Concert promoters are complaining that UK immigration is making it harder for international musicians to get visas to work in the UK, saying that the Home Office has refused to issue visas to internationally renowned artistes on a number of occasions.
The New Musical Express, one of the UK’s most respected music magazines, cites the cases of two Asian bands whose scheduled concerts could not go ahead because one or more members were refused UK visas.
In November, the Pakistani Sachal Jazz Ensemble had to cancel two concerts in the Kings Place venue in London’s King’s Cross after one of their number was refused entry to the UK. The group played in New York’s Lincoln Center with no problems only a week earlier and, indeed, played the Alchemy Festival at London’s Southbank Centre with no reports of absconders in 2012.
Sachal Jazz are best known for their reworking of The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s 1959 jazz classic Take-Five, written by the group’s saxophonist Paul Desmond. When Brubeck heard Sachal’s version of his group’s most famous work shortly before his death in 2012, he said that it was “the most interesting and different recording of Take-Five that I have ever heard”.
Music promoter Jay Vivsadeva, who was behind the London visit said: “We are finding it very difficult to obtain visas. Six professional musicians who travel the world constantly should have a clean application. We had no issue with [UK] visas last year. The Border Agency are the culprits. They are heavy-handed, especially with people from the subcontinent”.
In October, the Ensemble Al-Kindi, a Turkish-Syrian group which plays traditional Syrian music, was refused entry to the UK because the Home Office refused entry visas to five of the group. They had been due to play at a concert at the RichMix Centre in Shoreditch, East London to celebrate their 30th anniversary in the music business. Ensemble Al-Kindi’s manager, Sabine Chatel, told The Evening Standard that she had been told the visas were refused because the Home Office believed that the musicians might not leave the UK if allowed to enter. Ms Chatel said that Al-Kindi had been granted Schengen visas which allow them to travel freely elsewhere throughout the European Union and into Switzerland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland outside the EU. However, the UK and Ireland stand alone in the EU as non-signatories to the Schengen accord.
Oliver Carruthers of RichMix said: “We know how disappointed everyone will be, especially those who have already bought tickets. It would have been a very exciting show for London, which is usually known to be an open, welcoming city for artists.
“What’s sad is that their music is part of a long tradition of peaceful exploration of the relationship between people and spirituality – a tradition that is increasingly under threat in Syria.”
The Standard reports that Simon Broughton, the editor of Songlines, a magazine dedicated to world music, believes that the problem is getting worse and is threatening the world music scene in the UK. Mr Broughton said: “I don’t know whether something has changed at the Border Agency but it has become a problem recently. Great musicians who are very well known in their own fields are not getting into the country where there is an audience for them.
“Much of the music is a fantastic way of correcting the image of Islam as sombre and strict but the musicians can’t get into the country. It doesn’t help the understanding of these cultures.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “All visa applications are considered on their individual merits and in line with immigration rules”.
Musicians from outside the EU can perform in the UK with an Entertainer Visitor visa, providing that they are not paid while in the UK. If they are being paid, they can apply for a Tier 5 (Creative and Sporting) temporary work visa.