Tate: tough visa rules harm UK's cultural life


Rob Sharp
Monday 22 August 2011 00:00

A former employee at Tate Modern has claimed that the gallery is discouraging foreign artists from applying for working visas when visiting for one-off talks and presentations.

A former senior curator at the London gallery, who left in March, told The Independent on condition of anonymity: "Artists were not 'encouraged' to come as tourists, but told not to apply for working visas as the requirements for entry in the UK for a short visit – including a simple presentation, for talks and conference participation – and its attached low payment would have been subject to long working visa processing, and that would have made my work impossible."

A points-based visa system, introduced in 2008, was accompanied by tougher immigration criteria for temporary workers, which has resulted in artists, photographers and musicians being deported or refused visas. A recent House of Lords debate highlighted the difficulties for artists and performers, who have to prove they have £800 in a bank account, pay a fee and find a sponsor who is willing to pay a £400 fee, in order to visit Britain.

The gallery's director, Sir Nicholas Serota, was one of a host of figures who wrote to the Daily Telegraph in June, highlighting a "visa application process that is needlessly bureaucratic and intrusive". Organisations can face fines of £10,000 for any person employed without the correct visa.

A Greater London Authority survey published earlier this year discovered that, of the arts organisations it surveyed, many had faced increased bureaucracy and costs and had to cancel events at short notice because artists had not been granted visas since the introduction of the system.

A number of artists hoping to visiting Britain have protested. Enaiatollah Akbari, a former Afghan refugee who was due to talk at the Edinburgh International Book Festival today, was forced to cancel his trip because of problems obtaining a visa. Mr Akbari said: "From the very first questions on the form it seemed to me that they were asking deliberately complicated and personal questions in order to deter people."

Jonathan Heawood, the director of English PEN, the literature and free speech organisation, said: "International writers and artists don't take employment away from British workers. In fact they stimulate the creative economy. So it's absurd to treat them as economic migrants."

The UK Border Agency said: "We work with organisers of international events to ensure they are aware of the application process and are able to help facilitate urgent cases Any employer who employs someone without the right visa can be fined up to £10,000 for each illegal worker. Where there are reports of visa abuse then we will take the necessary action where appropriate."

A Tate spokeswoman said she was unable to comment further because the statement was not made by a current member of staff.

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