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Scottish government calls cultural visa summit amid concerns over impact on Edinburgh festivals

Princes Street during the 2018 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Photo: Lou Armor/Shutterstock
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The Scottish government has announced its intention to hold a summit exploring concerns around the visa difficulties faced by foreign artists performing at cultural events including the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

The announcement of an “international festivals visa summit” came from cabinet secretary Fiona Hyslop during a debate at Holyrood on the impact of the UK government’s hardline visa controls on Edinburgh’s festivals. Hyslop has responsibility for both culture and external affairs, including immigration.

She said: “The current visa application processes for visitors coming to Scotland for international events is lengthy, complex and costly, with attendees sometimes spending thousands of pounds on visas and associated costs for a visit that might only last a few days.”

The debate was led by MSP Gordon MacDonald, who earlier this week warned that a “hostile immigration policy” in the UK was putting festivals such as the fringe at risk by forcing artists to cancel appearances if they could not obtain visas.

Edinburgh festivals at risk because of ‘hostile immigration policy’

During the debate, several instances were given of the difficulties artists face in attempting to secure visas, despite Edinburgh’s festivals having so-called “permit-free” status, meaning individuals do not need to apply for a work permit to perform.

Noting the forthcoming government white paper on immigration, Hyslop said: “A better solution for visiting artists, performers and others must be integral to any future immigration system.

“That is particularly important if freedom of movement is to end and the UK leaves the EU, and European visitors are made to comply with the Home Office’s increasingly burdensome and complex rules.”

She added: “I have written to the home secretary asking the Home Office to work with the Scottish government and other devolved administrations to proactively and meaningfully address the challenges of the existing visa system for artists and performers.

“I will be inviting the home secretary and counterparts in the devolved administrations to an international festivals visa summit in Edinburgh where, in the home of the world’s biggest arts festival, we can openly discuss our shared concerns and work together to find solutions to protect our reputation as an outward-looking, welcoming country.”

In her letter to home secretary Sajid Javid, Hyslop said: “The issue of mobility of artists and performers is of crucial importance to the Scottish culture sector.

“While the scale of the Edinburgh festivals and their international profile highlights these issues starkly, the challenges that they face are replicated by festivals across Scotland and indeed the UK.”

She added: “With fewer than 100 days to the Edinburgh festivals’ launch, I consider it to be in our shared interests to proactively address the challenges and counter the potentially negative coverage of the Home Office and its handling of festival-related visas.”

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