‘Festival visas’ urged to allow performers into Edinburgh

A city MSP is calling for special “festival visas” to stop overseas artists and performers heading for Edinburgh’s arts extravaganza being refused entry to the country.

General views of the Edinburgh International Book Festival in Edinburgh's Charlotte Square. Picture: Robert Perry/PA Wire

Edinburgh Pentlands SNP MSP Gordon MacDonald will make the plea to the UK government, which is in charge of immigration rules, during a debate in the Scottish Parliament tomorrow.

He said since the Conservative government had introduced hard-line visa controls, applications for performers had been hit by refusals, errors and delays, with some acclaimed international writers, actors and musicians forced to cancel trips.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Mr MacDonald said: “Edinburgh is well recognised as the world’s leading festival city. With audiences of a staggering 4.5 million, the festivals generate an incredible economic impact of £280 million in Edinburgh and £313m in Scotland in total.

Gordon MacDonald is the SNP MSP for Edinburgh Pentlands

“Our reputation is being damaged and our international positioning being put at risk because of the UK government’s hostile immigration policy.

“Artists are facing a humiliating application process. Their visas are being refused and, due to the inaction from the UK government, artists are being deterred from coming here.

“The Edinburgh festivals rely on the seamless flow of artists from across the world and it’s time for the UK government to listen – listen to the industry and take action to make sure that Edinburgh, Scotland and the UK are open for culture.

“We need to look at developing something specific – something like a cultural passport for individuals participating in festivals.”

He said the SNP had repeatedly warned the UK “one-size-fits-all approach” to immigration was failing Scotland.

“If the UK government won’t listen, then they should devolve immigration and let the Scottish Government get on with building a fair and functional immigration system,” he said.

Earlier this year, Edinburgh International Book Festival director Nick Barley warned “irretrievable damage” was being done by the visa system after participants had experienced problems last summer.

And Julia Amour, director of Festivals Edinburgh, which promotes the city’s key events to the world, said the festivals were at “real risk” due to artists being put off coming to the UK over fears it was becoming a less friendly country that wanted to close its borders.

In 2017, an Arab arts showcase at the Fringe had to cancel and rework shows after a third of their visas were denied.