There’s been a spat in the press over the last week. The treatment of visiting artists under the Points-Based System is taking its toll on the cultural reputation of the UK. Scores of prominent artists, actors and entertainers protested with a letter to the Daily Telegraph. Articles appeared in the letter’s wake in other newspapers. At Glastonbury, we were told by Wu Tang Clan that they’d been treated “like the Taliban” by the UK Border Agency.
Grigory Sokolov, arguably the world’s greatest pianist, plays across the planet to packed audiences, but will no longer come to the UK because of the bureaucratic and intrusive visa application process. Sokolov is eccentric, to put it mildly, but he used to come to the UK and perform, but since the UKBA started demanding fingerprints and eye scans, he thinks it’s not worth the effort. As an article in The Spectator in March said “it’s our loss not his”.
This fuss has prompted the UKBA to respond. In a short statement on their website they state that “artists from across the world are welcome to come and perform in the UK”.
The truth for some is very different. Kristin Ostling, a cellist with a string quartet, was deported in November last year for having the wrong visa (she was to play one unpaid performance at Leeds University). Ostling was subjected to eight hours of questioning by UKBA agents, maybe trying to find the link between Al-Qaeda and cellos on planes, who knows? Campaigner Valerie Hartwich reported on her blog a month ago the treatment of a Brazilian dancer who’d studied in London for three years.
It comes as no surprise that African artists are the hardest hit by these requirements, as always the poorest and the darkest are subjected to severe scrutiny and a disbelieving authority that needs convicing.
It would appear that UKBA’s understanding of the word ‘welcome’ differs from mine. Their statement concludes with the sentence “However, as with any visitors to the UK, we expect individuals to meet with our entry requirements.” It is these entry requirements that have led to certain artists boycotting the UK, it is these requirements that are affecting the world class status of the UK’s cultural reputation. UKBA’s statement assume there is no problem – there’s no mention of Kristin Ostling anywhere on there website. They do report, on an almost daily basis and with great enthusiasm, the arrest and deportation of poor souls caught in raids on the workplaces of the underpaid and overexploited.
So as long as the UKBA and in turn the Home Office refuse to accept there is a problem, the problem will not only remain, it will worsen. Helpfully, UKBA have published what it misguidedly refers to an information leaflet. In reality it’s a booklet of eight pages with the answers to 26 questions and repeated referrals to the website for further clarification should the 8 pages not suffice.
We hope initiatives such as the Manifesto Club’s Visiting Artists and Academics Campaign grow in size and influence, and the letter mentioned above gets a good result, for the UK becomes a lesser place when artists are shunned in pursuit of a quick reactionary boost in government popularity.