British Writers,Artists & Academics Condemn New Visa Rules:

The growing outrage over the Labour Government’s PBIS (Points Based Immigration System) has now spread far beyond the UK’s ELT (English Language Teaching) sector. On 17th March – two weeks after the meeting in the House of Commons between furious private language school Principals and sympathetic Members of Parliament (MPs) – a “Visiting Artists and Academics Petition” was delivered to 10 Downing Street, Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s official residence. Organised by the Manifesto Club, it contained over 10,000 signatures – including those of many  prominent personalities from the country’s cultural scene such as Sandy Nairne (Director, National Portrait Gallery). Janet Suzman ( Actress & Director), Helen Sainsbury (Manager, Tate Modern), Michael Bogdanov (Theatre Director) and Alan Sillitoe (Writer). The objective was to make “ a collective affirmation of the value of international exchange in ideas and art” and to publicise the most notable instances ofoverseas performers, lecturers, authors and painters “ who have been shut out of the UK by these close-minded rules”.

Among the extensive range of  examples  were: Chinese artist, Huang Zu, refused a visa to attend the opening of his own exhibition at London’s October Gallery; Russian Film Director Evgeni Tsymbal, denied entry to give university lectures even though he has won BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) awards; Mexican musician Marina de Ita, who afterwards stated that – prior to being rejected – she had been “treated really badly, under investigation for around twelve hours, enclosed in a room with people considered suspicious. We were all just from Latin America, Africa or Asia”.

A Manifesto Club dossier entitled “UK Arts And Culture: Cancelled, By  Order Of The Home Office” (www.manifestoclub.com/files/UKArtsCancelled.pdf) emphasizes the “extreme difficulty” now facing festival organisers, jazz , salsa & tango clubs and community theatres who want to invite  non-EU performers. UK universities are facing similar problems when attempting to arrange international lecture series. Iwona Blazwick OBE , Director of  London’s Whitechapel Gallery, considers that “The barriers these regulations present to artists from around the world will have a terrible effect  on Britain’s  reputation as an international centre for the arts”. VAGA (The Visual Arts and Galleries Association) is concerned that the Home Office restrictions “will be particularly detrimental to artists from developing countries”. Joan Bakewell, a well-known British TV presenter and journalist has pointed out in ‘The Times’ newspaper that the UK’s role as “ a global hub for arts activities” could be severely damaged: “It is here that international artists come to perform, meet each other and to share cultures”.

All these views and more were forcibly expressed at the “Fortress UK: Closing The Door On International Artists & Academics” Conference held at the Free Word Centre in London’s Farringdon Road on March 17th. On the panel were Lisa Appignanesi ( President of the English branch of  PEN, the international writers’ organization), Manick Govinda (Head of the Artists Advisory Service), Lord Clement-Jones (Liberal-Democrat Culture Spokesman), Baroness Helena QC (Civil Rights Barrister), Josie Appleton (Manifesto Club Convenor) and Des Freedman (Secretary of Goldsmith College UCU). One option discussed was whether “direct action”(demonstrations) might be necessary to put pressure on whoever forms the next Government, to reverse the new regulations. The Students Union at Goldsmith College in South-East London  has become a focal point for the “nationally-networked” opposition to the PBIS. Their “Education Without Frontiers” event on March 18th featured speakers from “NO2ID” (Against  Identity Cards), the Joint Council For The Welfare Of Immigrants (JCWI) and the Living Wage / Justice For Cleaners Campaign.

In their “Briefing Pack” on ‘studentsnotsuspects.blogspots.com’ Goldsmiths UCU declare that the new immigration rules “frame students as suspects and turn staff ( who are  required to report absences from class) into border agents. The Home Office and the UK Border Agency are outsourcing border policing to universities”. According to Valerie Hatwich (Manifesto Club), in 2009, “ 35% of visa applications from China were rejected, 49% from India and 21% from the USA; 14,000 prospective students were still waiting in Pakistan for their UK entry permits at the beginning of the Academic Year 2009/10. Furthermore, in January 2010, 56 UK Colleges had their licences suspended but were not told the reasons or the allegations against them.”

 

Statistics quoted by Goldsmiths UCU indicate that UK Universities attract 513,570 international students each year – which translates into £2.5 billion in tuition fees plus off-campus expenditure of around £2.5 billion. “It is ridiculous to threaten this at a time when universities are facing astronomical cuts.” Goldsmiths UCU are convinced that the new regulations could have a “Long -term impact on academic freedom , democracy and the right to privacy. These laws force distrust and suspicion upon our environments. They should be scrapped”.

 

 

 

 

Filed under: Immigration & Visas, Society | Posted on March 24th, 2010 by Colin D Gordon

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