HOME OFFICE crackdown on visas will permanently damage the quality of Edinburgh's festivals unless it is reversed, one of its leading directors has said.

Nick Barley, director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, has joined the bosses of the Edinburgh International Festival and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe,in expressing deep concern over strict Home Office rules for visiting artists.

He fears that a heavy-handed application of visa rules could repel writers, authors, and artists of all kinds from visiting the Scottish capital in the future.

"Edinburgh's festival's reputation will nose-dive unless we sort this out," he said.

Mr Barley said a clampdown on visas, which appears to be particularly affecting African and Middle Eastern writers, means that around a dozen authors have had unprecedented difficulties organising their visits to the book festival this year.

One of the publishers involved said the Home Office's strictures are now comparable to the old Soviet Union.

Mr Barley now wants to establish and working group of Festival directors and leading cultural leaders to lobby, and work with, the Home Office over the issue, and press for a new kind of "cultural passport" or fast-stream visas for artists.

He said he has spent much of the last month working with MPs, MSPs, and senior staff at the Home Office and British Council to make sure the invited authors could attend the festival, which begins this weekend.

Mr Barley said: "I think it's time to speak out - this is not to with Brexit, it is to do with a wider policy of immigration in the UK, which has had this unintended consequence on cultural activity.

"Unless we're careful, it's going to affect all our cultural activity, and any international work can be damaged by this strict policy on visas."

He added: "Edinburgh's festivals are predicated on their international activity, they have to work on an international level, and unless we get this sorted out, the festivals reputations will be damaged."

Barley said a solution must be found "before it's too late."

He said: "It is unquestionably worse than it was four years ago.

"There have always been challenges: but now it is a systematic problem.

"The real problem is the humiliation that these people are facing - these are people with major international literary reputations, who are being asked for the birth certificate of their daughter, their marriage certificate, three years of bank statements, just to prove who they are - for one event at the Edinburgh festivals."

The director added: "People will say: 'Shall I bother? Shall I bother going to Edinburgh? Or is it too much hassle? Do I really need to get our three years of bank statements and have them picked through by an official from the UK Government?'

"This is not the kind of message that UK cultural organisations should be giving out to world leading authors, artists and musicians.

"The reputational damage to Britain is quite significant."

Jean Findlay, the head of publishing at Scotland Street Press, said it has taken five months to get a visa for the Belarusian poet Tania Skarynkina.

She said: "This is also because Belarus operates under an antiquated Soviet system.

"The visa went from Minsk to Moscow then to Warsaw for application.

"Then the British system, which now vies with the antiquated Soviet one, kicked-in and we had further delay - even with the intervention of Nick Barley."

Shona McCarthy, the chief executive of the Fringe, has raised the Visa issue with Theresa May, the Prime Minister, and said that Brexit could add further complexity to the issue.

Fergus Linehan, director of the EIF, has said that after Brexit, "a backlog at the Home Office would be the nightmare scenario for all of us, because if you bring in 200 people in an opera company, for example, quite often there is some queries, if that slows down, we are all in big, big trouble.

"If we're plunged into chaos after March, again the issue is going to be, if government services are going to overwhelmed, how are we going to go through the administration of that?

"I can see how it will be a real problem for us."

Last week the musician Peter Gabriel expressed his alarm over the visa issue.

At least three acts scheduled to appear at the event at the Womad festival, in Wiltshire, were unable to take part, according to the event’s director, Chris Smith.

Gabriel, who co-founded Womad in 1980, said: “The right to travel for work, for education and even for pleasure is increasingly being restricted and often along racial and religious lines.

"It is alarming that our UK festival would now have real problems bringing artists into this country."

A Home Office spokesman said: “We welcome artists and musicians coming to the UK from non-EEA [European Economic Area] countries to perform.

“In the year ending December 2017, 99% of non-settlement visa applications were processed within 15 days and the average processing time in 2017 was just under eight days.

“Guidance on visa and entry clearance requirements is publicly available on www.gov.uk.

“Each case is assessed on its individual merits against the published Immigration Rules.”