The Home Office has responded to claims that the visa process for foreign musicians is “humiliating and difficult”.
Last week, director of world music festival Womad claimed last week that the visa process for foreign artists was prohibitive to the point of foreign artists turning down the chance to perform at Womad.
Chris Smith said three acts, from Tunisia, Mozambique and Nigeria, were denied entry to the UK.
Peter Gabriel, who founded Womad in 1980, added: “It is alarming that our UK festival would now have real problems bringing artists into this country … [many] no longer want to come to the UK because of the difficulty, cost and delays with visas, along with the new fear that they will not be welcomed.”
Channel 4’s Jon Snow also tweeted that the ‘hostile environment’ had prevented some performers appearing at the festival.
UK ‘a difficult place to get into’
“There are good people in the Foreign Office trying to help us make Womad work but the message is going out that Britain is a difficult place to get into or even closed,” Mr Smith told the Radio Times.
“My fear is that the situation is only going to get worse.
“We’ve had situations where say an African artist has been due to come who plays a particularly rare instrument, and we’ll be asked, ‘Can’t you find someone in the UK who plays that instrument?’, which is absurd.
“The saddest thing is always the number of artists struggling to get visas to come and perform. What we’re seeing this year is unexpected and even more depressing, which is artists saying we’re just not going to tackle the immigration system, saying it’s too difficult and too expensive, and it’s humiliating. Artists have accepted our invitation and then looked into the visa process and told us, sorry we’re just not going to do this. That’s a situation we should be ashamed of.”
Home Office ‘welcomes’ artists
talkRADIO approached the Home Office to find out if the visa process for foreign artists has changed recently.
They said there was a “long-standing route” to obtain visas that Womad used.
A spokesperson said: “We welcome artists and musicians coming to the UK from non-EEA countries to perform.
“There is a long-standing route, which WOMAD festival uses, where festivals can apply to invite performers without the need to issue a certificate of sponsorship.”
They provided statistics saying that last year, 99% of non-settlement visa within 15 days, and the average processing time in 2017 was just under eight days.
The 45 festivals and events which are part of the sponsorship-free system do not need to apply for artist visas through the points-based system, they said, and they can pay artists from non-EEA countries.
How do foreign musicians get visas to perform in the UK?
Under the current system, they must apply either for an Exceptional Talent (Tier 1) visa or Skilled Worker (Tier 2) visa.
For Tier 1, a body such as the Arts Council usually decides if they fit the criteria of being ‘exceptional’.
They must have a formal invitation from the festival or event that wants them to perform, the activity must be their full-time profession, and they must also provide information of their employment and financial status in their country of origin.