This week Caribbean Book Blog featured the story of Nikhil Singh, an artist from South Africa who was denied entry into the UK after the Home Office rejected his application for the renewal of his visa to allow him to continue working as an artist in the UK (see preceding post). Singh is the illustrator of the newly-launched graphic gothic-fantasy novel Salem Brownstone: All Along the Watchtowers which has been receiving rave reviews in the media. He was advised that he had been denied leave to remain in the UK because he did not qualify for a ‘highly skilled’ migrant visa due to “lack of education”.
In an interview with Caribbean Book Blog, Singh speaks about his ordeal and how he has been coping with the experience.
You’re a book illustrator and you’ve also worked as a journalist. Tell us a bit about your work experience.
Nikhil Singh: My journalistic experience was small, mostly London night-life reviews for an American website (www.socialight.com) and some illustrative work. I’m not an illustrator at all actually, as illustrators work to briefs and their profession is clearly demarcated. Salem Brownstone was a creative collaboration between a writer (John Harris Dunning) and an artist (myself). We created the book as a personal project based on our mutual love of mystery stories and retro English comics. I had been drawing comics and creating pen and ink drawings for a number of years and this was also John’s first novel. We are both pleasantly surprised at the reception which our book has had and will no doubt create more work in our chosen spheres. However I would say that the title ‘illustrator’ certainly doesn’t befit the type of work I have been generating, which is quite free-form and does not conform to a set of professional practices.
As far as you know, what is the Home Office’s rationale for not renewing your visa?
Nikhil: I was on an artist’s visa which no longer exists. When it came time to renew my visa I was deferred to a TIER ONE GENERAL highly skilled worker’s visa – which is points based. My application was refused due to ‘a lack of education’ and I entered a lengthy appeal process which took over six months, in which I was kept on tenterhooks about whether I could stay or whether I could go. When the appeal was refused I was forced to return to South Africa. I have subsequently reapplied for two other visas, one a short term holiday visa to attend my book launch, another an unmarried partnership visa to rejoin my girlfriend of seven years who still resides in the UK. Both were also refused
How did you feel when you learnt that they turned down your reapplication to live and work in the UK, considering you had been a legal resident there for 3 years?
Nikhil: Well, I hadn’t broken any laws, wasn’t using public funds and was in the process of publishing a book which was quite rooted in Hampstead, London. So overall I felt it was a trifle absurd.
During the time that you lived in the UK did you know of other immigrant illustrators and artists who faced a predicament similar to yours? How do they feel about it?
Nikhil: There were quite a few cases documented on the Manifesto Club’s website http://www.manifestoclub.com/visitingartists Although I had heard of other cases similar to my own, I did not know the people personally and was not fully aware of the details of their circumstances.
How has your not being able to return to the UK to work affected you financially and personally?
Nikhil: I have missed out on work opportunities which have arisen out of Salem Brownstone because I have not been in town to attend meetings and work on localized projects. Also, I have not seen my girlfriend or close friends for some time, so my social life has understandably been disrupted rather severely.
You were asked to take an English language test, despite being proficient in the language. You had also done a bit of journalism. Did the Home Office explain why they thought this was necessary and how do you feel about it?
Nikhil: I felt vaguely offended, because the process was costly and took up to two days. The Home Office did not explain the necessity, only that it was a requirement for people from countries which were not ‘English Majority’. There are many languages in South Africa but the standard of English is rather high and I felt that the system did not take this into account. It was almost as if a particular stigma had been attached to those from ‘Third World Countries’
Your subsequent attempts to appeal the decision have been turned down. Do you have any other recourse?
Nikhil: I lodged an appeal for my Tier One visa. When that was refused I attempted to obtain a short term holiday visa so that I could attend my book launch and then return to South Africa to put together documents for a more long-term visa. The problem is compounded by the Immigration Office wanting only original documents. This was not helped by the fact that they managed to lose all my original documents from my previous appeal – Documents which included my original publishing contract, which to date has not been returned. When the short-term visa was refused, my girlfriend discovered that I was eligible for a common-law unmarried partnership visa, which necessitates living together for a period of two years. We gathered together evidence but this visa was refused because the months we have been separated due to my previous refusals mean that we have not ‘spent the last two years together’. I am planning a possible reapplication for this visa with more detailed evidence, but all these applications are extremely costly and I shall have to weigh the practicalities carefully.
Did you give consideration to returning to the UK on a Visitor’s Visa so you could at least attend the launch of ‘Salem Brownstone: All Along the Watchtowers?
Nikhil: Yes. I attempted to obtain a short term visitor’s visa to attend my book launch and was refused. The immigration official handling my case suggested that that I might break the law and remain illegally in the country even though I have broken no laws in the past.
Do you plan to get a degree to try and reapply again for a visa at a later date?
Nikhil: I am proud of the fact that I have managed to achieve what I have without a formal education. Also, I have much work to do and simply do not have the time to spare on pursuing cosmetic degrees?
What next for Nikhil Singh?
Nikhil: The US launch for Salem Brownstone is next year in summer so I shall have to prepare for that, as well as tend to other projects throughout the year. Though I hope to return to the UK to rejoin my girlfriend and pursue opportunities which have arisen from the positive reception of Salem.