An investigation by The Voice has found that West African artists, particularly Afrobeats artists, are being disproportionately rejected when applying for visas to perform in the UK.

According to several high-profile figures in the West African music industry, Afrobeats artists are being turned away by Suella Braverman’s Home Office as a rule of thumb and there are echoes of the UK government’s prejudices against dancehall artists in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

In The Voice’s report, they found that at least 20 artists had been barred from entering the UK to perform at Afrobeats festivals. The report goes on to say that even those who are granted visas are often given just two weeks, making it all but impossible to book other gigs to make their visits financially viable.

Ghanaian singer Ishmael Nii Arday Ankrah, aka Nii Funny, whose visa application was turned down in 2021, told The Voice: “It is not fair for them to treat us that way because the UK is our former enslavers so if we are going there to play a show, I think they have to support us.”

The impact of these rejected visa applications doesn’t begin and end in the UK, either. A rejected UK application can have an impact on applications to other countries, compounding the issue further.

Birmingham-based music manager Christian Borquaye said he personally knows at least 20 artists whose applications have been rejected, despite having “their money taken by the Home Office.”

“The criteria that they are giving the artists to come here is quite demanding,” he adds. “An artist who is trying to climb the ladder has to pay visa fees and there is no guarantee is going to get that visa.”

Ghana-based artist manager and CEO of Livenewsgh Creative Hub, said that the UK has a reputation for having “the most difficult embassy to work with.” He said he also knew at least five artists who had been barred from the country, adding, “We had a collaboration with an artist in the UK and there was a show that we really wanted to be on, but the process was like hell.” 

A Home Office spokesperson commented: “Musicians and performers are a valued and important part of UK culture with the country attracting world-class entertainers and musicians from around the globe. This is why we offer a dedicated immigration route for creative workers.

“All visa applications are carefully considered on their individual merits in accordance with the immigration rules. The application process is designed to ensure that all visa decisions can be made using the most accurate information and is fair for all applicants.”