The Infamous Glasgow Effect

I am writing this blog in retrospect and I was looking at my calendar from February 2016 to remind me of what happened then to write the next post.

There’s a scheduled talk about The Glasgow Effect, the controversial project by artist Ellie Harrison that caused a stir in Scotland two years ago. This might seem disconnected from the central theme of this blog – my saga to defeat the UK Home Office and win the right to remain in Scotland long-term, but bear with me.

You can read about the project in various other blogs and media outlets: my main recommendations would be Jen McGregor’s blog, The Courier, The Wee Review. But please also read Ellie Harrison’s own account of the project on her website and draw your own conclusions about where you stand on the merits of the project itself.

Two years and another significant stooshie involving Creative Scotland on, there are two aspects of the project relevant to my life that I would like to pick up on: artists’ mobility and the funding process operating here.

I put in a Freedom of Information request to see Harrison’s original application to Creative Scotland and its assessment. At the application stage, the project was called Think Global, Act Local and it had at its core a rejection of the current model that values internationalisation of the arts, encouraging artists to take their work all over the world, participating in global events. Harrison’s stance is rooted, rightly so, in a deep concern for the environment, stating that the project is about reducing her own carbon footprint by refusing to travel outside of the (at the time of application) Strathclyde region. Honourable as this may sound, I began to think about what that meant for someone like me. It’s not too bad to lead a successful career as an artist in a city like Glasgow, fourth largest in the UK and flourishing with festivals, venues, partners, and opportunities. All things that do not exist (or do, to a much smaller extent) in my hometown.

In her post-project report at the start of 2017, Harrison called herself an ‘economic migrant’. I think it’s safe to assume she did not have to go through the motions of applying for a visa to move from England to Scotland (if only we’d won the Indyref, but alas…), so that made me feel uncomfortable. My problem with this aspect of The Glasgow Effect was how simplistic and one-dimensional it was. Here I stand, having to jump through all sorts of loops (which has now taken years of my life) to satisfy the powers that be that my work as a Brazilian artist [?] has value in Scotland, so forgive me if I feel discomfort and – yes – anger at hearing a successful British artist with a steady job, many gigs, and public support call herself an ‘economic migrant’ and claiming that you can be just as successful making work in your back garden.

The other thing that rubbed me up the wrong way was the funding process itself. As I understand, the Open Project funding guidelines clearly stated the funding should not be used for academic research purposes. Harrison declares on her application that the funding would be use to relieve her of teaching duties at the Duncan of Jordanstone College in Dundee to free up her time and save her the travel. It then emerged she would give the money to the college to hire her replacement, and that this application was submitted as part of her work as a lecturer/researcher. Though the college eventually withdrew support and granted her unpaid leave so she could keep the funding, Creative Scotland never quite clarified the breach of their own guidelines in this case. This happened when I was in the second term of my first year as a PhD student, thinking about how I was going to fund my research practice and being told with all letters that I would not be able to apply for Open Project funds. With an increasingly large number of artists straddling academia (out of necessity or genuine curiosity), maybe Creative Scotland should revise its guidelines, particularly after accidentally funding an academic research project.

The project shifted its shape, content, aims, many times throughout the year and I am still not entirely sure of its outcomes. What remains and every so often returns, however, is this wave of angst. I am still angry at Ellie Harrison. Not for creating the project, not for getting funded, but for having an excellent platform and not tackling deeper issues. For not actually challenging the educational system and the current industry models as she said she would, for missing an opportunity of speaking up for all the actual migrant artists whose work is measured solely on mobility and grandiose for the purposes of an Exceptional Talent visa. For not turning her privilege and position on its head and making a really radical decision of pointing out the flaws in the process. I kept expecting her to turn around and say that this was the game all along, but that didn’t happen. And now, just over two years on, I don’t know what Ellie is doing, but I’m still bending over backwards working more than I should to dig myself out of my overdraft, to pay for my PhD out of my own pocket, and trying to create internationally relevant work so I stand a smidge of a chance of remaining in Scotland.

 

 

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Have you considered…?

Yes, I have. I know, I know, you’re just trying to help and I’m being rude. But trust me, I have investigated all possible routes to go back to Scotland legally. No, I have no intention of doing it illegally. I want to go back to continue my work in theatre that I started in 2006 (yes, I’m counting from 1st year as I got involved with extracurricular activities pretty soon), not to hide in someone’s basement living in fear of the racist vans.

