Festival directors call for overhaul of visa system

Festival directors call for overhaul of visa system

Directors of arts festivals around the UK have asked the government to improve the visa system, warning that artists are now reluctant to accept invitations to the UK because of delays and complications.

In a letter to the Guardian, the directors say the current visa application process is “lengthy, opaque and costly, with artists and/or festivals often spending thousands of pounds on visas and associated costs for a visit of often only a few days”. This leads to mistakes being made by both applicants and assessors and means the Home Office often makes refusals without good reason, they say.

In addition, the artists have to surrender their passport for the period of application, which often takes longer than the 15 working days set as standard practice.

During this time “there is no way for the inviting festival to find out the progress of a visa application, or answer any questions that arise, leading to refusals where missing information or documentation could easily be provided”.

The letter has been signed by 25 festival directors including Nick Barley of Edinburgh International Book Festival (pictured), Chris Smith (Womad), Syima Aslam (Bradford Literature Festival), Peter Florence (Hay Festival) and Bob McDevitt (Bloody Scotland Festival).

It calls for five improvements to the visa system: direct contacts for registered sponsor organisations within the UK visas and immigration and/or visa application centres; reduction in costs for artists’ visas; passport pass back as standard procedure; clarification of appeal procedure; and online updates on process of visa applications.

This year 12 artists struggled to get visas to attend the Edinburgh International Book Festival, which is taking place this month, including the festival's own artist in residence Ehsan Abdollahi.

Abdollahi, an Iranian illustrator, has now been granted a visa but his UK publisher, Tiny Owl, does not yet know whether he will receive it in time ahead of his festival appearance on Friday (24th August).