More Artistes, Students and Skilled Migrants Barred from entering the UK

UK Prime Minister, Gordon Brown

More reports are coming in of foreign artistes being denied entry into the UK. The situation is so grave, the Manifesto Club, a UK-based group campaigning against attempts by governments to unfairly restrict the free movement of peoples across borders, has been compiling testimonies from individuals who have been turned down by the British immigration authorities on applying for visas and work permits. The experiences they recount are horrific.

Abbas Kiarostami, an Iranian film director accused the British embassy in Tehran of subjecting him to “disgraceful” treatment causing him to cancel an arranged visit to London to direct Cosi fan tutte for the English National Opera. He said the process of securing a visa, in which he was twice asked to give fingerprints, left him feeling “trapped in the very circles of hell itself”.

The Rwandan writer, Révérien Rurangwa who is also the vice president of Ibuka-Memoire et Justice which helps victims of the Rwandan genocide, which he survived. told the Guardian in an interview that he was unable to attend the UK launch of his book in London because his visa application was turned down.

The West African all-female jazz band Les Amazones de Guinée reportedly had to pay £3,500 to travel from Guinea to Freetown, Sierra Leone, to obtain fingerprints for their visas. It proved to be a waste of time and money. The band was refused entry into the UK.

A Chinese artist and his translator were both refused visas to attend the artist’s private exhibition at The October Gallery in Central London which opened in February 2009. Previously they had been able to obtain visas to travel to Canada, Australia and Spain. The artist said he had a valid US visa at the time that he was turned down by the British immigration authorities. He had even resided in to UK from 2002-2004, he added.

The Russian artist and academic, Dmitry Vilensky, was invited by The Showroom Gallery and Afterall Journal in London to give a seminar on his work in January 2009. The gallery was forced to cancel the seminar when Vilensky’s visa application was rejected on the grounds that he was not allowed to be paid a fee for participating in the seminar. A further appeal, with the proviso that he was not to be paid, was also rejected.

These are just a few examples of the many cases that have been documented by the Manifesto Group and more cases are being reported. They appear to coincide with moves by the British government to restrict the flow of immigrants into the UK. The clampdown corresponds with the introduction of a new points-based immigration system last year to replace the previous regulations.  

In addition, general elections in Britain are due by June 2010 and immigration has become one of the hottest topics on the hustings. The issue is being fervently debated by the media, politicians and far-right groups alike, and is an extremely sore point with the ultra-conservative British National Party (BNP). 

The Conservative leader, David Cameron and his fellow Tory MPs, along with the BNP leader Nick Griffin have been lambasting the Gordon Brown administration almost nonstop for it’s handling of immigration issues and it’s alleged “open door” policy towards migrants seeking employment and residence in the UK, and the pressure has put the government on the defensive, forcing it to justify its immigration policy at almost every turn.  

BNP leader, Nick Griffin

Appearing on the BBC Question Time show last October, Griffin complained that Britain was becoming overcrowded and “ethnic cleansing” had resulted in London no longer being considered as a British city. To counter that, he said, it was time for Britain to shut its borders. (Video: BNP’s Nick Griffin on BBC Question Time

The Labour government has also been harshly criticized by union leaders who claim that British jobs are being lost to migrants. Simmering resentment over the issue reached boiling point during the recent strike by workers at the Lindsey oil plant in Lincolnshire and other work places where employees walked out in sympathy at the hiring of foreign workers over home-grown staff.

To make matters worse, the Gordon Brown administration suffered major embarassment last December when John Vine, the chief inspectorof the UK Border Agency revealed that convoys of trucks are being admited into the country without proper checks. He further disclosed that hundreds of lorry drivers had been found smuggling ilegal aliens into Britain and they were yet to be punished because of a huge backlog of cases.

Head of UK Border Agency, Lin Homer

Moreover, in October last year the head of the UK Border Agency, Lin Homer disclosed in a letter to the Home Affairs Select Committee that the Home Office had lost track of 40,000 migrants who became illegal residents after their applications for visa extensions dating back to 2003were rejected. Home Office officials are not sure if they are still in the country or if they have departed as required by law.

