The article below is in today's NYTimes, and a subject close to my heart
just now, having been through complete hell acquiring a visa to play at the
Walker Center in Minneapolis 2 weeks ago. I figure there must be a lot of
artists/cultural commentators on rumori, and some of you possibly aren't
aware of this widespread problem, which is crippling international
festivals/seminars and is not only going to send some smaller ventures
underground or bankrupt, but is going to stop people in the US from even
attempting to introduce cultural diversity into their programs.
All visitors to the US are facing potentially extreme interrogation just now
(both business and pleasure) and to an extent this is understandable and
this is not my point in writing, but the 01 Visa (for artists and athletes) is
being particularly affected because the US consider this lowest priority in
the current climate. When the Walker Center applied for my visa (for ONE
concert) they waited for 3 months, then just 3 weeks ago received a three
page fax which was frankly intimidating, asking for the most ridiculous
amount of details of me, they had to pay approximately $1400 just to get
the application seen, and I had to send a begging letter to the Arts
Council, ICA, BBC and so on to get references saying that I was worthy of
visiting a US institution. In the end it took several phonecalls from the
British Council in America and the assistant to a Minnesota
Congressman to get them to even approve the Visa. And this was just to
get an approval, so that I could even hand in an application. They finally
approved the Visa with only 4 working days before I left for America and
then I had to do the equivalent of an army assault course (British readers -
think in terms of "It's a Knockout") to get a Visa appointment, and all along
the way was told that they didn't have to give me the embassy fax number,
they didn't have to give me an appointment... I received the Visa interview
with 36 hours to spare. And I am a white female living in England. Had I
been male there would have been more forms. A Cuban woman
performing the day before me at the festival just didn't get to come, the FBI
kept her papers.
Had I not really really wanted to come over to America, if I didn't particularly
care for America, I would have told them to stuff their Visa, and believe
me, I got to the stage where I considered this.
I don't normally send this kind of rant to a list I'm on, but this situation is
completely disgusting, and I'm wondering who's freedom is being
protected here and how convenient it is that strangers stay put at home
and take up cross stitching and basket weaving rather than going out
causing trouble in places they don't belong, especially if they aren't white
Christians. Am very worried that this tightening up is just the new norm,
not a temporary situation. Granted, many people who play in the US (or
come to the UK, which is also following the US way to an extent) don't
require a Visa because they work cash in hand. But well, doesn't this
sound familiar, as soon as you stick your head over the radar in an
attempt to become a more respected or noted artist who can therefore
make some changed outside of their normal parameters they want to
shoot your head off. In my own little bubble of an artist's world I feel that
this is a parallel situation to many that we concern ourselves with here, as
above so below. Particularly below.
One Visa Problem Costs a Festival Two Filmmakers
October 1, 2002
By CELESTINE BOHLEN
The internationally acclaimed Iranian film director Abbas
Kiarostami, who won the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 1997 for "A
Taste of Cherry," was unable to get a United States visa in
time to attend the premiere of his new film, "Ten," at the
New York Film Festival last Saturday, prompting his friend
and fellow director Aki Kaurismaki of Finland to boycott
the festival in protest.
"If international cultural exchange is prevented, what is
left?" asked Mr. Kaurismaki, whose new film "The Man
Without a Past" will be shown at this year's festival. "The
exchange of arms?"
Mr. Kiarostami, 62, who has been to the United States seven
times in the course of his career, was told this month at
the United States Embassy in Paris that the earliest he
could get permission to come into the country was December.
Stringent new rules, put in place after last year's
terrorist attacks, now require a three-month background
check on some applicants for United States visas, in
particular those from Muslim countries.
After news of Mr. Kiarostami's visa problems circulated in
Europe, Mr. Kaurismaki announced that he would stay away
from the festival as a gesture of solidarity. In a prepared
statement, he wrote, "Not with anger (which has never
brought anything good) but with deep sorrow" he had learned
that the Iranian director was refused a visa because of his
If the United States authorities do not want "an Iranian,
they will hardly have any use for a Finn, either," he
wrote. "We do not even have the oil."
The new visa requirements have created a logjam in the
approval process, both at the regional offices of the
Immigration and Naturalization Service and at United States
The backup has left performers, students and academics
stranded, while wreaking havoc on cultural programs across
the country and throwing future plans into doubt. "The
reaction that this has engendered makes you wonder what the
sense of this policy is," said Richard Peña, director of
the New York Film Festival, which opened on Sept. 27.
Mr. Peña said Mr. Kiarostami had traveled to Paris to apply
for the visa because the United States had no diplomatic
representation in Iran. But when he was told that his
application would undergo the three-month background check,
he refused to make any special appeal on the ground that
his career as a film director should speak for itself, Mr.
Peña said. "If that wasn't good enough, then he was not
going to come," he said.
Last summer several members of an Iranian theatrical
troupe, scheduled to perform at the Lincoln Center
Festival, were denied visas on the grounds that they might
decide to stay in the United States as economic refugees.
And just last month Chucho Valdés, a Grammy Award-winning
jazz pianist from Cuba, was denied entry into the United
States for a series of fall performances, because he, too,
had to submit to a lengthy screening process. Mr. Valdés
was one of 22 Cuban musicians who were unable to obtain
visas in time to attend the Latin Grammy Awards in Los
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