More artist visa embarrassment for UK

By the 18th July we may find out on what grounds the Algerian artist Zinedinne Bessaï was refused entry to the UK to attend the launch of a group show at Cornerhouse Manchester.

This is not as a result of my earlier blog post on the subject, but rather the fact that crossbench peer the Earl of Clancarty has today submitted a written question in the House of Lords.

He also asks about dancers Ismael Ludman, Maria Mondino, writer Patrick Mudekereza, and poet Alex Galper all of whom have been shut out of the country in recent weeks.

Galper, who once made what must have been a risky escape from Russia to the US, had much less luck with immigration at Luton airport. All he wanted was to attend a poetry festival.

Luton also happens to be where Russian artist Slava Mogutin was held over night in jail and then deported, even as his American partner/collaborator Brian Kenny waltzed into the UK.

The list goes on: Alex Soth, Femi Kuti, Kristin Ostling, Grigory Sokolov, Abbas Kiarostami, and a little known rap act called the Wu-Tang Clan have also faced suspicion and obstruction.

But it would be quite wrong to put all the blame on UK border officials who may or may not be anything like the hilarious Ian Foot from BBC comedy Come Fly With Me.

More of the problem lies with a new points-based visa system. Non-EU artists are classified as temporary workers, but a 15-strong West African jazz band, say, would hardly make a killing.

In fact, Les Amazones de Guinée paid £3,500 to apply for visas and were still denied. While executives in multinationals can afford to expedite such bureaucracy and jet in and out at will.

And what do they bring to the cultural life of the British Isles? Not jazz, that’s for sure.

Click here to read a letter in the Telegraph co-signed by more than 100 leading cultural figures, or here to read about this dubious law in more detail (Kamila Shamsie in the Guardian). The above YouTube clip was actually filmed at Glasgow airport!



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