat visa fees, expensive flight changes, and personal expenses in travelling – often overnight – on repeat visits to consulates in the artists’ home countries. This is before we talk about the enormous distress, work, and wasted time caused to the artists.

    This situation, even before the current reforms, wasted public money and time for an organisation whose resources are already stretched to the limit. I am certain that the consequences of the reforms will be completely disastrous for this renowned residency programme; let alone for the myriad of projects in the UK that thrive on the input of non-EU practitioners. I am now a participant on the De Appel Curatorial Programme in Amsterdam, and these reforms also make me seriously reconsider returning to work in the UK in future. Mia Jankowicz, independent curator

    I have been watching the new Home Office regulations develop over the past 2 years and have been pondering how I could engage with UK based artists and people to raise my concerns about the problems that will incur when it is implemented. I am an artist, curator, lecturer from Aotearoa NZ and have been working and living in the UK for the past 10 years. I have curated a large scale exhibition with Dr Amiria Salmond for the Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, called Pasifka Styles, which featured 32 artist from the Pacific. These new regulations would make it extremely hard for me to continue and sustain relationships that have been built up over the four years for which the exhibition was showing (the regulations have already affected an artist who has been offered much work over here but no Visa) – especially since I am freelance and don’t always have a large institution too help me. Ia Manuia

    There is an increasing awareness that changes to immigration rules are creating difficulties for artists requiring visas to enter the UK and ROI. Many instances of refusal, delay and outright hostility and scepticism on the part of immigration authorities were given. It was generally agreed that, in a generally inhospitable atmosphere of suspicion and closure, much recent anecdotal experience suggests that artists and cultural workers, particularly those born in parts of Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe, are being regarded with suspicion and required to provide evidence of artistic credentials that many of us simply regard as unrealistic and inappropriate. Whether through implementation of new filtering systems, such as the ‘tier system’, the abolition of programmes supporting international exchange and scholarship or through difficult, expensive and impersonal administrative systems, it appears that immigration restrictions are also tending to discriminate against amateur artists, most community artists, unpublished artists, students and indeed anyone who supplements their income as an artist through other employment.

    Application systems lack clarity and transparency and, with the introduction of outsourcing to commercial agencies like “World Bridge”, official departments are increasingly difficult to contact and unaccountable. Free movement, long enjoyed by travellers within the British Isles and between NI and ROI is being eroded through the imposition of new immigration rules alongside requirements to carry identity. Within Europe, where the Schengen Treaty permits free travel across national borders, the opting out of UK and ROI is creating further inconsistencies and complications.

    In the face of administrative difficulties and ever changing rules and procedures, arts and cultural organisations are likely to avoid working with artists whose countries appear on the visa required list, thus compromising their own commitment to equality and diversity, alongside their independence. Organisations need to become more assertive and to review and strengthen their policy around international exchange. To this end organisations should refer to their mission statements and establish a philosophical basis for their policy alongside a set of criteria for defining and selecting artists. Pauline Hadaway, director, Belfast Exposed

    An Indonesian artist, Wiwik S. Wulandari, was invited to undertake a three-month residency at Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery (BMAG) as part of plAAy, their 2 year Contemporary Asian Art Programme. The residency was due to run from mid-January – March 2009 and the initial invitation was issued in August 2008. In the period between Aug – Nov 2008, Ms Wulandari attempted to apply for an Artist Visa from the British Embassy in Indonesia, however time after time they issued her with the incorrect application form, first for an entertainer’s visa, then actor’s visa etc. When they finally came to place her in the correct category as a visual artist the new laws had come into effect. Due to the lack of time by that point for BMAG to register as a sponsor and be able to issue a certificate of sponsorship the museum had no choice but to cancel her residency. Subsequently, due to the cost of the partial refund on already booked flights for Ms Wulandari and now the unforeseen costs of sponsor registration and sponsorship fees, BMAG have had no choice but to cancel Ms Wulandari’s residency indefinitely. BMAG have for many years worked previously with international artists from across the Asia Diaspora (including Indonesia) and all artists in the past were able to undertake residencies with an easily obtained Artist Visa. As well as this residency the rest of plAAy programme will certainly be impacted, with residencies and an exhibition planned with artists from Japan, China and Thailand among many others. Amy Cham, Asian Art Co-Ordinator, Blackburn Museum & Art Gallery