After failing twice to get an Exceptional Talent visa, I looked into other categories. Other Tier 1 and 2 (work visas) that I could potentially get included the General/Skilled Migrant and Entrepreneur visas. The General work visa is a massive catch-22 situation: I can’t get a job that fulfills all requirements because I don’t have a work permit, and I can’t get a work permit unless I am offered a job that fulfills all requirements. The main requirement being a £21,000 salary. I love explaining that to friends that work in different fields. Those who work in finance, business management, teaching, etc. don’t think it’s a big deal. The ones in the arts scream in despair that it’s too much money. There aren’t many jobs that offer that level of pay in the arts, and the few that do will have hundreds of people applying. Tough. But what about my other occupation, as a translator? Can I not just get a job doing that? Money-wise, if I dedicated myself to translating full-time for a UK-based agency, I would probably make that in a year. The problem here is that most agencies work on freelance contracts, and the Home Office really doesn’t like that word. That takes us to the Entrepreneur visa. I have a theatre company registered as a business in Scotland, but unless I have £200,000 invested in it (or a £50,000 grant), I am not eligible for this one. Remember that bit about not managing to make £20k a year? Yeah. That’s the Entrepreneur visa out of the picture too.

No, I don’t have a boyfriend, girlfriend, or just a really generous friend who makes £27,000 a year and wants to marry me either. Yes, it is all about the money. I’m not being shallow, the Home Office makes the rules. I’m not comfortable putting such a burden on someone else’s shoulders and the additional stress is too much. I’ve read and witnessed enough stories of people torn apart and to pieces because of this one – epic ordeals, long and expensive legal actions, humiliation, resulting in heartbreak and terrible damage to their physical and mental health. I’ll steer clear from the Spouse/Family/Unmarried Partner visas too, thank you very much.

No, I can’t prove any European ancestry, sorry. It’s quite evident that at some point someone moved from Spain or Portugal to what is now known as Brazil, carrying my family name and white(ish) skin with them, but that was so many generations ago that I can’t even find them. Spanish and Portuguese colonisers weren’t as good at keeping record and sticking to tradition as the Italians and Germans, so it would be almost a miracle to find out which of my great-great-great grandparents came from where. My dad didn’t even have the same surname as his brothers, all born to the same father and mother and I still don’t know why that is. So no, unlike most Brazilians with permanent residency in the UK and beyond, I can’t acquire a funky second passport with a EU stamp.

I’m left with two choices: the Tier 5 – Temporary Creative Workers Visa and a new Tier 4 Student Visa. Biting the bullet and becoming a postgraduate student is very tempting at this stage – not only for immigration purposes, but I’ve been told over and over again that I should invest in further study because it’s the thing to do these days. I need to consider institutions, courses and funding, though. Alternatively, I can try and get involved with a temporary project that will help me get a Tier 5 seal of approval. This is late November, 2014 – still taking advantage of my visitor visa, I decide to stop looking at long-term solutions and buy time instead. To be continued…

Not Talented Enough for the UK

Most people reading this post are friends who already know the outcome of this whole saga. Irrespective of your knowledge of my ordeal, however, I would like to ask you to please read this with a sense of revolt rather than pity.

As you can imagine from the title and introduction above, I have been deemed not talented enough by the Arts Council of England for the second time, and therefore not eligible for a Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa. I can’t go back to Edinburgh and continue my work there. I will have to run around my friends’ houses to collect my things they’ve been keeping for me and find a way of disposing of them/shipping them back to Brazil. I will have to decide what to do with my Scottish-registered theatre company. I will have to change my plans and my career.

 

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If you haven’t been through something like this, you can’t really know how painful it is. Granted, I’m not a refugee or asylum seeker and there are millions of people out there who desperately need to migrate as it is a life or death situation for them. But with all due respect, this feels a bit like dying to me. It feels like I’ve been removed from my life. You know when you go through a personal tragedy of some sort, but you have your work to focus on, your friends who lend a helping hand, the rest of your surroundings to help you through? Well, that whole network of support is what has been taken from me. You can put things in boxes and into storage, but you can’t do the same with a career and with people.

