Home Office urged to waive £18,000 visa fee for Ukrainian orchestra to perform at BBC Proms
The Home Office has been asked to waive visa fees for a Ukrainian orchestra facing £18,000 fees to perform at the BBC Proms and the Edinburgh Festival.
The Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra, which includes refugee musicians fleeing Vladimir Putin’s war, faces a battle to secure funds for the visas required to play at a series of major cultural events in the UK later this summer.
Orchestra members will need a Tier 5 Creative Worker Visa to perform in the UK at a cost of £259 per person. As the band need some 70 visas to perform, they face a cumulative bill of over £18,000.
A Home Office spokesperson told The Standard they would ‘discuss options’ with the orchestra on how they could enter the UK.
The orchestra, led by Ukrainian-Canadian conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson, includes musicians from some of Ukraine’s leading classical music groups. They will begin a European tour in Warsaw on July 28 before performing at the Proms on July 31 and the Edinburgh Festival on August 6.
Mark Pemberton, chief executive of the Association of British Orchestras, said it would be “morally repugnant” if the orchestra had to pay and called on the government to grant them an exemption.
“The Orchestra just doesn’t have the funds. There are fantastic venues ready to host these concerts but the money is not there to pay for visas,” he told Standard.
“These are people who had to leave their country. They are refugees but they come as ambassadors of their country, to raise awareness of the war.
Mr Pemberton, who provides logistical assistance to the group, said ministers could waive the visa requirement on an “exceptional” basis, allowing the orchestra to enter the country free of charge.
“It could be good news that the government could be credited with, so we ask them to help this orchestra to come and perform,” he added.
“It would be a wonderful gesture…but the irony is that our European colleagues have already done it.”
The Ukrainian Ministry of Culture has already granted a special combat exemption to male members of orchestras who are of serving age.
The orchestra also received public support from Ukraine’s Culture Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko, who said his country’s art “is original and deserves to be the center of attention abroad”.
Labor MP Barbara Keeley, shadow minister for arts and civil society, said the fee was “absurd” because the orchestra was to perform for free in France, Germany and the Netherlands.
“This orchestra didn’t have the normal flow of funds as a result of the war,” she told Standard. “We should do everything to bring Ukrainian musicians to this country and allow them to perform.”
Ms Keeley, MP for Worsley and Eccles South, wrote to the Home Office on May 31 about the delays but has yet to receive a response. She also raised the issue of the delays during Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, but Boris Johnson told her to raise the matter with the Home Secretary.
“There must be a special exemption for these orchestras,” she said. “The point I made in the House of Commons that our EU neighbors have abolished visas. If Ukrainians want to go to Ireland they don’t need visas but they do need them to come in London.
“It’s good that we give Ukraine the support it needs militarily and in other ways, but it’s also important. We can do something about it – and it’s not a huge amount of money for the government to give up.
The BBC is supposed to film a segment involving the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra for the Proms, but could face an “embarrassing” situation if it was unable to secure the visas, Ms Keeley said.
The Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra was created in collaboration with the Metropolitan Opera of New York and the Polish National Opera. All proceeds from the tour will be used to support Ukrainian artists.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “In response to Putin’s barbaric invasion, we have launched one of the fastest and largest visa programs in UK history, with over 120,000 visas issued for Ukrainians to live and work in the UK.
“Although we have not yet received an official application from the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra, we are aware of this problem and, if they apply, we will discuss options with them and their British sponsors on how they apply to enter the UK for the events. In the question.”
The Edinburgh Festival has been contacted for comment.
The BBC declined to comment.