Written by: Frances Webber

The introduction of the points-based system, together with the habitual contempt for foreigners shown by immigration staff, is turning the UK into a pariah destination for artists and creative workers, according to an important new report.

The Manifesto Club’s report UK Arts and Culture: Cancelled, by Order of the Home Office: The Impact of New Restrictions on Visiting Artists and Academics by Josie Appleton and Manick Govinda, launched on 3 June 2009, explains the new system and reveals the impact of these tough requirements on visiting artists and academics.

The report sets out the requirements introduced by the points-based system which must be satisfied before creative workers are given visas to come to the UK for work-related visits include:

  • a requirement to apply for a visa in person and supply biometric data, electronic fingerprint scans and a digital photograph;
  • the need to show that the visitor has at least £800 of savings, which have been held for at least three months prior to the date of their application, or the host organisation must maintain and accommodate the migrant until the end of their first month of employment in the UK;
  • a requirement that the host organisation keeps copies of the visitor’s passport and their UK biometric card, and their contact details;
  • a requirement that the host organisation informs the UK Border Agency (UKBA) if the visitor does not turn up to their studio or place of work, or their whereabouts are unknown.

It is the first time that so many cases of obstacles for creative workers in obtaining visas have been collated and brought together, from the worlds of music, visual arts, dance, theatre, academic visits and literary festivals, and the cumulative effect of the stories is shocking. So many concerts, exhibitions and recitals cancelled, so many artists unable to perform in Britain, so many small organisations forced to close. The disrespect with which internationally acclaimed artists are treated by UKBA staff is also laid bare.

Iranian film director, Abbas Kiarostami, who cancelled his trip to direct Cosi fan tutte for the English National Opera, described his treatment: ‘”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 [British] embassy were of a wholly different order.” His paperwork was deemed correct, and he gave fingerprints, he said. “A visa was duly granted. 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.’

A campaign against the Home Office’s points-based system and its effect on artists was launched in February 2009, with a letter to the Observer signed by artists including Antony Gormley and Jeremy Deller, and heads of arts institutions including the directors of the National Theatre and National Portrait Gallery. The campaign sparked a strong response from artists and academics, in the UK and across the world. Over 6,000 people have signed their petition, and many others have sent email testimonies or joined its Facebook group.

Related links

Download the report: UK Arts and Culture: Cancelled, by Order of the Home Office (pdf file, 360kb)

Manifesto Club

Read the letter in the Observer

Sign the petition

UK Arts and Culture: Cancelled, by Order of the Home Office: The Impact of New Restrictions on Visiting Artists and Academics by Josie Appleton and Manick Govinda can be downloaded at the link below.

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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