    I am a theatre practitioner from the United States who up until recently had been living in London and working as an artist for a few small theatre companies. This changed very quickly and with very negative effects once all of the changes to the Home Office regulations went through. I am currently sitting in limbo in the States waiting for the Home Office to sort out how to give me a visa that they’ve told me I qualify for! Along with this, one of the companies I work for has talked about sponsoring me after this year is up. They have looked into it and have started the arduous process of trying to get a license. They, like many others, are having difficulty with it. They are a small company, they don’t have a lot of money, but they have often sponsored international performers in the past. They also had plans in the future for artists like myself and others outside of the EU to come and work for both long- and short-term projects. These changes have and will greatly upset these plans if they can’t get this license. Amelia Cavallo

    Testimonial from an Artist, his Translator and Chili Hawes, Director of The October Gallery.

    An Artist from Beijing and his translator were both refused a visa to attend the Artist’s own Private View at The October Gallery which opened in February 2009. This is the account of their experiences.

    I run a music touring agency that brings musicians to perform in the UK from, amongst other countries, Mali. The visa application rules have recently changed again, with the likely effect that no Malian nationals will be able to afford to apply for UK visas in Africa, leaving Paris as their only chance to get them, provided they are also working on France on the same tour

    Mali lacks a UK Consulate that can issue UK visas. So for some years Malians have been required to travel to Dakar, Senegal and spend some days processing their visas. The FCO have now changed that to either applying in Dakar and the passports being posted to Banjul The Gambia for processing or in Banjul directly. The process will take 10 days, and Malians have to either stay in Dakar to wait, or travel home to wait, which is tricky as their passports are sitting in another country, The Gambia. So how do they travel?

    This whole process in Dakar will not only take 2 weeks (allowing for travel) but will cost any group thousands of pounds. Return flights to Dakar, 10 days in hotels in Dakar plus welfare, times as many members the group has. My current applicaiton is for 7 people. A rough estimate would be 5-6000 (plus costs of visas). The result is that, unless they can apply successfully in Paris, groups will no longer consider it affordable to come to perform in UK. UK audiences will be deprived of the chance to watch artists of the calibre of Tinariwen, Oumou Sangare, Toumani Diabate, Bassekou Kouyate, Super Rail Band, Rokia Traore and many others. These are some of the finest artists currently on the international scene.

    It surely is not the intention of the FCO or UK visas to prevent Malians coming to perform in UK but this is the likely result. What baffles is that Dakar is not even a busy UK Consulate (while Paris most certainly is), and the Gambia is an anglophone country, now being required to process all applications for Senegal and Mali, both Francophone. Surely this just creates a rod for their own back as one presumes Embassy staff in the Gambia are less likely to have to speak French while their counterparts in Dakar would be. (Cap Verde and Guinea Bissau also fall in to this new arrangement, see below. Both are ‘Portuguese’ countries some thousands of miles away). David Flower, Sasa Music Promotions ltd

    This past year I had to renew my Visa, Oct 08, and I was preparing my artist visa application, which was still on the Home Office website at the time. Luckily I called the Home Office for advice on the application, and they told me that the artist visa program ended as of Sept 08! I was lucky to have recently been married (although switching visa categories turned out to be a mess of expensive and unreasonable administrative demands as well). The experience was incredibly difficult and costly.

    I think that it’s incredibly important that the government is to be made aware of the benefit to the UK from allowing cultural exchange more openly. Particularly it would be important to question the use of financial metrics and demands on visitors whose significance often is predicated on living outside of the systems of financial reward which the metrics presume!

    Really, the question is why have they changed a previously acceptable (though imperfect) system into a xenophobic membrane of pernicious costs and obligations. Bizarre! Have there been masses of illegal ‘artists’ and ‘academics’ sneaking into the UK, then sticking around to benefit from council housing and free meds? Dustin Ericksen, artist

    I am an international PhD student in the Law department at Kent. Some students and staff at the University of Kent in Canterbury have been very active in trying to raise awareness about these developments. I thought I would pass on some links that document some of their actions. Of special interest is the ‘universities without borders’ blogspot which also documents other actions of resistance (for example, by British pilots) to the new rules. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a lot of popular press around the new legislation…a larger coalition might have a chance at making a fuss about it. It would be nice to keep in touch about this… Stacy Douglas, University of Kent

