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Visa hurdle forces Hallé to cancel US tour
Anti-terrorist measures act as deterrent to touring musicians
05/04/2006

American visa regulations, introduced to protect the US against terrorists, have forced the Manchester-based Hallé Orchestra to cancel an upcoming US tour.

The Hallé last played in the US in 1994, and was due to perform in the US next year for two concerts, including one at New York’s Lincoln Center. But the Hallé management said that the orchestra was forced to cancel the visit as paying the approximately £45,000 in travel expenses and visa fees necessary to secure over 100 work permits would have rendered the tour uneconomic.

Most visitors to the US with machine-readable passports can still use the visa waiver scheme, but musicians intending to perform there have to arrange an appointment at the US embassy in Grosvenor Square, London (185 miles from Manchester), via a phone line charged at £1.30 a minute, and then appear for an interview and fingerprinting in order to gain a permit for which they are charged $100.

‘This palaver of getting visas is mind-blowing,’ said chief executive of the Hallé, John Summers, who points out that getting every member of the orchestra to go through the American visa process ‘would have taken two days out of [our] schedule. The US visa service will not use consulates outside London.’

The Hallé’s chief conductor, Mark Elder, was no more happy with this arrangement: ‘It seems a crying shame that the chance for this wonderful British orchestra to appear on the US east coast should be in part blighted by a too fanatical approach at the embassy.’

Other orchestras that perform in the US, such as the Vienna Philharmonic which currently has a residency in New York, have also expressed discontent at the current visa arrangement. Many smaller groups and soloists have been forced to cancel appearances altogether because of the new visa requirements.

John Caulfield, the US embassy's consul general in the UK, has claimed that statistics show the new rules have not led to fewer performers going to the US. ‘We cannot go [to Manchester],’ he told the Guardian, ‘because the equipment is linked into our computers and [goes] back on high-speed lines to Washington to check the biometric data against databases. We are all paying a cost because of terrorism.’
 

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