I’m being punished for not being good enough, and I’m constantly reminded of that when I answer the questions I get almost daily about this. One good thing that has come out of it is that I’ve honed my storytelling and communication skills to perfection, being forced to adjust the register between talking my 30-something friends and cousins who are doctors and lawyers, and talking to my 80-year-old auntie who didn’t go to uni. Oh, and I’ve had to tell the story many times in three languages as well. But I’m not exceptionally talented, so don’t mind me.

 

 

 

Windmills and Visas

(This is not a post about Holland)

In October 2013, the UK Home Office published some small changes to the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa, adding the ‘Exceptional Promise’ subcategory. That gave quite a few of us outcasts a teeny weeny smidge of hope. Instead of convincing the powers that be that you are a BAFTA-winning director, now you have the chance to prove that you have the potential to become one someday. Ok, then. They also split the process in two: first you apply for endorsement from a “competent organ” (in my case, the Arts Council of England), and only if you are endorsed you apply for the visa itself. On the one hand, this made the process a bit fairer, as you only pay half the fee when applying for endorsement (that’s £420 – yes, this is half), and the other half only at the second stage of the application (so you don’t lose £840 in one go, like I did in 2013 when my first application for this visa was refused). On the other hand, the process became longer and slower.

Now, I am stubborn. And I’m a lover of lost causes, someone who functions on high levels of hope and denial. Don Quixote is one of my favourite stories (maybe because we have some stained glass windows depicting Quixote, Sancho and Dulcinea in my parents’ house and I grew up looking at them) and I have always been fascinated by windmills and wind turbines. Therefore, although I knew that this would become a quixotesque saga, I decided I was going to try again.

Recapping: I came back to Brazil from my last European trek (Edinburgh > Bristol > Lisbon > Paris > Metz > Basel) at the end of September and then had two Scottish friends visiting and went travelling a bit around South America with them (Buenos Aires > Colonia > Montevideo > Cabo Polonio > Riveramento > Porto Alegre > Cambará do Sul > Torres > Capão Novo). Then I went to Brasilia in December for a residency with my hero Eugenio Barba. It is now January 2014, when I sit down to work on my new visa application.

I analyse the guidelines and what is needed. Reviews, features, anything that shows you’ve been given attention from the media. National and international. This visa is aimed at people who are moving to the UK for the first time, which is not my case. I have media clippings related to my work in Scotland since 2010, already organised. I add clippings from Brazilian newspapers about the project I did in my hometown(s) in 2013. Now, it’s one thing to get national media attention in Scotland, and another thing to get national media attention in fucking Brazil. Scotland is smaller than my home state, and I lived in the capital. Brazil is a gigantic country, and I live in its southern borders, a forgotten place. As cool as my project was, and as much attention as it received locally, it wouldn’t make national news, it’s insane to think it would. So I just added what I had from local newspapers. The only other thing I could attach to make a stronger case was an email exchange with the editor of Performatus, an ejournal about theatre and performance, confirming that our project would feature in a book curated by them about interesting performance pieces that happened in Portuguese-speaking territory between 2010 and 2013. I thought it looked good.

Ok, next: awards and nominations. I just used the same as last time, as I haven’t been nominated for, or received any new awards in the past year. Sorry.

Then: three letters of recommendation. They say these will carry more weight, and one of them must be from a UK individual or organisation. These referees must be carefully selected. Last time, I had lovely letters from ZENDEH and the Forest , but they weren’t considered ‘international enough’, as per my first rejection. So I asked for letters from the Centre for Integration of the Mercosul, which represents the International Relations course of the Federal University of Pelotas, in Brazil, with whom I worked in Explorers; from my friend Jen as the UK individual, an extremely competent theatre director and writer whose studio theatre has been getting a lot of attention in Edinburgh; and from Eugenio Barba & Julia Varley, representing the Odin Teatret, possibly the most global of theatre companies, and who are celebrating their 50th anniversary as a theatre in 2014. This looked like a very strong and promising line-up.

Finally, and this is NOT a requirement, just something that occurred to me as a harmless thing to do and potential bonus points: I asked everyone who had ever worked with me and wanted to help to write me a short testimonial. Obviously, not everyone did, but I ended up with a good compilation of 20 pages and a really warm heart.