    I am a dual nationality academic working at UCL and concerned about these new regulations for academics and artists. There are also new laws for overseas students and staff which require Universities to report to the Border Agency any absences from lectures and seminars or any failure to submit any assessment on time. I fear that this situation is discriminatory and will discourage overseas students from coming to study in the UK. Isabel Galina, UCL

    The tango world is already horribly affected by this as no small venue can pay the stiff government fee as well as a fairly big fee to two Argentine artists, so visits have just about dried up. I suggest that your petition recommends that those you send it to send it on to all friends and acquaintances. We need far more numbers, and I don’t see why the general public and not just art professionals shouldn’t be involved since actually the punters suffer more than the arts professionals because of these draconian measures. UK EU artists probably get more work because of these measures. It’s the public who are being cheated. Anthony, Tango Schumann

    It is a given that being born in a country like Russia immediately puts you in the category/cast of second-class citizens. Exiled from Russia at the age of 21, I was granted political asylum in the US, with the support of Amnesty International and American PEN, among others, and have been a permanent resident of the US for the past 14 years. Still, every time I have shows or work abroad, I have to apply for visas, pay the fees and go through an ordeal of collecting all sorts of paperwork and documents proving that I am who I claim to be. It seems that most bureaucrats at the EU consulates consider artists from non-EU countries as potential terrorists, illegal workers and immigrants — all-around suspicious, unwanted characters.

    In April 2007, I was denied an entry visa to the UK, even though I had official invitations to do a solo exhibition at Blow de la Barra Gallery in London and to perform at Revisions of Excess Festival in Birmingham. After collecting all the required paperwork and fees of over $200, the visa was denied by the British Consulate in New York on the grounds that I was going to seek an illegal employment and sell my work in the UK. Even after the organizers of the Birmingham festival arranged a temporary work permit, I was still denied entry to the UK. On June 1, 2007, upon my arrival from Berlin, I was detained at London’s Luton airport based on technicalities of my status. I was separated from my American partner and collaborator (remarkably, no one asked him to provide any paperwork or explain the purpose of his trip), interrogated, photographed and fingerprinted, held overnight in a jail cell behind a two-way mirror, with blinding lights and a blasting TV, and then deported back to Berlin the following morning. As a result, I was banned from re-applying for another entry visa for the next 6 months. Needless to say, my first solo show in London opened in my absence.

    This dehumanizing Orwellian practice has to stop. England cannot consider itself a civilized country if it continues to treat visiting foreign artists as criminal suspects. It’s not the way to greet creative people from around the world. Slava Mogutin, New York City

    Related links:

    I went through the nightmare of applying for a Tier 1 highly skilled general migrant visa and got rejected because my documents were insufficient. And lost a huge sum of £600. And all this after getting letters from directors who expressed wish to work with me and keeping a whooping £2800 for 3 months in the bank. I agree it was actually my mistake for not submitting correct documents but I wish since it was clear that was the case that they would at least allow me to submit the new documents before refusing a visa. £600 pounds is no small amount for anyone and especially for someone from India. Why can;t they have seperate processing fee and visa fee? Anyway, one has the option to apply for a review but since they wouldn’t accept new documents it seemed fruitless to do it. I wanted to pause before the next step. But came to London on my tourist visa and had a nerve-wrecking experience with the immigration officer. Why do they have so much control over our lives???? And one refusal on my passport is more powerful than 40 other issued visas. Finally, I am in London now. On a tourist visa. Indian actress, who starred in critically acclaimed adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Nights Dream

    DJ Moth, based in London and part of the “anotherworldmusic jazz collective”, was alarmed that at a “well-known jazz club in Hackney all performers have been required to give passport details (this is new – we have played there several times before without this requirement). This is presented by the venue as an immigration issue. I am very reluctant to give my details from a civil liberties/database state perspective as well as from the belief that these kind of immigration checks are racist. I am not sure if they will allow me to play the gig if I refuse so will test this out.”

    According to Guy Herbert, General Secretary of no2id campaign, “Both the UK Borders Agency and the Metropolitan police have been implicated in intrusive information-gathering about performers of late. If the club has had a bullying visit from either it could change their attitude. There is not just the newly threatening regime (since Feb 29th 2008) of massive penalties on businesses permitting ‘illegal working’, but the Met has been using the influence given them under the new licensing laws to impose something called Form 696: ….The illegal working controls are being used as one of the primary pretexts to support the introduction of a national identity scheme, as well as, in practice, to force employers to demand standard official documents from all employees . The answer to the club is that they are not under any legal obligation to demand passports.”

