Circuses facing shortage of tightrope walkers
Circuses are facing a shortage of tightrope walkers, trapeze artists and acrobats because of problems with tough new immigration rules, MPs are to hear
By Christopher Hope, Whitehall Editor
Last Updated: 6:07PM GMT 02 Mar 2009
Circuses facing shortage of performers because of immigraion laws
Big top performers have been subject to a new points based system which was introduced at end of November to crack down on illegal immigration.
But circus ringmasters will tell MPs that problems with the computer software and poor awareness among British embassy staff is causing delays ahead of the busy circus season.
Around half of the 500 circus performers who come to the UK every year need new short term visas, lasting a few months, because they are coming from outside the European Union.
However, teething problems mean that circuses are running short of some performers from outside the European Union.
The worst hit acts are likely to be horse riders flying trapeze artists, acrobats and tightrope or high wire troupes which traditionally come from South America and Russia.
The issue will be raised in front of MPs on the Commons' home affairs select committee.
Martin Lacey, owner of the Great British Circus, said that he had to draft in emergency performers at short notice because of the problems.
He said: “We have got clowns in the Ukraine who cannot come to work. I have got Mongolian riders stuck in Ulan Batur and the British embassy is being most unhelpful.
“The right hand does not know what the left hand is doing. I have got a clown who is using a flying trapeze artist as his stooge because his stooge is stranded in Mexico. It is a mess.”
Malcolm Clay, secretary of the Association of Circus Proprietors of Great Britain, said: “The introduction of the new system has been rushed through – and the technology cannot cope.
It was too early to say how badly the delays would affect the circus season, which reaches its peak just before Easter.
He said: “We don't know how long the applications are going to take.
“We are finding that British embassies around the world who receive the applications do not understand the system and we are getting knocked back.”
The association said internet software used for the new system was also not set up properly to deal with large troupes of performers, and was aimed at individual applicants.
Mr Clay said: “A lot of it is being done online but it is not as good as it could be. No one had a trial run. It should not have been rushed like this.”
Part of the problem was that performers had to leave their passports with a local British embassy for up to two weeks.
This hardly suited the lifestyle of performers who are rarely on one place for more than a week.
He said: “We are dealing with people who are constantly on tour. At some stage they have to leave their passports. If they are on tour they have to go back to retrieve them.”
British circuses are forced to rely heavily on foreign talent because of a tradition of foreign state circuses supplying tumblers, high wire acts, acrobats and trapeze artists.
He said: “The people who go to the circus schools in Britain want to learn the skills as a hobby but not as a career. They want to perform occasionally at the weekend.
“We get a lot of acts from eastern European countries, China and Mongolia where they have a long standing tradition of state circus schools.”
Mr Clay said the new system was an improvement on the old scheme, which could involve a Mexican troupe in Italy having to fly back to their central America to apply for a British visa.
The new system also allows registered circus owners to vouchsafe for the stature of performers coming to the UK. Previously the performers had to prove their international standing.
A UK Border Agency spokesman said: We welcome the contribution of performers but it is important that everyone who comes to this country plays by the same rules.
We are determined to deliver a system of border security which is among the most secure in the world.
That is why we have introduced the new points based system – part of the biggest shake up to the immigration system in a generation.
It is a fair, transparent and objective system that will enable potential migrants to assess their likelihood of making a successful application.
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