Performers are ‘collateral damage’ as visa issues hamper Edinburgh festivals

The UK government is under fresh pressure to tackle growing visa curbs faced by international artists blocked from entering Scotland to perform at Edinburgh’s festivals.

Monday, 4th February 2019, 7:08 am
Updated Monday, 4th February 2019, 7:10 am
Picture: Robert Perry/PA Wire

International writers, actors and musicians have been forced to cancel trips to the Scottish capital’s August arts bonanza in recent years as hardline controls were introduced as part of the UK’s “hostile immigration” policy and there are now fears the situation will worsen after Brexit.

Edinburgh North and Leith MP Deidre Brock is now seeing urgent talks with UK immigration minister Caroline Noakes to seek a more streamlined approach after festival programmes were hit by visa refusals, errors and delays.

Ms Brock said: “Festivals are the lifeblood of Edinburgh’s economy and they are essential to cultural and social life in this thriving European capital.

“Our reputation as a global gathering place can’t be put at risk by narrow-minded, xenophobic Tory policies.

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“The UK has some of the world’s leading festivals but over the last few years they have been hampered by a rise in visa problems for international artists. This is only set to get worse after Brexit if changes aren’t made now.

“Visiting musicians, writers and performers have become collateral damage, caught up in Theresa May’s ‘hostile’ approach to immigration, even when just coming to grace us with their talent for a few days.

“The tough rhetoric and the complexity of the immigration rules are not only keeping people out, they are putting people off coming to Scotland.”

Edinburgh International Book Festival director Nick Barley warned during last year’s event that up to a dozen authors who had been planning to take part had their visas refused, and said it will damage UK cultural life.

In 2017, two Syrian shows being staged at the Arab Arts Focus showpiece at Summerhall were hit by immigration woes which saw one of them cancelled.

The situation has been branded “unacceptable” by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who warned it undermines Edinburgh’s respected festivals.

Ms Brock hopes progress can be made in face-to-face talks with the UK minister.

She said: “I hope she will listen to the experiences of festival organisers and take action to make sure the UK remains open to the world.

“If they won’t do it, at least they can devolve the rules and let the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament get on with building a fairer system that’s fit for purpose.”