    The Tibetan artist Tenzing Rigdol had his first European solo show at the commercial Mayfair gallery Rossi & Rossi, which opened on 11 February 2009. Tenzing Rigdol was born in 1982 in Kathmandu and studied art and art history at the University of Colorado, USA. He has extensively studied Tibetan sand painting, butter sculpture and Buddhist philosophy in Kathmandu, Nepal, gained a degree in Tibetan traditional thangka painting and is a published poet. In 2002, he and his family were granted political asylum in the USA and they now live in the Bronx, New York City.

    He applied for a visa to attend his exhibition, which he was not being paid for and the gallery confirmed that he would be hosted as a guest for the period of his short stay. He was refused a visa by UKBA, stating the following reasons:

    “UKBA and UK visa-issuing posts provide information to visa applicants about different types of visa and about the documents they will be required to produce so that they can demonstrate to the visa officer that they meet the requirements of the Immigration Rules. We advise applicants that the failure to submit such documentation may result in refusal of the application. This decision has been made on the basis of the evidence you have supplied. The onus is on applicants to demonstrate that they meet the requirements of the relevant rules.

    You have never previously visited UK and have now applied for entry clearance as a business visitor for a period of 1 month. In support of this application you have submitted a letter of support from Rossi & Rossi, which states that you will be travelling to the UK for the installation and opening night of your solo art exhibition at The Rossi & Rossi Gallery in London. However, I note that the letter does not specify your exact proposed activities and whether it would constitute employment. In light of this, I cannot be satisfied that you do not intend to take employment in the UK which does not require a work permit issued by Work Permits UK. Moreover, I am not satisfied that you do not intend to produce goods or provide services within the UK, including the selling of goods or services direct to members of the public or that you are genuinely seeking entry as a visitor for a limited period as stated, not exceeding 6 months.

    You have stated you are currently a self-employed artist, however you have provided no evidence to support this claim. Whilst I accept that the letter provided from Rossi & Rossi states that they will be responsible for your expenses while in the UK, no evidence of their available funds have been provided to show their ability to do so. In addition, you have chosen not to submit any evidence that you have the funds available to support yourself whilst in the UK, and…you have not supplied any evidence of your UK sponsor’s financial outlay. Consequently, I am not satisfied that you will maintain and accommodate yourself without recourse to public funds or by taking employment or that you will be maintained and accommodated adequately by relatives or friends or that you can meet the cost of your return or onward journey.

    On the evidence available to me, I am not satisfied that the activities you propose to undertake in the UK are permitted as a visitor.

    I therefore refuse your application.”

    For the past ten years, a small Russian Ballet Company has made its home in Swansea, taking the highest standards of Russian Classical Ballet to small venues throughout the UK. A few of the older dancers have been granted residency but when we applied for Work Permits for the younger members, who had gone home to Russia to see their families in summer 2008, the authorities raised endless problems ranging from whether or not the concept of “Russian Classical Ballet” even existed, to suggestions that we should advertise the “vacancies” in a national newspaper rather than in Dance Europe. We put the whole sorry situation in the hands of a specialist solicitor at considerable expense but with scant success and the process dragged on so long that two couples got fed up with waiting and found other work. We did finally get one male principal back for a month in January but since then the company has had to stop touring and the UK resident dancers are teaching and translating.

    So the UK has been deprived of a unique art form that was being taken to out-of-the way places where ballet of any kind is rarely seen, countless British children from local dance schools will no longer have the opportunity to take part in professional productions of Nutcracker, Coppélia, Cinderella, La Fille Mal Gardée and other favourite classics, coached by a Bolshoi-trained Artistic Director / Choreographer. Thousands more children – to say nothing of mums, dads and proud grandparents – will not get to see them performing. Perhaps worst of all, the reputation of the UK as a free-spirit embracing art and culture from all parts of the world is at an all time low – certainly in the dance community worldwide – and no doubt in other artistic circles.

    Celia Kirkby FRSA, Director Ballet Russe

    I had to take my passport to Nottingham last week to give a talk.
    The university apologised profusely, but still made me bring it. It was to make sure I was not a foreigner. So I am glad you are doing this, well done. Dr. Raimi Gbadamosi, artist

    A Guardian interview with Rwandan writer Révérien Rurangwa, mentions that he was unable to attend the UK launch of his book: ‘Révérien was due in London last week for the launch of the English translation of his book, but an application to travel failed. So we are in Geneva, the home of the UN that once betrayed Révérien’s country so badly.’

