Musicians, Artists and Entertainers – welcome here?

Sokolov - the world's greatest pianist, not appearing near you (UK readers only)

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.

World’s greatest

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”.

Cellist plot?

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.

About jcwi

Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants is a key campaigning voice in the field of immigration, asylum and nationality law and policy. It is completely independent from government funding, remaining entirely free from government influence. View all posts by jcwi

3 responses to “Musicians, Artists and Entertainers – welcome here?

  • Malcolm Lidbury

    No, I don’t belive Artists are welcome in the UK.

    Even resident UK born artists are targeted by homophobic police & censorship. I know this too my personal bitter cost when Devon & Cornwall police attempted (but failed) to prosecute me for my art depicting male nudity (see wikimedia: )

    Unfortunately police like Devon & Cornwall Constabulary in the UK have little regard for the Human Rights Act Article 10 Freedom of Expression (including through art) or HRA Article 14 Freedom from Discrimination (including sexuality) when in conjunction with one of the other HRA absolute rights.

  • sufi lala

    My friend who is a US citizen living in Berlin had planned a visit over Glastonbury weekend (25-7 June), he is a DJ and had fixed a couple of dates in Glasgow & London.
    DJing is not his main job and a big part of the trip was to hang out on Sunday night with mates in London from a group of musicians and music lovers from all over the world who know one another from the internet, we planned to show him some good old London hospitality (Kebab & pints on Green Lanes N13!).
    So, you know what happens next… We’d got all excited and organised ourselves to take him out, offer a place to stay etc, but somehow UKBA had other plans (needless to say he’s visibly from a minority) they decided his intentions were work, and that he’d lied to them about it and he was duly banged up in Dungavel for the night and deported. UKBA hospitality was not really of the kind we anticipated or intended.
    We heard about this on twitter on Saturday, & the last we heard he’s now considering whether he can get a booking for Burning Man festival as UK is obviously not worth the bother, humiliation, wasted flights, bookings for DJing, etc… what a shameful shame, why they couldn’t offer him a visitor visa and tell him don’t work, or make him buy a work visa on entry (I mean after all he’s been working in Germany for years)??. No, they decided he was dodgy, although he had done nothing wrong, and based on that preemptive presumption of guilt treated him like a criminal and allocated punishment.
    the point of writing this up…? well I guess to show that it’s not just big names like Abbas Kairostami but presumably masses and masses of other regular punters like you or I every weekend suffering at the hands of unaccountable ignorant jobsworth bullies.

  • zaza

    I don’t think that they favor US citizens over here, I am one here Married to a Brit, and I have experienced alot of nastiness and so did my son!

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