Edinburgh book festival chief hits out at visa issues facing international writers

Nick Barley said that some international authors have faced demands to produce birth certificate. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Nick Barley said that some international authors have faced demands to produce birth certificate. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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The director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival has hit out at the “humiliating” treatment of international writers in the wake of growing problems securing visas for some of them to appear at the event.

Nick Barley revealed there had been serious doubts over the planned appearances of as many as a dozen authors due to tighter immigration rules.

It has emerged that MPs, MSPs, the British Council and British embassy officials around the world have been brought in to help ensure the programme could go ahead, although some writers are still awaiting final approval.

Mr Barley said that some international authors have faced demands to produce birth certificates, marriage certificates, bank statements and even undergo biometric tests.

And he predicted the festival is only likely to face further problems in future due to the likely impact of Brexit. Mr Barley said he would be willing to help lead a taskforce of cultural organisations, including Edinburgh’s festivals, to persuade the UK government to introduce a “streamlined and simple” system for established artists invited to appear at events.

He said: “This an issue which is much wider than Brexit and is happening regardless of Brexit. Beyond Europe we’ve seen a significant increase in difficulties in securing visas for international authors.

“The immigration laws that have been passed recently are making it much more difficult this year.

“We’ve had up to a dozen problematic cases which we’ve only resolved after much negotiation and lobbying.

“We’ve had an absolutely brilliant response from people working on our behalf, but you only have to think about the number of people and human hours involved just so we can put on this festival.

“We need a new system in which reputable arts organisations can have a streamlined and simple visa process to bring invited participants into the country without having to go through the humiliating process that they’ve had to go through. We need to make things easier.

“Brexit or no Brexit, this is the issue we’re really struggling with right now.

“When Brexit happens the same thing will happen with European artists. . It’s only going to get worse.

“This event is more international than any other book festival in the world. It is the cornerstone of our reputation. If we’re not international in Edinburgh our festivals will collapse.”

Mr Barley said that he was “disappointed” not to get the chance to discuss the book festival’s visa problems during Prime Minister Theresa May’s visit to Edinburgh earlier this week.