James McCarthy, Media Wales (Cardiff), June 4, 2009
STRICT new visa controls have left a ballet company facing closure.
The Ballet Russe has for the past 10 years had Bolshoi-trained dancers working from Swansea.
But it is now facing closure after months of expensive negotiations trying to get work permits for its dancers.
At one point the UK Border Agency even suggested they use locals instead.
Director Celia Kirkby said: “We are made up of all Russian dancers and have been at the Grand Theatre for 10 years.
“The dancers go home every summer to visit their families and this year we could not get them back because of changes to immigration rules. Six of our dancers we need to get back. So the company just isn’t performing. It’s a tragedy.”
She added: “The UK Border Agency were not interested in any aspects of the case. Their starting position was: ‘If you want dancers use the local labour force.’
“But there are very few dancers in the world trained in the Russian style, let alone in the UK, Wales or Swansea.
“They said we should advertise in the local and national newspapers.”
The visa controls are part of the Government’s new points-based immigration system. The rules for touring artists came into effect last November. Artists must show they have £800 savings and require monitoring by a ‘sponsor’ to make sure they do not abscond.
A report by anti-red tape campaigners The Manifesto Club, titled UK Arts and Culture: Cancelled by Order of the Home Office, found more than 20 major events had been cancelled or badly affected by the new rules.
A UK Border Agency spokesman said: “We are determined to deliver a system of border security which is among the most secure in the world. It combines more than 80 pre- existing work and study routes into the United Kingdom into five tiers.
“Any organisation which used to bring entertainers into the UK under the old work permit system is welcome to apply to the UK Border Agency to become a sponsor–allowing them to employ foreign workers under the new points-based system. If an organisation does not apply to become a sponsor, it will be unable to employ skilled migrant workers through the points-based system.”