Nicola Sturgeon accuses UK ministers of ‘undermining’ Edinburgh festival by refusing visas
Nicola Sturgeon has said the UK Government's immigration rules have “undermined” the Edinburgh International Book festival amid reports of authors being refused visas.
The First Minister took aim at officials after the event’s director claimed a dozen authors and illustrators have been unable to attend this year after they were not given the documentation needed to enter the UK.
The organisers describe the event, which runs through every August, as “the largest and most dynamic festival of its kind in the world”, featuring “writers from all over the world”.
But Nick Barley told the Guardian that amid a spike in authors being refused visas in recent years and a "humiliating" application process risked jeopardising the event's future.
“It is Kafkaesque. One was told he had too much money and it looked suspicious for a short trip. Another was told she didn’t have enough, so she transferred £500 into the account – and then was told that £500 looked suspicious.
“It shouldn’t be the case that thousands of pounds should be spent to fulfil a legitimate visa request. I believe this is happening to many arts organisations around the country, and we need to find a way around it.”
The incident comes after months of pressure on the Home Office, which was heavily criticised earlier this year for its "hostile environment" policy towards migrants who had settled in Britain.
Mr Barley added: "We’ve had to draw on the help of MPs, MSPs, ambassadors and senior people in the British Council and Home Office to overturn visa decisions that looked set to be rejected."
"We’ve had so many problems with visas, we’ve realised it is systematic. This is so serious.
"We want to talk about it and resolve it, not just for [this festival], but for cultural organisations UK-wide. The amount of energy, money and time that has gone into this is problematic. There needs to be a fix.”
The paper added that several applications remained outstanding, despite some authors being due to appear at the festival in less than a week.
Ms Sturgeon tweeted the difficulties faced by those who had hoped to take part in the festival were “not acceptable” and called on ministers to "sort it out".
Her colleague, Edinburgh North and Leith MP Deirdre Brock, said: “My fear is that many will simply choose not to try any more, and we’ll all be poorer for it. Edinburgh’s festivals will be damaged by London’s ‘hostile environment’ attitude to visas."
The Home Office points out that 45 festivals in the UK are on a permit free list, allowing them to “invite entertainers or artists to take part in their event without the need to issue a certificate of sponsorship under the points based system”.
The Book Festival is not on the list and while Mr Barley said the event could apply to join it, he called on other festivals to campaign for a new system.
A Home Office spokesperson told PoliticsHome: “We welcome artists and musicians coming to the UK from non-EEA countries to perform.
“In the year ending December 2017, 99% of non-settlement visa applications were processed within 15 days and the average processing time in 2017 was just under eight days.
“Guidance on visa and entry clearance requirements is publicly available on GOV.UK.
“Each case is assessed on its individual merits against the published Immigration Rules.”