Freemuse campaign: Visa issues damage the music industry

4 May 2011

Visa issues:
Transparency and correct information is the key

If the European countries are serious about honouring their ratification of the UNESCO Convention on Cultural Diversity they need to make visa and work permit procedures and the general access to the European market for artists more flexible, transparent and homogenous.

“The current system is damaging the music industry,” says Ole Reitov, programme manager, Freemuse. The ‘white paper’ is based on answers from various European tour and festival organisers and their experiences with visa issuing offices outside Europe, and the paper presents various recommendations to these administrators of the visa systems.

“We have received numerous horror stories from concert organisers. When they receive wrong information or are being treated as ‘dirt’ by visa offices abroad, it creates an atmosphere of great frustration and sometimes lead to cancellation of planned tours,” says Ole Reitov.

The ‘white paper’ has been forwarded to the EU Commission, the EU Parliament and the Council of the European Union, and hopefully international and national music organisations will also make use of the paper. “Lobbying at national level is extremely important in order to improve the current system,” says Ole Reitov.

During the international trade fair WOMEX 2007, held in Spain in October, a seminar organised by Michel Winter of Divano Productions discussed the complex visa and work permit issues.

Freemuse then offered to host the collection of case stories and present a “white paper” to the European Parliament, the EU Commission and colleagues at national and European artists organisations. The initiative was quickly joined by international organisations with huge expertise and experiences in the field of cultural presentations and cultural exchange.




Click to open PDF file with the white paper


Click to open pdfRead ‘white paper’ (in PDF format)  



The initiative is joined by the following partners:

European Council of Artists, ECA – the umbrella organisation for national councils of artists in Europe:

European Live Music Forum:

European Forum of Worldwide Music Festivals:

Womex – the World Music Expo:


Other intiatives

In several European countries and in the USA there are national campaigns against visa and work permits restrictions in relationship to the artists. Amongst the inititatives are:

IG World Music Austria have started an online-petition/campaign called ‘ABGESAGT (which means ‘Canceled’) – no art without artists! no culture without culture-makers!’
IG World Music Austria ask for an immediate change in the aliens law (artists lost their undeterminded residency status with the last changes in the Austrian law in 2006) and for easy visa-issuing for artist on tour.

The National Campaign for the Arts, NCA, is the United Kingdom’s only independent lobbying organisation representing all the arts. It provides a voice for the arts world in all its diversity. It seeks to safeguard, promote and develop the arts and win public and political recognition for the importance of the arts as a key element in our national culture:

Artists from Abroad
Recognising the visa and work permit challenges the American Symphony Orchestra League and Association of Performing Arts Presenters have consulted with nationally-recognized experts to create Artists from Abroad – the most complete and up-to-date online resource for foreign guest artists, their managers, and performing arts organisations visiting the USA:

US Cuba Cultural Exchange
US Cuba Cultural Exchange – a national network in the US of artists and presenters – has created a campaign towards changing the current restrictions and the ban the US government has imposed infringing on the rights of artists in both countries to collaborate and create. A letter to the American president Bush bears the signatures of more than 200 actors, musicians, filmmakers, and producers such as Harry Belafonte, Ry Cooder, Peter Coyote, Danny Glover, Sean Penn, Bonnie Raitt, Gloria Steinem and Alice Walker:


Visiting artists campaign makes waves in the British House of Lords


Visiting artists logo

Manifesto Club’s Visiting Artists Campaign featured in a debate in the House of Lords in the United Kingdom on the effects of the points-based system on the arts and academia. The Manifesto Club has been working with the Earl of Clancarty, who opened the debate, and Lord Clement Jones, who contributed. Lords lined up to criticise the points-based visa system; the government was firmly on the defensive. The exchange can be read in full here.



This coincided with an important Greater London Authority survey, showing the damaging effect of visa rules on the arts. See full media coverage in the  Guardian, the Stage, Artsadmin, and Migrants’ Rights Network.

Round Table on the Grassroots Arts, 5 April 2011: The Manifesto Club is partnering Artsadmin on a discussion about the effects of visa rules on the grassroots arts. If you are an independent artist/curator/director with a story to tell, do come along.

Campaign latest: Manick Govinda reports on the shocking story of an African artist barred from visiting the UK because he is single.

See Valerie Hartwich’s blog for the latest visa stories, including south east Asian criticism of UK visa red tape, and why the world’s greatest pianist won’t visit Britain.