    Read the testimony from Dr. Chun-Chao Chiu, Lecturer in Chinese Painting

    London venue The Roundhouse were forced to cancel a concert on Monday 27 April 2009 by the contemporary experimental Flamenco group Ojos de Brujo, because the promoter made an unfortunate error in their application to be a licensed sponsor and were unable to get the group to the UK in time for the concert. Although the collective is based in Barcelona, Spain some members are of Cuban nationality. The group last visited the UK in 2007.

    The film director Abbas Kiarostami yesterday accused the British embassy in Tehran of subjecting him to “disgraceful” treatment causing him to drop an arranged visit to London to direct Cosi fan tutte for English National Opera this month. In a stinging rebuke, the Iranian said the process of securing a visa, in which he was twice asked to give fingerprints, left him feeling “trapped in the very circles of hell itself”. “It would be tempting to brand [the actions of the embassy] Kafkaesque, yet to do so would be to imbue them with rather too much intelligence,” he added.

    Kiarostami, 68, is one of Iran’s new wave directors of the 1960s, and won the Palme d’Or at Cannes for Taste of Cherry in 1997. He was to direct a production of the Mozart opera which he created and premiered at the Aix-en-Provence festival last year. He was also to attend the opening of an exhibition of his photographs at a London gallery.

    “I want to be absolutely clear that my decision was based solely on the disgraceful treatment to which I was subjected. “I travel regularly to France and Italy and am no stranger to the bureaucratic dances we Iranians need to perform to obtain visas. However, the actions of the embassy were of a wholly different order.”

    His paperwork was deemed correct, and he gave fingerprints, he said. “A visa was duly granted,” he said. “A few hours later it was withdrawn and I was asked to resubmit my application. I did so immediately and was asked for a second set of prints. When I pointed out my prints were unlikely to have changed … I was told this method had been used to catch over 5,000 criminals worldwide.” He decided to withdraw.

    Kiarostami’s assistant, Elaine Tyler-Hall, who worked with him in Aix-en-Provence, will direct the opera at the London Coliseum instead. ENO said Kiarostami had told it the ambassador had tried to intervene, but by that stage he was not prepared to pursue the matter. It is understood embassy officials called Kiarostami back when it became apparent he needed a different visa because of his work. The Foreign Office said it could not comment on individual cases.

    A UK Border Agency spokesman said: “Fingerprint visas mean we can check everyone against immigration and crime databases. These checks are a crucial part of securing the border and not something we will apologise for – they have already detected at least 5,000 false identities.

    “We demand the utmost integrity and professionalism from our staff, and are determined that the UK continues to stay open and attractive to visitors. That is why we have taken many steps to ensure that everyone – including foreign artists who make an important contribution to the UK – know about our tough rules, which include having a licensed sponsor.”

    Reproduced from:

    Allison Crowe, 27, claims she and her two band mates were fingerprinted and had their passports confiscated shortly after flying into Gatwick Airport. She said they were shut in a room where they were denied contact with the outside world for six hours and that she was told she would never perform in Europe again once her passports had been stamped by the UK Border Authority as “barred from entry”. The group were targeted because they failed to obtain a Certificate of Sponsorship from the venues they were playing in, a little-known visa requirement brought in last November to combat illegal immigration and terrorism. See full story here.

    London based Visiting Arts in partnership with London based The Delfina Foundation initiated and launched an exciting new scheme called Artist-to-Artist International 2009. The 2009 scheme has a specific geographic focus by inviting artists from across the Middle East and North Africa. The programme provides an opportunity to bring together artists to initiate dialogues across international borders, enabling pairs of artists to enter into new working relationships on an open-ended and informal basis. Professional, practising UK based artists applied to invite an artist of their choice from the Middle East and North Africa to visit them in the UK for one week.

    The selected overseas artist would have spent a week with the UK artists from 23 – 29th March visit their studio, meet contacts, network and discuss ideas. The week is free from any obligation to produce a prescribed outcome with an emphasis on the development and research process rather than production. Artsadmin Artist Anne Bean was one of the British artists selected for the scheme and she invited Poshya Kakil, a young 19 year old female Kurdish-Iraqi artist. The Iraqi artist was refused a visa one week before she was due to be in the UK for the following reasons: “ You state that you are a student and are unemployed. You have no assets or financial dependents. You have stated in…your application form that you do not receive any income from family or friends. You have failed to provide any evidence of your personal financial circumstances here in Beirut or Iraq, your home address. Given the above I am not satisfied that you have demonstrated sufficient ties to Beirut or Iraq. This means I am not satisfied that your intentions are as stated and therefore I am not satisfied that you are genuinely seeking entry as a business visitor and that you intend to leave the UK at the end of your visit as required.”

