Let Me Change Your Name, choreographed by Eun-Me Ahn and performed at the 2017 Dance Umbrella Festival. Photo: Eunji Park.

Following Rise in Rejection of Artist Visas, UK Festival Directors Call for Revision of Application Process

More than two dozen directors of prominent art festivals throughout the UK have penned an open letter to the government urging it to make the visa application process for artists more affordable and more transparent. The call for reforming the process comes after a score of artists expressed that they are reluctant to accept invitations to participate in cultural events in the UK since there will most likely be complications with obtaining visas. Fair organizers also noted that there were often delays and refusals of visas for applicants from Middle Eastern and African countries. 

“The current visa application process for artists is lengthy, opaque and costly, with artists and/or festivals often spending thousands of pounds on visas and associated costs for a visit of often only a few days,” the letter reads. “The overly complex process leads to mistakes being made by both applicants and assessors, and refusals being made for visas that could theoretically be granted.”

It continues by saying that while applications are supposed to be processed within fifteen working days, they often take much longer and that artists are expected to surrender their passports during this time. The fair directors also complained that there is no way for them to check on the progress of a visa application. If they were kept informed during the process, they say they could answer additional questions or provide essential missing documentation.

Among the signatories of the letter are Nick Barley, the director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival; Emma Gladstone, director and chief executive of Dance Umbrella; Taher Qassim, chair of the Liverpool Arab Arts Festival; Chris Smith, director of Womad; and Richard Wakely, director and chief executive of the Belfast International Arts Festival.

“Festivals are particularly vulnerable to the problems we’re seeing with visas because they rely on visits that are short in duration, and at short notice,” Barley told The Guardian. “Festivals have become one of the most vibrant ways of celebrating culture in Britain, but this new visa problem puts them in jeopardy. It will impoverish British culture if festivals can’t be international.”