While the artist mentioned in the report below isn't from the world of comics, the actions taken against her – which have been widely condemned in the past couple of weeks - could affect any comics creator visiting the UK and deserve the widest exposure...
Cristina Winsor, a US citizen and artist from the downtown East Village New York scene innocently arrived in London on Sunday 6th September to visit friends and take part in a free five day The Meaning of Art in the respected east London venue The Foundry - only to be detained for nine hours in a detention centre at Heathrow airport and escorted on an outbound plane back to New York by armed security guards.
Her crime? Carrying two small paintings under her arm, which she wished to exhibit at the festival and with a bit of luck, sell for a few hundred dollars.
"The immigration officials told me that selling my work was illegal without a business visa, and took me to the detention centre for further questioning," says Cristina, a 32-year-old artist living in the East Village, New York, who has exhibited her work across the US.
"I told them I wouldn't sell my paintings if it was against the law,” she continues, “and even offered to leave them at the airport so that I could at least stay in the country and see my friends, and pick them up on my way out. They said they couldn't trust me to have changed my mind so fast, and that they couldn't show me favouritism by holding my paintings until my return flight four days later.
"I then sat in the immigration detention centre for nine hours and was escorted to an outbound flight by security. They only gave me back my passport once I disembarked in JFK airport in NY. I opened my passport to see a little 'barred entry' symbol."
“We’re shocked that someone should be refused entry to the UK because of our festival,” commented Meaning of Arts curator Michael Bucknell. “It's particularly ironic that the meaning of art should turn out to be nine hours detention, and a flight back to the United States.”
Cristina is the latest victim of the new immigration regulations which took full effect in November last year, wreaking havoc on international arts events across the UK, preventing artists, poets and musicians from taking part in numerous festivals and other arts projects. Invited artists from the non-EU area are now required to be “sponsored” by a UK organisation at considerable cost under the new points-based system.
Copies of official documents, such as passport and biometric identification are required to be kept by the host, and should the invited artist’s whereabouts become unknown, the host is legally obliged to inform the UK Borders Agency.
Phil Woolas, Minister for Borders and Immigration introduced the new Business visitors rules last October, stating that with the introduction of “an Australian-style points based system for selective migration, it makes sense to tighten visit visas at the same time.” (Readers may recall it was Woolas who received the full brunt of Joanna Lumley’s successful campaign to enable Gurka soldiers to live in the UK).
“In the past, artists had no problems entering the UK for short visits to participate in arts events," says Manick Govinda, artist producer at Artsadmin and campaigner for the civil liberties group, The Manifesto Club, which has documented victims of the new rules, and who set up a petition against the Home Offices restrictions on non-EU artists (sign here, if you haven't already). "Yet again, these draconian immigration rules criminalize invited artists who pose no security threat and are not robbing British artists of work, yet these are the reasons that the Home Office have given for imposing these jackboot style laws – to prevent terrorism and safeguard British jobs.
"Phil Woolas and the UK Borders Agency have lost all sense of reason.”
Art luminaries, writers and theatre directors such as Antony Gormley, Rachel Whiteread, Jeremy Deller, Benjamin Zephaniah, Blake Morrison and Nicholas Hytner have signed the petition.
“We’re on course to reaching our target of 10,000 signatures – nearly 8,000 people have already signed up,” says Govinda. “When we have the 10,000 we will send a delegation to Downing Street to submit the petition. The Home Office needs to seriously reconsider these pernicious rules, which are seriously stifling international cultural exchange.”
The Manifesto Club, which also campaigns on a number of other government measures, launched the petition against the Home Office’s restrictions on non-EU artists and academics with a letter to the Observer in February and a Guardian news story and has documented hundreds of incidents where the new immigration rules have devastated arts events (PDF format). The report was launched in a major news story in June 2009 in The Times.
• Manifesto Club Campaign Page: www.manifestoclub.com/visitingartists
• Read and sign the petition: http://www.petitiononline.com/MCvisit/petition.html
• Campaign Against Home Office restrictions on non-EU artists and academics on Facebook
• Phil Woolas MP made a public response to protests against the regulations in The Guardian’s Comment is Free