In response to the UK’s draconian points-based immigration system, which was making it very difficult and sometimes impossible for overseas artists to enter the country, the Manifesto Club launched its Visiting Artists Campaign. Eighteen months on, the campaign’s convenor, Manick Govinda, explains the state of play.
Since 2009, we at the Manifesto Club have campaigned against the UK government’s points-based immigration system, which was preventing non-EU artists and academics from visiting the UK. Under the system, visiting artists had to submit to fingerprinting and give details of personal bank accounts. Meanwhile, their UK hosts had to register for a licence and become a ‘licensed sponsor’, one of the conditions of which was that they must monitor the everyday whereabouts of their overseas guests.
The UK arts scene was in disarray, with cancelled concerts from the great Russian pianist Grigory Sokolov, who refused to submit to Home Office biometric fingerprinting, and from legendary Iranian film director Abbas Kiarostami, who, humiliated by the dehumanising process of applying for a UK visa, pulled out of directing Cosi fan tutte for the English National Opera. Canadian singer Allison Crowe was deported on arrival.
Hundreds of professional and grassroots artists, photographers, musicians and writers were either refused visas or immediately deported. The embarrassment to the UK’s reputation on the international arts scene was huge. Along with groups such as English PEN and ArtsAdmin, the Manifesto Club petitioned government to change the law, garnering over 11,000 signatures. The campaign achieved a significant concession from the Home Office, as it lifted some of the restrictions on non-EU artists and academics.
A new visa route called Permitted Paid Engagement was introduced, allowing non-EU artists and academics to take up paid invitations for shows, performances and lectures for up to one month, without having to submit to the points-based system. That was good news and an important victory for personal freedom. But, 18 months later, is it working?