I worked on this application from the first days of January until mid-March, and I posted it (yes, in this day and age we are still using postal services for that kind of thing) on St Patrick’s Day. And then we all waited.

 

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Bristol with an L

After my visa refusal in April last year, I decided I was going to Edinburgh for the Fringe anyway, just for a visit, as there’s absolutely nowhere else in the world I’d rather be in August. Prior to my trip, I started hearing horror stories about people who were seeking entry to the UK as tourists but were refused and deported. I’d read a couple of them online, via the Manifesto Club, and the third one was told by a friend. His niece went to London to study English for a month and wasn’t refused entry after all, but only after she answered a number of pointless questions about her family and their lives in Brazil. Subsequently, the immigration agents called her dad and asked the same questions and the answers had to match. Needless to say, I was terrified I wasn’t going to be allowed to visit my friends in the city I’d lived in for 6 years.

I proceeded to gather as much information as possible and be prepared to be grilled at Edinburgh Airport. I think I’ve memorised the whole of the UK Home Office website by now (it was still the UK Border Agency then). I pre-warned my friends picking me up that it might be a while until they let me through, and that there was a chance of not actually being allowed in.

As the plane landed in Edinburgh, I started to cry. My heart was pounding, and it was all a concoction of feelings ranging from happiness at being back and fear of being sent away again. I filled out my landing card, waited in a long queue and finally arrived at the desk. A lovely, really polite lady was my immigration officer that day – one of the reasons why I always preferred to connect somewhere in continental Europe and then fly straight to Edinburgh rather than to London, where people who work at airports seem to be miserable and sadistic. She took my card and passport, asked me where I’d flown in from. “Paris” – And are you here on holiday? “Yes” – Where are you staying? “With friends, and here’s a couple of letters to confirm this” – Are your friends Brazilian? “No, they’re both Scottish” – Ok, how do you know Kirsty? “Through work” – And how do you know Jennifer? “Uni” – So you lived here before? (checks out my last visa, still on passport) “Yes, for 6 years. Had a student visa for 4 years, then a post-study work visa for another 2, which is the one you can see there” – Ok, good. Have you ever had any issues with Immigration before? “Yes, and I know that this is why your computer’s beeping” – Can you tell me about it? “I’ve applied for a Tier Exceptional Talent visa and was refused” – Why was that? “Because I’m not exceptionally talented” – (smiles) What did your refusal letter say? “Ehhh, no, love” – Pardon? “They didn’t give me a reason, they just said no” – Are you sure? “Yes, I am. I actually ended up filing a Freedom of Information request to the Arts Council of England to get more detailed feedback, which was still vague. Look, I could tell you the whole story, if you want, but let’s just say I also contacted the British Consul in Rio and she said herself she wasn’t clear how this visa worked” – I see. So what did you study while in Edinburgh? “Drama and Theatre Arts. Got a First. Want to see my diploma? I have it here” – No, thanks. And now are you living in Brazil? “Yes, I am” – What do you do over there? “I’m working as a teacher and translator. Here’s a letter from my employer” – Oh, good, thanks. And do you live in a rented property? “No, I own a flat with my sister” – Ok. So is that why you requested an Exceptional Talent visa, for your work with languages? “Erm… no. For my work in theatre” – Oh, so have you done that sort of thing before? “Yes, I’m a director and producer. I worked in theatre throughout my 6 years in Edinburgh” – That’s lovely. And are you staying for… 3 months? “Yes. Here’s a copy of my return ticket” – It’s an awfy long time to see friends, isn’t it? “Miss, I lived here for 6 years. I have a fair amount of friends to visit. But I’m not spending all 3 months in Edinburgh, I’m also going to Portugal for a wedding, then I’ll come back to fly out from here” – Ah, ok. When are you going to Portugal? “Just after the Fringe. Wedding is on the 14th September, I’m a bridesmaid” – (smiles) That’s nice. So, you said you’re working as a teacher, but how can you go away for 3 months? “I don’t work at a regular school, it’s a language school for business people. We tailor our courses according to the students’ needs, so there isn’t a regular calendar of classes” – Ok, I get it. Look, have a seat over there, I’ll need to take all this with me in there and just cross-check a few things. (goes off for another 20 minutes) – Right, Miss D’Avila, let me explain this: I’m allowing you through, but there is a stamp with a code here meaning that when you come back from Portugal, you might be asked to produce all this information again. Is that clear? “Sure thing. Well, thank you”

Almost an hour later, I’m allowed in.