Added to that, a report commissioned by the government and undertaken by the research group Oxford Economics revealed that since the Labour Party took office, the number of migrant arrivals into the UK had reached three million. According to 2001 statistics, the ratio of foreign-born residents in the UK was 1 in 13. To date, the ratio is estimated at 1 in 10. Currently there are 6.6 million immigrants in Britain – just over 10% of the population of 60.4 million.

These and other findings and disclosures have further riled up brown’s opponents, including some far-right groups who have since gone on to paint a picture of Britain virtually under seige by invaders.

In 2007, three weeks before he took over from Tony Blair, Prime Minister Gordon Brown promised to respond to public concerns about immigration by launching a drive to train thousands of unemployed British workers for jobs that were being filled by immigrants flocking to Britain.

“It is time to train British workers for the British jobs that will be available over the coming few years and to make sure that people who are inactive and unemployed are able to get the new jobs on offer in our country,” he told the GMB union.

He subsequently went on to pledge that he would work to secure “British jobs for British workers”. That pledge has become like a gun held to his head with his own finger on the trigger. Any attempt to back away could spell political suicide.  

As a result, the prime minter has been at pains to reassure the British public and demonstrate to his critics that he intends to stay the course. 

Last year the List for Tier 2 points-based system was amended on the recommendations of the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) and a number of occupations were added to the tightly-regulated list of skilled workers that Britain needs to recruit from abroad to fill shortages in the labour market. However, some engineering, construction and ship and hovercraft officers’ jobs were taken off the list in line with changing economic circumstances.—A-Summary-of-Recent-Changes&id=3537494  The Migration Advisory Committee advises the government on areas where migration can fill skills gaps in the economy. It advises on what should be deemed ‘shortage occupations’ under Tier 2 of the points system, thus making it easier for employers to bring in migrants to do jobs in the shortage areas.

Prime Minister Brown, however, has gone a step further. In November he announced that the government would close the door on 250,000 skilled catering, care, and engineering jobs to non-European overseas workers starting in 2010.

Brown promised that these occupations would be removed from the official list of occupation shortages as soon as training and employment agencies are able to source enough qualified recruits from among UK nationals. For what it’s worth, he has the backing of the Home Secretary, Alan Johnson who declared last month that the prospect of the UK population reaching 70 million is terrorising residents.

Indications are the new restrictions will hit migrants from the Indian subcontinent especially hard.

According to the Legal News bulletin, “Indians are among the top applicants for a limited number of jobs that are only open to highly skilled workers from outside Europe under a points-based system, but Brown’s Labour government has been attacked by Opposition parties for allowing in too many immigrants.”

Over the years, Indian IT experts have been among the prime beneficiaries of the UK’s list of occupational shortages which allowed IT professionals to move to the UK under inter-company transfers once they met the requisite criteria. Under an intra-company transfer, an employer can fill vacancies in its UK operations by bringing over some of its foreign-based staff.

From this year, applicants in the Tier 2/Intra company transfer category are required to have 12 months experience with their employer instead of six months as was previously stipulated, before they could be transferred to the UK. In addition, this category will be closed as a route to permanent settlement in the UK. This means that IT professionals who come to the UK under inter-company transfers will not be allowed to settle there permanently even after the mandatory stay of five years.

Moreover, as of December 14 companies sponsoring foreign workers under the Tier 2 category must first ensure that the jobs are widely advertised to workers in the UK for four weeks before they can fill the vacancies with foreign workers.

For their part, some Indians have hampered the cause of their migrant colleagues because of their dubious practices. For instance, three illegal Indian immigrants were recently convicted for engineering what has been dubbed as one of Britain’s biggest visa frauds.  Jatinda Kumar Shamar, 44 and his two wives, Neelam Sharma and Raki Shahi used false paperwork to help more than 1,000 illegal immigrants gain entry into the country.  

