Performances by Foreign Entertainers hampered by new immigration rules

Circuses, operas and ballets in Britain are running short of performers, because of difficulties with short-term visas, MPs are told.



Circuses, operas and ballets in Britain are running short of performers, because of difficulties with short-term visas under the new points-based immigration system, the Commons home affairs select committee was told yesterday.

Foreign entertainers – such as dancers, actors or circus artists such as tightrope walkers, trapeze artists and acrobats – now have to apply for entry clearance under Tier 5, which applies to six categories of temporary workers, among which sports people, entertainers or creative artists.

Entertainers who apply for the tier require 40 points to qualify and a certificate of sponsorship from a licensed sponsor. If given clearance, a 12-month biometric visa is issued to them.

These restrictive rules put a strain on the Arts, as two-year tours, such as the popular Chinese state circus, become problematic and last-minute replacement of international artists become almost impossible.

The Committee has taken evidence on this from the Association of Circus Proprietors, the Royal Opera House and the National Campaign for the Arts (NCA).The Royal Opera House, in London’s Covent Garden, home to The Royal Opera and The Royal Ballet, expressed fears of needing to cancel £250,000-a-night productions because of replacement problems.

While the Royal Ballet is happy that ballet dancers have been declared a "shortage occupation" under the new immigration system, the NCA is lobbying for the category to be extended to contemporary dancers and some orchestral musicians. Its director, Louise de Winter, told the MPs: "They are not displacing British workers because it is hard to justify British morris dancers performing Bulgarian folk dances."

Ruth Jarratt, Covent Garden’s policy development director, voiced her concern that the requirement to have a biometric visa would no longer allow an international stand-in at the last minute.

Specific problems arise with circus artists.

British circuses are forced to rely heavily on foreign talent because of a tradition of foreign state circuses supplying acrobats and trapeze artists. Around half of the 500 circus performers who come to the UK every year come from outside the European Union.

The worst hit acts are likely to be horse riders flying trapeze artists, acrobats and tightrope or high wire troupes.

Malcolm Clay, of the Association of Circus Proprietors, has told MPs that British children are not interested in learning the skills and the top performers come from Eastern Europe, China and Mongolia.

"The people who go to the circus schools in Britain want to learn the skills as a hobby but not as a career. They want to perform occasionally at the weekend,” he said.

To make matters worse, problems with computer software and poor awareness among British embassy staff is causing delays ahead of the busy circus season.

The internet software used for the new system is not set up properly to deal with large troupes of performers, being aimed at individual applicants.

Part of the problem was that performers have to leave their passports with a local British embassy for up to two weeks. This hardly suits the lifestyle of performers who are constantly on tour, rarely on one place for more than a week.

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