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UK loosens visa restrictions for non-European Union artists

Britain’s widely criticised points-based immigration visa rule to be relaxed, allowing foreign artists to stay for a month if officially invited

Non-EU artists will have more leeway to enter the UK, but work still needs to be done on immigration laws, say culture organisers

The Home Office has relaxed its immigration rules for non-EU artists who are temporarily visiting the UK. The previous “points-based immigration system” effectively classed visiting non-EU artists as migrants and forced them into long, and sometimes unsuccessful, visa application processes. It drew widespread criticism from the art world and London’s municipal government, but despite the change, it seems there is still some progress to be made on the issue.

The new “permitted paid engagements” entry route, effective from 6 April, allows non-EU artists a one month leave to enter the UK without having to go through the points-based system, provided they have been officially invited to undertake engagements with a pre-arranged fee. The UK organisation hosting the artist will no longer need to apply to become a licensed sponsor and it will no longer be required to keep the artist’s contact details, passport entry stamps and biometric details. However, even a formal invitation for a period longer than one month will require the artist and the host institution to apply through the points-based system, and should the initial visit need to be extended, the artist will have to leave the country and reapply through the “permitted paid engagements” scheme.

Jude Kelly, the artistic director of the Southbank Centre, was one of the 120 prominent figures in the art world who signed an open letter to the Home Secretary (published in The Telegraph on 27 June 2011) opposing the points-based immigration system. She says the programme “gave the UK an incredibly bad reputation, especially during the Olympics year”, although she calls the new system “a blunt instrument to solve the problem” and hopes the Home Office will make “a full review of the legislation soon”.

Paul Hobson, the director of the Contemporary Art Society, calls the new visa scheme “a move in the right direction” but says there are still restrictions on artists who, for example, might be invited to lecture at an art college for a whole term.

The Manifesto Club, a London-based campaign group, gathered 11,000 signatures for a petition in response to the points-based immigration system in 2008. Over the years, it has highlighted a series of embarrassing incidents involving non-EU artists trying to attend their own openings, hold lectures or take part in art exchange programmes, being deported on arrival to the UK. One such example is Poshya Kakl, an emerging Kurdish artist who was refused entry in 2010 while trying to take part in a project hosted by Visiting Arts, a registered charity.

“We are going to keep a watchful eye, as this law constricts international relationships,” says Manick Govinda, a member of The Manifesto Club and the head of artists’ advisory services at Artsadmin. “This is a great short-term advance, but at the same time other tier groups [within UK immigration law] have been tightened.” He says that, since autumn 2011, the Home office has implemented a maximum quota of 300 medium-term artist visas, lasting between two and five years, and that so far only around 8 have been approved.

The article was updated on 22 March to correct the number of artists approved for visas

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Comments

19 Sep 12
14:49 CET

JITWAM SINHA, SYDNEY

Does anyone know what the exact name of this visa is when applying???

22 Mar 12
17:26 CET

MANICK GOVINDA, LONDON

Correction: when I met with Arts Council England regarding the quota of 300 artists visas - of the 31 applications received only 8 were endorsed (awaiting final approval by UKBA). Could this be a case of poor publicity, setting the bar too high or artists and writers feeling more welcomed in other countries?

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