Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Artists and Borders

A campaign has been launched against the impact of the government's latest tightening of immigration controls on arts and music. According to the Manifesto Club: 'The Home Office recently introduced new restrictions on international artists and academics visiting the UK for talks, temporary exhibitions, concerts or artists' residencies. Visitors now have to submit to a series of arduous and expensive proceedures to get their visa, and then more bureaucratic controls when they are in the UK. Already a series of concerts and residencies have been cancelled'.

A letter signed by artists including Jeremy Deller and Anthony Gormley states: 'As professionals committed to the principles of internationalism and cultural exchange, we are dismayed by new Home Office regulations which will curb our invitations to non-EU artists and academics to visit the UK. All non-EU visitors now must apply for a visa in person and supply biometric data, electronic fingerprint scans and a digital photograph. The Home Office's 158-page document also outlines new controls over visitors' day-to-day activity: individuals must show that they have at least £800 of savings, which have been held for at least three months prior to the date of their application; the host organisation must keep copies of the visitor's passport and their UK biometric card, a history of their contact details; and if the visitor does not turn up to their studio or place of work, or their where-abouts are unknown, the organisation is legally obliged to inform the UK Border Agency. We believe that these restrictions discriminate against our overseas colleagues on the grounds of their nationality and financial resources and will be particularly detrimental to artists from developing countries and those with low income...'

Immigration controls have always acted as a barrier to the circulation of musicans - last year for instance Congolese band Konono No.1 had to cancel a London gig. If major art institutions are going to find the new points-based system hard to negotiate, imagine how difficult it will be for someone just putting on a gig or a party with a band or DJ from outside the EU.

No One is Illegal

While the campaign is welcome, we shouldn't make a special case of musicians and artists. The UK and EU border regime also causes misery to many other people - indeed the deaths of hundreds of people every year (usually at sea) as they try and enter Europe in defiance of these restrictions.

I was reminded of this while re-reading No One is Illegal, a seminal manifesto written by a group of people including Steve Cohen, who sadly died at the weekend. The text argues: 'Immigration controls should be abolished. People should not be deemed ‘illegal’ because they have fallen foul of an increasingly brutal and repressive system of controls. Why is immigration law different from all other law? Under all other laws it is the act that is illegal, but under immigration law it is the person who is illegal. Those subject to immigration control are dehumanized, are reduced to non-persons, are nobodies. They are the modern outlaw. Like their medieval counterpart they exist outside of the law and outside of the law’s protection. Opposition to immigration controls requires defending all immigration outlaws'.

The manifesto also makes that point that seeking to reform immigration control by 'defining who may be excluded from it by necessity entails defining who is included in it'. The UK Border Agency has created a separate category of temporary 'creative workers', with specific rules for them, but we should be wary of treating them as more deserving than other human beings subject to these barriers to the freedom of movement.

No comments: