April 5, 2011 10:09 pm

Visa rules blocking artists, says survey

London’s status as a world centre for culture is being threatened by immigration red tape, which is preventing guest artists and performers from outside the European Union from working in the city, says a report commissioned by the capital’s mayor.

More than 80 per cent of arts bodies across the city say that a points-based visa system introduced in 2008 is increasing their administrative burden and making it more difficult for such people to visit.

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New Home Office requirements force visa applications to be made in person, ask for biometric data, and demand evidence that applicants possess at least £800 in savings.

Boris Johnson, London’s mayor, said the new rules had placed “unnecessarily bureaucratic burdens in the way of artists and performers”.

“With competition from cities like Berlin, Shanghai or Mumbai, we must not jeopardise London’s position as a world creative hub,” he said.

The survey profiles two recent examples of artists who were prevented from working in London as a result of red tape.

Polina Semionova, the Russian ballet dancer who lives in Berlin, was unable to perform as a guest for the English National Ballet’s 60th anniversary celebrations at the Royal Albert Hall last June because she could not secure a visa in time.

And the Senegalese hip-hop band Daara J Family pulled out of a concert at the Jazz Cafe last May having been refused visas.

 
Polina Semionova, Russian dancer

Russian dancer Polina Semionova was unable to perform in London because she could not get a visa in time   

Almost two-thirds of the 122 arts bodies that responded to the survey said the new points system had increased their costs, while 70 per cent felt the system had “impacted on London’s position as a world city for arts and culture”.

Jonathan Harvey, chief executive of east London-based Acme Studios, which provides artists with affordable studio space, described the current system as “flawed”.

“The UK’s reputation for cultural innovation and excellence ... stems in part from the ability of its cultural exporters to react quickly and work fluidly with a wide range of international partners,” he said.

“We need a workable visa system that assists us.”

Tony Hall, chief executive of the Royal Opera House, said that it was important to have the right immigration rules in place in time for next year’s Olympic Games, “when we want to showcase the strength of the arts and creative industries”.

More than 70 per cent of the survey’s respondents said that visits by artists or academics from outside the EU were “extremely important” to their organisations.

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