Toni Nealie is a writer from New Zealand who lives and works in Chicago, and has had her fair share of immigration trouble. I completely identify with her feelings, thus described: “Being viewed as a potential threat diminishes you, fractures a personal landscape, peels off pieces of bark until you are raw. You begin to suspect your own legitimacy, your place in the long, snaking lines of mainly brown people waiting for their numbers to come up. Are you trying to sneak through a keyhole into a society that doesn’t want you? are you in the shadows of illegality? could they deport you? could they make you disappear?”. Her heartfelt narrative of her own airport trials can be found in full here. It really is a bizarre situation to be in.

When I stepped out of the airport and was taken to Cramond Island for a picnic with my friends, I felt like it was the first time I’d breathed in almost a year. And I had a wonderful month and a bit in Edinburgh, and then took a train to Bristol to see a long-lost friend and from there I flew to Lisbon.

I arrived in Lisbon with another thick stack of photocopies of everything I reckoned I’d need to be allowed in the country. I was a tad more concerned, because my friend getting married was Brazilian, but I had all her details, including her residency number. Not having a copy of the actual wedding invitation was another thing making me nervous, and I was kicking myself internally for forgetting to do that. I waited in a queue for 40 minutes and then arrived at the desk. [following dialogue was in Portuguese] – Good evening. “Evening (hands over passport)” – Where are you flying from? “Bristol” – See, when you say that word in English, you pronounce the L at the end, don’t you? “Yes…? Bristollll” – Ha. That’s funny. (stamps passport) Welcome to Lisbon.

Yep. That was all.

Some people get kicked out of bars, some people get kicked out of countries

One of my best friends once taught me that good artists steal, so the above line was stolen from a Bacardi ad. If you’re reading this and don’t know me personally, hi, I’m Flav and I’m an alcoholic a theatre director/producer Brazilian. I’m starting this blog because something very bad happened to me recently and putting things in writing as if I’m talking to someone helps organise my thoughts. Also, because the whole situation is too ridiculous to bear alone, and I’m sure there are quite a few people out there going through similar predicaments. I say we find each other and start a support group. Anyway, if you’re new to my life you have to catch up and if you can’t be arsed reading, here’s a video of my telling this story. If you’ve been around me for long enough, you know what I’m talking about and may stop reading now.

I moved to Scotland in 2006 to study Drama and Theatre Arts, which was something I’d wanted to do for years. I had a Tier 4 Student Visa for 4 years, at the end of which I graduated with a First Class Honours (nae bad for an international student whose first language isn’t English). After that, I was granted a Post-Study Work Visa (previously known as Fresh Talent) for another two years. During that period, I got an alright “bill-paying” job and set up my own theatre company. I’d worked with quite a few theatremakers from the UK and beyond throughout the previous years and only now had a clearer idea of the artistic direction I wanted to pursue. I went to London for 6 weeks to take a course in Theatre Production to help me with this endeavour, and spent 2 weeks in Denmark training at the Odin Teatret as well. My company, Fronteiras Theatre Lab, put on its first show at the Edinbugh Fringe in 2012. Earlier that same year, the same company was a semifinalist at the Scottish Institute for Enterprise’s New Ventures competition.

However, despite being able to pay rent, bills and taxes, I didn’t make enough money to apply for a Tier 1 Skilled Migrant, or Entrepreneur visa to stay in the UK and take this project forward. What I could potentially do was apply for the wonderful brilliant well-thought out Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa (applause, please). But in order to do that, I had to move back to Brazil for a few months. Because that isn’t counter-productive at all.

I don’t want to bore you too much, so I’ll cut the story short. I moved back at the end of September 2012. I organised an international theatre project, worked as an advisor for local cultural organisations in my hometown, and went back to my old job as a teacher and translator to get some money. I applied for the Exceptional Talent visa, but was not deemed Exceptionally Talented by the powers that be. I went to Edinburgh for a wee holiday and then went to Portugal for my childhood’s best friend’s wedding. Then I came back to Brazil and started planning my second attempt at that visa. That’s a whole new post, though. We’ll get to that.