628: UK visa system a threat to art / Cats abú! (Monday 8 September 2008)

Visa restrictions to affect movement of artists

compiled by Jean Morley

Visual Artists Ireland released a statement late last week, condemning changes which accompany the introduction of a new points-based visa system in the UK. As of 29 June this year, artists can no longer apply for a British visa under the cultural subcategory of "Writers, Artists and Composers." Instead, artists must apply to tier one of a five-tier system, that of the broadly termed "highly-skilled migrant." Full-time artists now occupy the same sphere as entrepreneurs, investors and postgraduate students. According to the Border and Immigration Agency, the purpose of the new tier is to attract talent with the "most to contribute economically." However, to Noel Kelly, Chief Executive Officer of the artists' representative body, the new laws are a form of "censorship" with the potential to cause the "stagnation of cultural life."

The suspension of the seperate artist category accompanies the introduction of a points-based visa system which, similar to the Australian model, rates applicants in terms of their ability to fulfil specific criteria. "Highly-skilled migrants" must score a minimum of 95 points, calculated by combining previous experience, English-language ability and also the ability to support oneself and dependents until an income is earned. The latter criterion is termed "maintenance" and demands that artists be "tested" for their ability to meet current cost-of-living figures. Applications are granted only when artists can provide "documentary evidence" of being able to reach the specified targets.

The measure is a worrying one, particularly for artists starting their career. Many would find it impossible to meet the exacting criteria; particularly the demand for concrete evidence of future prosperity. Nevertheless, the stringent measures are being implemented out of what the Home Office terms "border control." According one UK Border Agency spokesperson, the changes to the visa system are necessary to "deliver a system of border security which is among the most secure in the world." It seems that limiting the amount of artistic input entering the UK from outside the EU is a collateral, though perhaps even desired effect of the security measures.

Although the Border Agency claims that the creative sector itself drew up the codes of practice, the amendments are causing outrage among the international artistic community. For Irish artists, the tighter immigration laws are particularly worrying. Not only does Northern Ireland now have more limited access to international artists, but there are fears that the Irish government may imitate the heavy sanctions of our neighbouring country.The result would be a step backwards for Ireland, a limitation on its newly-found cultural diversity.

Visual Artists Ireland plan to stage a public call to the Home Office to reconsider its position, holding a public meeting in Liverpool later this month. The event takes place on Saturday, 20 September at 2pm at The Site Gallery, Liverpool John Moores University School of Art and Design. It will involve contributions from the artist David Jacques, the Director of Belfast Exposed, Pauline Hadaway, and Yvette Vaughan Jones of Visiting Arts, UK, as well as seeking input from the general public.

Sources: Contemporary Arts Review Online: http://www.contemporaryartsreview.com/?p=4894 ; Work Permit.com: http://www.workpermit.com/uk/writers_composers_artists.htm ; The UK Visa Bureau: http://www.visabureau.com/uk/visa-changes.aspx ; Statement of Intent; Highly-skilled migrants under the points-based system; The UK Borders and Immigration Agency: http://www.bia.homeoffice.gov.uk/sitecontent/documents/managingourborders/pbsdocs/statementofintent/highlyskilledunderpbs.pdf?view=Binary

Flying the flag

The view out the offfice window - a jolly roger with 'KK'

Looking out the windows of the Circa offices today, an unusual sight across the road at Temple Bar Gallery and Studios. We're pretty sure it's been put there by a happy Kilkenny supporter...