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UK artists still facing acute US visa issues, panel warns

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British acts still face massive problems securing US visas, which is damaging cultural exchange between the two nations, a panel of experts at The Great Escape has warned.

Talking at the UK Musicians and US Visas session, the Musicians’ Union’s (MU) Dave Webster said that despite repeated attempts to tackle the situation over recent years, more must be done to ease the passage of UK musicians to the US.

He said: ‘We’ve been listening to our members and musicians who have had huge problems over the last few years.

‘They’ve been turned away, they’ve had to cancel shows, they haven’t had their visa applications turned round in time so they’ve had to cancel flights and rebook. This is all at massive cost to the musicians and to huge detriment to the cultural exchange between the UK and US. It doesn’t do audiences any good or US promoters any good either.’

He went on to explain that the situation is now so acute that the MU has assembled a Music Industry Taskforce with 10 other organisations including the Department for Culture Media and Sport, British Underground, UK Music and UK Trade & Investment.

The purpose of the taskforce is to provide a united front and single point of contact for addressing visa issues with US Homeland Security.

‘We’re trying to arrange a meeting with officials at the US Embassy to try to get them to understand our problems and also learn about their issues. We want to find a way to help them to help us achieve an easier and cheaper process for musicians to go and work in the US,’ he explained.

Although the MU and UK Music have met with US Embassy officials in the past, regular staff changes at the embassy mean vital connections are easily lost.

UK Music’s Jo Dipple, who was also on the panel, added: ‘This is an extremely important issue. British artists export their music all around the world and if we don’t have the ability to go to other countries to play music, we don’t have a market.

‘The macro-politics of homeland security means it’s very difficult to get traction with any one political master. You can go to the Department of Culture and they’ll say it’s not up to them and point us to the Home Office. But the Home Office will say it’s the American Embassy. But then the US Ambassador will say he can’t interfere with homeland security.

‘We’ve had two meetings with the American Embassy to tell them there’s a problem – a real blockage which is costing UK artists a lot of money – and they say they understand and will make things easier. But a year later all those officials have been moved back to America and we can’t find anyone we had the meeting with.

‘It feels very frustrating when we go to our Minister and he says he can’t do anything. This has been going on for as long as I’ve been at UK Music and there is no part that is easy to understand.’

The panel, organised by British Underground, also included Matthew Covey (Tamizdat) and Crispin Parry (British Underground), with moderator Horace Trubridge (MU).

Earlier this year, the MU and British Underground produced a guidance booklet for artists travelling to the US, detailing relevant visas and exception details. Access it here:

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