Such scams, and other rackets perpetrated by various foreign nationals in the UK have provided critics with ammunition to clobber the Brown administration, and they have not hesitated to cite the illegalities as justification for tightening the screws of the immigration machinery even further to severely restrict the numbers of foreigners coming into the country.    


Even students are finding it harder to gain entry into the UK. A few months ago, Prime Minister Gordon Brown, during a speech on emigration, promised to tighten the visa application process for international students

The government has since announced plans to raise the minimum level of courses an overseas student needs to get a visa. They will also be required to take a mandatory English language test and the government wants to block foreign students from working in temporary part-time jobs that can be filled by young UK nationals. Officially, it is estimated that there are 927,000 young people currently out of work in the UK. 

However, critics of the student visa restrictions warn that overseas students will be put off from studying in the UK and, as result, universities could lose millions of pounds in fees as the students take their money elsewhere. Foreign students can pay as much as £20,000 a year for degree courses in UK universities.

According to News, “This controversial point-based emigration system, which was actually introduced back in March [2009], is designed to crack down on fake students and to prevent terrorists from entering into the country. However, a study has found that emigration officials working for the UK Boarder Agency are misinterpreting the new rules and refusing visas to genuine students. Some have been so obstructive, that they have caused students to not want to study in Britain at all. This could end up hurting a UK economy which is already having problems.”

As for foreign students doing post graduate studies in the UK, the UK Emigration Advisory Committee has recommended a review of the rules that allow students attending further education colleges to look for jobs when they graduate.

Not surprisingly, complaints are coming in from foreign nationals seeking to enter or remain in the UK, suggesting that the treatment they receive at the authorities sometimes borders on the inhumane. One of those incidents, which borders on the bizarre, involved the case of a mother who the Home Office ordered to be deported from the country, leaving her two young children behind.

Angela Smith, 43, an American had been living with her husband and children in Scotland for two years and then the couple got divorced. When she applied to renew her British visa, the Home Office turned her down. By then she had paid an administration fee of over £800 to renew her visa. Nevertheless, the Home Office rejected her application and ordered her to return to the United States forthwith, and leave behind her two children, aged 9 and 11, who are both British citizens. Smith was said to have been “in shock” at the decision and spoke out against the Home Office’s attempt to force her to leave without her children.   They eventually granted her a residency visa in December after residents of her hometown of Arbroath began circulating a petition calling on the Home Office to reconsider the case. Local councilors and politicians added their support.

 The road ahead promises to be a challenging one even for legal immigrants who have been granted leave to remain in the UK. 

The Immigration Minister, Phil Woolas, recently warned that immigrants who take part in anti-war demonstrations could jeopardize their chances of qualifying for British citizenship and a British passport under new government proposals based on the immigration points system.

Immigration Minister, Phil Woolas

He made the disclosure during an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on August 3, 2009. Said Woolas: “We think it’s right to say if we are asking the new citizen, as incidentally other countries around the world do, to have an oath of allegiance to that country, that it’s right to try to define in some objective terms what that means. And clearly an acceptance of the democratic rule of law and the principle behind that we think is important and we think it’s fair to ask that.”

Woolas is not fazed by the fact that public demonstrations are legal in the UK. He said an applicant could lose points not just for breaking the law but also for engaging in certain activities that are legal.

Pressing him further, BBC presenter, Sarah Montague asked: “Are you effectively saying to people who want to have a British passport, ‘You can have one, and when you’ve got one you can demonstrate as much as you like, but until then don’t?”

Woolas replied: “In essence, yes. In essence we are saying that the test that applies to the citizen should be broader than the test that applies to the person who wants to be a citizen. I think that’s a fair point of view, to say that if you want to come to our country and settle, you should show that adherence.”

Not to be outdone, Conservative MPs and many of their supporters have been heaping fire and brimstone on the Labour government for their handling of immigration matters.

