Leading article: Tone deaf

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The Independent Online

Grigory Sokolov has been travelling from his home in Italy to delight audiences here in Britain for 18 years. But this year, the great Russian-born pianist will not grace a stage in this country. And the responsibility lies with our own government.

Mr Sokolov has been put off by the Home Office's new requirement that anyone applying for a UK work visa must supply their biometric data before entering the country. Mr Sokolov would prefer to stay at home than submit to this. This is Mr Sokolov's personal choice, of course. But it seems worth asking whether it makes sense for Britain to lose the opportunity to hear such a brilliant musician because of some new visa procedures?

This story serves to illustrate a larger truth: the more onerous and frustrating we make it for talented foreigners to come to work in Britain, the fewer will come. And, ultimately, we shall be the ones to suffer. The new biometric visa requirement deterred Mr Sokolov, but expect many more musicians to be put off by the hefty increase in the cost of work permits from £85 to £200. Such an increase might sound insignificant to some of us, but it should be remembered that very few musicians are wealthy.

When our political leaders make populist promises to tighten up immigration controls, they never really have particular individuals in mind. It is only much later that the consequences of their actions emerge. There is a lesson here: legislation in haste, repent at leisure.

There is nothing wrong with the Home Office trying to keep better track of those who enter and exit the UK. But when the system itself ends up divesting us of cultural riches, something is plainly broken.

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