Media coverage

[ In Danish language: ]

Danish Broadcasting Corporation (DR), Kulturnyt – 4 February 2009 at at 3:30 PM on DR P2:

‘EU’s visumregler forhindrer kultur’  – audio interview with Freemuse programme officer Ole Reitov and music promoter Peter Hvalkof

Politiken – 12 January 2009:

‘Udenlandske musikere støder mod visum-mur’
‘When musicians from non-European contries visit Schengen countries, the visa rules a tremendous barrier, a new report documents.’ – 8. januar 2009:

‘Freemuse: Ambassaders visa-håndtering skader musikindustrien’

[ In Swedish language: ]

SVT Kulturnyheterna – 27 January 2009 at 7:30 PM:

‘Visumkrångel för utländska artister – ett brott mot FN:s regler?’  – start at 2:05

SVT – 26 January 2009:

‘Visumregler för artister ses över’

Swedish Broadcasting Corporation, SR – 19 January 2009:

‘Bättre visumregler på väg’

Swedish Broadcasting Corporation, SR – 16 January 2009:

‘Visum hindrar artister att komma in i EU’


[ In English language: ]

Creative Choices – April 2011:

‘Bringing foreign artists to the UK’

Migrants’ Rights Network – 25 March 2011:

‘House of Lords debate rocks points-based visa restrictions for visiting artists and academics’

Manifesto Club, Valerie Hartwich’s blog – continuously updated:

‘Points-based system damaging and cumbersome to the Arts’ – 28 November 2007:

‘Cuba’s Legendary Prima Ballerina Alicia Alonso’s Letter Ignites Massive Support from the Entertainment Industry’



Related reading about visa issues


US visa issues: Two orchestras forced to cancel their concerts
An American festival had to cancel two shows and two workshops by international artists due to visa problems and alleged embassy discrimination
26 September 2011
UK: Public letter calls for a new visa system for leading performers
A campaign to remove short-term visiting artists from the unnecessary bureaucracy nears a policy breakthrough, according to its campaigners
01 August 2011
USA: Jazz musician suspected as terrorist because of his Arabic name
An American jazz pianist’s Arabic-sounding name allegedly made US officials suspect a link between his payment for a performance in Europe and possible terrorist activities
27 June 2011
Freemuse campaign: Visa issues damage the music industry
European countries need to make visa and work permit procedures and the general access to the European market for artists more flexible, transparent and homogenous
04 May 2011
Artist Visa Applications: Arguments for Success – a Quick Guide
A few references that you can mention when you argue for smooth visa handling while dealing with visa issuing offices and embassies
20 October 2010
EU policy library refers to Freemuse Visa White Paper
The Freemuse report ‘Visas / The Discordant Note’ has been included as an official research document in the EU Commission’s ‘Library of Policy Documents’
11 August 2010
Visa report highlighted but serious problems remain
While visa issues continue to create controversy, the Freemuse white paper ‘Visa / the discordant note’ plays an essential role in various international fora
17 June 2009
UK: New visa rules threaten dozens of concerts and festivals
A report reveals that more than 20 major arts events have been cancelled or badly affected by new UK visa regulations
17 June 2009
UK: Visa system forces Russian ballet company to cancel shows
A Russian ballet company has been forced to cancel its 2009 programme after failing to obtain UK visas for its dancers in time
17 June 2009
Protest petition: African artist’s tour cancelled due to blocked visas
A petition ‘against EU visa discrimination of musicians’ was started after the European tour of Zimbabwean Mokoomba was forced to be cancelled
17 June 2009
Sweden: Minister of Migration welcomes visa white paper
“The ‘white paper’ points its fingers at very essential problems,” said Tobias Billström, the Swedish Minister of Migration, in a live radio programme
21 January 2009
White paper launched at Womex: ‘Visa issues – the discordant note’
White paper on visa issues launched at an international music trade fair: ‘European countries need to make visa procedures more flexible, transparent and homogenous’
31 October 2008
Israel / Palestine: Orchestra prevented from entering Gaza
An international orchestra was refused to perform in Gaza after its sole Palestinian member was prevented from entering the Gaza Strip
17 December 2007
Freemuse campaign: Visa issues kill music
In collaboration with international artists organisations Freemuse launches an investigation of visa and work permit procedures in order to influence policy makers
26 November 2007
Musicians hit by the “9/11-effect”
Tighter restrictions on air travel means that musical instruments are no longer allowed on the plane as carry-on baggage. This has lead to cancellations of concerts and tours
11 September 2006
UK: “Cultural censorship” threatens artistic endeavours
Stringent immigration regulations have led to several foreign artists being denied entry into the UK, making it increasingly difficult to organise musical events featuring foreign artists
16 August 2006
Canada: American rappers barred from Canada
“Canada attempts to place US rappers in the same category as terrorists – literally,” said American rapper Jerome Almon, CEO of Murdercap Records.
24 May 2006
USA: ‘Fortress America’ denies access to musicians
Cellist Yo-Yo Ma leads an impassioned campaign to ease the visa crisis for musicians visiting the ‘Land of the Free’.
15 May 2006
Zimbabwean gospel diva Fungisai Zvakavapano denied UK visa
A London-based Zimbabwe news website quoted a British Embassy official as citing fear that she might not return to Zimbabwe after her tour as a reason for refusing her a visa
02 November 2004
New US study on cultural exchanges since September 11
U.S Homeland Security and State departments are encouraged to “work together to improve the current visa situation…so it is less of a barrier for foreign visitors, artists, and scholars, and for the presenters who invite them”
10 September 2004

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