    The Iraqi artist had to travel nearly 900km to Beirut with her father to get her Biometric ID, and to submit her application in person, and had to stay in Beirut for over 3 weeks to await a decision regarding her visa application, at her family’s own personal expense.

    Statement from Carol Craig:

    I run the Centre for Confidence and Well-being in Glasgow and we run a lot of events. One of the speakers from the US was turned back at Glasgow airport a few weeks ago. Some political string pulling got them to change their minds. You can read about the situation as my partner wrote it up for an on-line journal:

    The Delfina Foundation, London, reports the rejection of visas of two Iraqi artists. Shirwan Fatih and Sherko Abbas, artists from Iraq, were invited by Delfina Foundation for a 2 month residency in association with the Estrangement project, an exhibition at SHOWROOM Gallery:

    ‘In the past couple of years Autograph ABP have found it increasingly difficult to bring artists from non-EU and mostly the African continent to talk at our events or even take part in their own exhibition openings. The level of bureaucracy involved is incredibly time consuming and for many arts organisations a strain on resources. The UK, in comparison, to other European countries is becoming more and more impenetrable. It is extremely important that artists are given access to the UK not only as it is of great benefit to their careers and art practice but also because it enriches the organisations programme and enables a much deeper contextualisation of projects and exhibibitions.’

    Emma Boyd, Co-ordinator, Autograph ABP

    Sixty swans line up for Swan Lake at the Royal Albert Hall — the highlight of the English National Ballet’s 60th anniversary celebrations. But their guest artist, Polina Semionova, is stuck in her home city of Berlin, the apparent victim of a new visa system.

    Read more…

    * Palestinian poet, Basem Nabres, refused a visa for entry into the UK and therefore unable to appear at this year’s Ledbury Poetry Festival. Nabres was due to appear with Israeli poet, Tal Nitzan, on Sunday 4th July 2010 at the Burgage Hall in a poetry reading entitled ‘Poetry and Conflict.’

    * Senegalese hip-hop outfit and Radio 3 Awards for World Music winners Daara J Family were due to play the Jazz Café in London on May 25 2010. They have instead become the latest act from outside the West to be denied visas to the UK. They were advised to go to the Gambia to apply for visas, where it took the British embassy three days to finally refuse their visas. This is despite the fact that they have previously come to the UK to play at WOMAD and Glastonbury festivals in 2004, have a new album School of Life out on Wrasse Records, and had an interview arranged on BBC Radio 4’s Midweek.

    * Guest ballerina Polina Semionova was stuck in her home city of Berlin, a victim of the new visa system. She was due to perform for the English National Ballet’s 60th anniversary celebrations at the Royal Albert Hall on 9 June 2010. The opening night should have marked a glorious return to London for the Russian who won rave reviews in her debut as the swan Odette/Odile six years ago, aged just 19. ENB senior principal dancer Daria Klimentova stepped into the breach. Klimentova, 38, said Semionova was “upset that she hasn’t got her visa. I would be too”. Managing director Craig Hassall said the ENB hoped Semionova will join them in the run, which ended on June 19. She applied for her visa on May 26 after returning from Japan. A Borders Agency spokesman on the afternoon of 8 June said that a visa was on its way.

    * Paban Das Baul (of the Bauls of Bengal) was due to perform at the October Gallery in London on 4-5 June. The concert had to be cancelled at the last minute because their visas were turned down in Paris where they are partly based, (for the 2nd time) despite having all the right boxes ticked on the tier 5 form. Each time it costs them 153 Euros each plus the lost Eurostar tickets – an expensive business for artists who are not exactly swimming in spare cash.

    * Javanese artist and teacher Suprapto Suryodarmo, a master of traditional Javanese dance and martial arts failed to get entry clearance into the UK in 2010. It seemed so shocking as he has been coming to the UK for so many years without a problem. The main reason Border Control refused to grant a visa was because they believed that he would be receiving payment for services, i.e. workshops while in the UK.