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Whitehall reviews foreign artists’ visa costs

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Immigration minister Tony McNulty this week bowed to 11th hour appeals to reconsider proposals which threaten to effectively bar thousands of foreign artists from working in the UK.

As revealed by The Stage in January, arts campaigners and immigration law experts had feared that revisions to the work permit system, by which all foreign workers applying for entry to the UK, could have meant a “prohibitive increase in costs” for companies booking foreign acts. This would have dissuaded many groups from visiting the country or venues from booking them.

The National Campaign for the Arts has been leading discussions with the Home Office over the government’s proposals since December. Following meetings with senior figures in the immigration department it has been told that the minister will meet them this month to address any problems that might arise out of the new system.

The White Paper for the proposals will be published in the coming weeks and the process of phasing in the changes will take place over the next three years. However, the Home Office has suggested that an ‘Arts and Entertainment Task Force’ might be set up to meet regularly and discuss how any negative impact of the visa reforms on the arts industry can be avoided.

NCA director Victoria Todd said: “We are delighted that the minister has agreed to meet with us to discuss the concerns. International cultural understanding is one of the major issues of the day and we all benefit from overseas artists coming to perform in the UK. The new visa system must not impede this vital activity.

“The Home Office has been extremely constructive so far… While concerns remain, we look forward to working with officials over the coming months to ensure that the new system makes it easier, not harder, for overseas talent to tour the UK.”

Campaigners had been fearful that organisations such as orchestras or touring theatre companies would no longer be able to apply as a group to enter the UK but rather each individual would have to attend in person at a British consulate in their own country. As well as the significant extra cost and bureaucracy this would create, it was also feared that if one person was refused a visa an entire tour might be scrapped.

Another concern was that in certain countries, especially less developed ones, it would prove impossible for applicants to reach embassies or consulates and, if organisations were already touring abroad, it would be impractical to return to their home country to apply for a visa.

In a letter written to the NCA on behalf of Marc Owen, deputy director of managed migration, strategy and review at the Home Office, the campaign was assured that “a refusal of one group member would not automatically debar the entire group” and told that there would be the opportunity for a review on occasions when an applicant believed there to have been an error of fact. It has also told the NCA, which is asking for a group permit to be introduced to cut costs for touring companies, that it will consider rating entertainers at a lower cost than other professions which might stay in the country for longer, such as doctors.

Assurances were also given that the Home Office is looking into using “outsourced partners” to ensure that applicants in certain countries would not have to travel long distances. It is also investigating “very sympathetically” the idea that applications might be made in “whichever country is convenient” and the idea that personal attendance might not always be made compulsory.

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