Tory Shadow Home Secretary, Chris Grayling

During questioning by Labour MP and Home Secretary Alan Johnson in Parliament in December, the Tory Shadow Home Secretary, Chris Grayling disclosed that the Tories plan to carry out an overhaul of the Tier 1 and Tier 2 system as it applies to skilled migrants. He said under his government far fewer immigrants would be encouraged to travel to the UK. He said the Tories would seek to implement an immigration capping system to standardise the numbers entering the country each year. Grayling buttressed his case by citing UK immigration statistics which purportedly show that under Labour there were well over 150,000 migrants registered as entering Britain in 2008 under the skilled migrants program. Under the Tories, said Grayling, this figure would be reduced to tens of thousands. He even suggested that the UK Border Agency would be complimented by a specialist police force.

What is peculiar about all this is that a report released by the Foreign Office last year showed that the number of migrants entering the country had decreased while those leaving had increased, contrary to the claims of overcrowding being made by the BNP and right-wing pressure groups. What is equally strange is that neither of the two main political parties seem to have been moved by the findings of the Foreign Office report.

Further, a new study by the Institute for Public Policy Research has debunked claims that foreigners are taking British jobs and undercutting local pay. The findings were released publicly around the same time that workers were protesting outside of power stations in Kent and Nottinghamshire, demanding that British jobs be secured for British workers. The findings of the study which has been ongoing since 2004 show that Eastern European migration to the UK had had no negative impact on wages or jobs.  

All the same, the government has vowed to press ahead with its get-tough policy. Gordon Brown, meanwhile, also has his sights set on illegal immigrants who, more than ever, are being viewed with a jaundiced eye by his critics and large segments of the British population. Among the strategies that are being adopted is allowing the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) to progressively deny work, benefits and services to illegal immigrants by working in partnership with tax authorities, benefits agencies, Government Departments, local authorities, the police and the private sector.

The government reportedly also has a £1.2 billion plan to track passenger movements in and out of the UK through an e-Borders program, which allows authorities to check passenger data supplied by airlines against a watch list of suspected criminals. This strategy, however, could be fraught. British lawmakers have warned that such actions may be deemed illegal under European Union law.

Ironically, news reports emanating out of the European Union warn that, of late, there have been a wave of foreign-national deportations in the Western European countries. Most of those being kicked out are reportedly from the Middle East, Africa and some parts of Central and Eastern Europe.

With the British Prime Minister under intense pressure to address public fears about emigration, the UK Border Agency can only feel emboldened or, at the very least, duty-bound to stand firm and restrict the entry of foreigners into the country. Already, the 2007 UK Borders bill has given immigration officers more powers, including powers of arrest, and requires foreign nationals to provide fingerprints and digital photographs, and to carry biometric identity documents.

Pauline Hadaway, the director of Belfast Exposed, a community gallery for contemporary photography, along with numerous others, have cautioned that the government’s tough stance is causing migrants extreme stress and hardships and creating aninhospitable atmosphere of suspicion.”

“There is an increasing awareness that changes to immigration rules are creating difficulties for artists requiring visas to enter the UK and ROI. Many instances of refusal, delay and outright hostility and scepticism on the part of immigration authorities were given. It was generally agreed that, in a generally inhospitable atmosphere of suspicion and closure, much recent anecdotal experience suggests that artists and cultural workers, particularly those born in parts of Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe, are being regarded with suspicion and required to provide evidence of artistic credentials that many of us simply regard as unrealistic and inappropriate, said Hadaway.  

The immigration clampdown also has implications for Caribbean migrants. The 2001 UK Census recorded 260,925 people born in the Caribbean living in the UK, literally a tiny speck in the overall population. There continues to be strong familial, cultural and artistic ties between West Indians living in the islands and the UK Caribbean community. This reality and the imperatives of survival will inevitably make the UK a magnet for West Indians, no less than the USA and Canada.  

Interestingly, official statistics show that between 2004 and 2005 Indian and Pakistani nationals accounted for over half of the Highly Skilled Migrant permits issued by the Home Office, with Australians, Nigerians and South Africans the next largest recipients. These five source countries together reportedly account for 70% of all HSMP permits. It’s unclera whether the relatively miniscule number of Caribbean migrants seeking to travel to the UK will make any diffrrence to the authorities. What is clear is that the Windrush days of open access are long dead and gone.



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