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How UK Immigration breaks up touring orchestras and leaves cellists in the cold

Shane Woodborne had been planning to visit Britain last February with the Camerata Salzburg, in which he is a cellist, accompanying Hilary Hahn on a short tour. As a South African citizen, he had to travel to Vienna and complete a biometric application, which he did in good time. He received no reply and the tour went ahead without him. His passport was returned a week after the tour ended.

Two letters of complaint, by the general manager of the Camerata and the agent Harold Clarkson of IMG, went unanswered.

The UK Immigration Service is getting a bad name for mishandling legitimate applications. Shane is not taking it lying down. He has written to the chair of the House of Commons home affairs committee, Keith Vaz, requesting an inquiry. Here’s his letter:

Auerspergstrasse 10/33
5020 Salzburg
The Rt Hon Keith Vaz
c/o Clerk of the Home Affairs Committee
House of Commons
7 Millbank
Dear Mr. Vaz,
The purpose of this letter is to appeal for clear, simple visa requirements for artists visiting the United Kingdom
for a short period, and to appeal for a friendly, helpful service from the UKBA towards highly -qualified artists
who are invited to perform in the UK.
My case is detailed in the accompanying complaint to the UKBA.
I wish to raise five points in which I found the service lacking:
1) Artists from countries requiring a visa, such as myself, are not terrorists or potential scroungers of public
funds. I have 2 university diplomas, an excellent position in a world – famous orchestra for the past 20 years, am
a recognized composer in the Salzburg area and – as a board member of the orchestra -have made a significant
contribution in programming and commissioning works of British composers in my sphere of influence. The
tone of the UKBA Homepage and Guidelines suggests that applicants are primarily concerned with handing in
forged documents, faking figures and intent on illegal activities. The phrase ” your application will be refused ”
appears 2 660 times. All I would have needed was a checklist.
2) On application in Vienna – that is after paying 238 Euro and travelling 300 km to have my biometric details
taken – it was stated ” The officer at the counter does not provide information what documents to submit”. Why
not ?
3) It took 29 days to process my application and return it from Warsaw. This should be no longer than one week.
4) My refusal of entry clearance was objectively absolutely unwarranted. The crux of the refusal was
maintenance and dependant on how one wished to view the matter. This could have been cleared if there had
been sufficient communication as suggested in 1. and 2.
5) It cost me in excess of 400 Euro to be refused entry into the UK, not to mention the loss of income, and
two letters of complaint, firstly from the General – Manager of a leading Austrian Cultural Institution and
secondly from the senior Vice President of the London – based International Artists Management, remain
unanswered and ignored. Is this service?
I remain,
yours sincerely,
Shane Woodborne

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  1. Lukas FIERZ says:

    How scandalous. Please keep us updated in the reply of the British officials.

  2. Way to polite! A disgrace to be treated such, :(

  3. Stuart Green says:

    You should have used a Muslim name!! No problem then. To be serious it is outrageous the way you were treated,I’m ashamed of my birth country. Thank goodness I don’t live there anymore.

  4. Mark Peters says:

    I wanted to say “that’s unbelievable Shane” – but unfortunately this kind of thing is in keeping with the kind of opaque and ridiculous measures of control which becomes rifer by the day in the so-called “first world”. Sorry to hear of your strife but nice to see a picture of you and hear of your successful career! All the best, Mark Peters

  5. bratschegirl says:

    It’s… erm… nice? to know that it’s not only the US that is ridiculous about such things… I guess…

  6. Steve Kirby says:

    Very disappointing to hear of Shane’s case. The management of the Border Agency has clearly been a mess for the past year or so. It seems to be an understaffed organisation delivering ever changing regulations driven by immigration paranoia. We could do with a more confident ‘front door’ to our nation, which actually welcomes people as valued guests rather than expecting the worst of them.

  7. But could this happen to Shane again when he next applies for a UK visa?
    Whatever happened to the “civil” service?

  8. This is disgusting.

    It will be no comfort to Mr Woodborne but may interest him to know that in the twenty years since the collapse of the iron curtain I, with my British passport, have spent more time in Dover and been asked more humiliating questions (“what is the purpose of your trip?” – “are you carrying any weapons?”) there than at any other border in Europe.

    British Immigration officials need to drive from Britain to Greece via Poland and the Czech Republic, compare experiences and reconsider.

  9. Stuart Green says:

    You should have used a muslim name or told them you are Eastern European. Seriously I’m ashamed of my birth country,but at least I don’t live there anymore.

  10. The behaviour of UKBA staff in this case appears unjust and unprofessional. British officials have a responsibility to provide the service for which visa applicants are paying, and to set an example of fairness and efficiency – surely values for which the country would wish to be known.

    Performances by visiting high-level professional musicians enrich British society and should be encouraged. Unless an individual poses a genuine security threat, there can be no justification for denying entry in these circumstances. Assuming Mr Woodborne fulfilled any set time deadlines for visa applications and a mistake was made by British officials or locally-engaged staff, the least UKBA could do is to refund his application fees and apologise to him promptly – and to Camerata Salzburg who doubtless had to find a deputy at short notice and extra cost.

  11. I can only say that as an Australian citizen with permanent residency in Germany, this is consitent with my experience. Even when entering the country as a tourist for a week or so, the questions posed by Immigration officers seem to presume that I wish to live and work illegally in the UK in spite of the evidence that i am gainfully employed elsewhere in Europe. I find this an unusual attitude considering our countries’ shared history and in contradistinction to that of my many British friends.

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