Russian- poet with US Passport deported from UK 11th July 2011: The stringent border controls are taking its toll on the overseas artists. An increasing number of foreign artists, ranging from grassroots fringe performers to world-renowned stars, are ruling UK out of their upcoming travel plans due to complexities with obtaining visas.
They are following the footsteps of the esteemed Iranian film director Abbas Kiarostami. He abandoned plans to come to Britain to direct an opera after the UK embassy in Tehran asked him to submit his application documents twice.
Anti-censorship pressure group English PEN has also demanded that the so-called Entertainer Visitor Route needs to be redefined as ‘Artist Visitors’ to provide more clarity. At the moment, only artists who come into Britain to take part in a "permit-free" event, such as the annual Edinburgh International Festival, are allowed to accept a fee. The organisation claims this creates unnecessary confusion.
The director of English PEN, Jonathan Heawood asserted that the current points-based visa system placed a huge financial and bureaucratic responsibility on artists. He added to invite just one artist to the UK as a ‘licensed sponsor’ costs over £500. This might be affordable to large institutions, but was far too expensive for small groups. The UKBA does not understand writers and artists, and they don’t understand the value of art and literature to the UK economy and society.
The latest prestigious artist to regret his decision to travel to Britain was the Russian writer Alex Galper. A fortnight ago the acclaimed poet, who studied under Allen Ginsberg in New York, came to Britain on his American passport to give a poetry recital. But he was refused entry at Luton airport and is threatened with a 10-year ban.
Since its introduction in 2008, an amended d system for short-term visitors has seen many artists, photographers and musicians threatened with deportation. Border officials routinely take fingerprints and ask for assurances that visitors do not plan to use their cameras, paintbrushes or instruments , in case they are coming for paid work.
Galper said he told to UK Border Agency, ‘I don’t have to tell you what I am doing. I am an American citizen.’ He claimed in New York, that the UKBA still put him in the deportation room. His case has stimulated efforts by the anti-censorship pressure group English PEN – together with the London Mayor’s office – to call on the government to scrap the approach currently adopted by the UK Border Agency.
Heawood said that UK Border Agency seemed to have misplaced their passport to common sense. Heawood added that UKBA told that their heavy-handed treatment of visiting artists was a thing of the past, but that message had clearly not filtered through to the airport officials who treated Alex Galper so awful.
The director informed that a visa for unpaid artists already exists and should have been offered to Alex. Instead, he was treated like a criminal and extradited without his personal belongings, and the charity event he had hoped to attend was damaged. English PEN disputes that foreign artists do not take work from British and European residents since they are invited here for their specific skills.
Galper did not need to apply in advance for a normal tourist visa. Although Russian by birth, he has a job in New York, and writes and promotes his poetry part-time. He first flew to Britain a month ago to stay with a friend and then accepted an invitation to attend a poetry event in Germany, taking an overnight trip to Berlin. Galper also received an invitation from a London-based theatre company, the Gruntlers Arts Group, to appear for no fee at a fundraising gala night.
However, when Galper flew back to Luton from Germany, he was questioned by border officials who were doubtful that he could not show them an onward ticket for travel. Galper claimed he made a booking for a return flight over the internet, but had no paper documentation. The Border Agency officials called Galper’s friend in London, who mentioned that he was due at the charity poetry event that evening. As a result, it was ruled that Galper had been deliberately misleading and had intended to work in Britain.
After making a phone call to the event organiser, David Parry, Galper was held in a cell overnight before being deported back to Germany the next day. The organiser said he was still upset over the entire incident. Parry added “I wanted to get some beat poets together and there was a lot of interest. Then I got a call from Alex at the airport and he could not understand what was happening to him."
Galper said he knew all these people had been waiting for him in London. The artist added appearing there and meeting people would have been the highlight of his life. Instead he had to leave all his clothes at his friend’s house and travelled without them for a month. Back in London, the fundraising event was a flop and the journalists who came to interview Galper were sent home.
A Border Agency spokesperson clarified that the creative artists from across the world were welcome to perform in the UK. However, as with any visitors, they expected individuals to meet entry requirements.