Quoted in The Bookseller Condeming a Visa Refusal

An Iranian childrens’ book illustrator Ehsan Abdollahi has been denied a visa to visit the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Publishers have branded the decision “disgusting”.

The Bookseller broke the story and I’m quoted in Heloise Wood’s report, commenting for English PEN.

Robert Sharp told The Bookseller that the visa refusal was “a worrying decision”. He said: “It denies Ehsan Abdollahi the chance to speak about his work, and it denies British audiences the chance to meet and learn from an internationally acclaimed artist.

“Book festivals are a fantastic way to promote cultural exchange and the British publishing industry. Unfortunately, the rigid UK visa requirements can prove an impossible hurdle for some artists.”

He added that in recent years the Home Office had developed routes for artists to visit the UK, and ministers have always said that they want to encourage artists to visit, but said this case shows that there are still “gaps” in its provision. “The government should review how the system is working for festivals and small arts organisations,” he said.

English PEN and the Manifesto Club spent many years campaigning against the strict U.K. visa rules that uniquely discriminated against artists. The Home Office did introduce a new visa route for short paid visits, and a long-term visa for artists of ‘Exceptional Talent’. But the refusal of Mr Abdollahi’s application to attend such a prestigious festival suggests that the rules are still not quite right.

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