By Fiona Anderson
The idea of the Foreign Legion was threefold:
To publicise Intersection in other countries
To encourage people from other countries to participate in the con, either on the programme, or behind the scenes
To make it easier for people from other countries to join.
Intersection owes a debt of gratitude to all our Agents, who mainly went unrecognised for the great time and effort they put in on our behalf, but whose work made such an impact on having people from more than 18 countries there, both as passive attendees and as more active participants, which made things much more fun for the rest of us.
A number of mistakes were made, which could have been avoided.
The main areas of difficulty were:
Getting promotional materials to Agents
Choosing Agents, and no proper job descriptions for Agents from the start - actually if we'd spelt out what we wanted from the Agents, some of those who left us later might have known that their expectations and ours were incompatible and therefore not accepted the job in the first place.
The various difficulties with Eastern Europeans - theirs and ours.
1. Publicising the convention abroad:
How individual Agents chose to do this was up to them, but they were each given a maximum amount they could spend, after which they had to ask the DH for permission to spend more. Overspending without permission meant we wouldn't pay. Actually we had no cases of that, although we did have a number of people complain at the limit set.
What was much more common, and what Intersection owes a *major* debt of gratitude for, was the number of foreign clubs and individuals who paid our costs in mailing stuff out, or for other things, eg The Camel (the Agents APA) was paid for by the Swedish Agents (Andreas and Carina Bjorklind) themselves.
People in the UK, knowing how much we were being slagged off here for our various mistakes, cannot comprehend how *very* positively we were viewed in Europe - the amount of help and goodwill from many many foreign fans was staggering, especially after the gloom and doom over here.
Anyway, methods used included:
fliers to individuals and cons
fliers sent out with club mailings
ads in fanzines/semiprozines
articles written to fanzines
individuals participating in program items about upcoming cons
and I'm sure I've missed stuff...
2. Making it easier to participate:
One of the most basic problems is how does a concom know who is a good person to invite onto a programme item, when they don't know anyone from that country?
The generic "European" item has (thank God) disappeared from programmes nowadays, and what is wanted is interesting people who would be an asset to the programme generally.
It's for that purpose that Agents are essential - they will either know who to recommend, or who to ask to recommend
Then again, cons always want more people to help behind the scenes. But while the con may know what jobs it wants people for, those people may not know either that the jobs exist, what the jobs are, or that they would be welcomed with open arms.
The con therefore should let the Agents have a list of the types of jobs, and what each one entails - supplied by the Divisions or Areas - so that Agents will have the facts to be able to explain how things work to potential volunteers. This is especially important in Europe where each fandom has quite different ways of doing things.
3. Making it easier for people in other countries to join.
Where appropriate, the Agents were encouraged to open a bank account in the name of Intersection, so that people could pay in the local currency. A bank transfer would be done later, when sufficient funds had collected to make this worthwhile,
However, in some countries, individual persons can't open bank accounts, so this wasn't possible.
The Agents were told to set a rate in the local currency equivalent, and stick to that rate until the next price hike. This meant that if the local currency fluctuated wildly the con might take a loss, but we wanted to keep it as simple as possible for the Agents to manage.
The convention had to pay UK VAT as soon as we acknowledged a membership having been paid for, even if we didn't get the bank transfer for several months. With VAT at 17.5% this could be a hefty amount
Meanwhile the Agents issued the member with a receipt, kept a copy, and sent a copy to us here. This receipt would then be photocopied, and a copy passed to Memberships.
Sometimes the person paid by Eurocheque, in which case everything was sent to Memberships, after being photocopied, so that they would know if a person had paid directly by cheque, or through the Agent. Memberships would pass the payment and the person's details on to Finance, after they had processed them onto the Memberships database. This added to a time delay in processing the cheques, but made for less mistakes in tying up who had paid and how.
With people from Western Europe, this system worked relatively well, although we did have a number of problems, they were no more than might be expected.
The main problems came when dealing with Eastern Europeans who wanted to join.
From the point of view of Easterners, Intersection was a very difficult convention to join and to deal with generally, This was because the systems we had set up to deal with Easterners were originally designed to help their soft-currency fans to get to our hard-currency convention, but changed half way through to try to protect ourselves from becoming the victim of frauds, after the experiences of Helicon, and other continental West European cons.
Ws should have been a lot: more upfront about the reasons for the changes - and that was a major mistake on our part. Had we said exactly why we were now becoming a harder-line con, I am sure it would have caused less hassle than just instituting our anti-fraud measures.
And by now most people have heard of the cheque for 100 reduced rate Eastern European memberships that was bounced on us, which will make other UK cons more wary in future too.
One of the things we did was in the wording of the "letters of welcome". Some EE fans from particular countries need these in order to persuade British Immigration to issue them an entry visa. These letters said something to the effect: "we look forward to seeing you at our con, on such and such dates" .
Previous cons have written 1etters saying they will arrange the person's accommodation or living expenses or whatever, but this is most inadvisable, since it lays the con open to paying the person's total expenses, should they either be a genuine medical emergency, an overstayer (advertent or inadvertent) or a criminal. Before the fall of the Iron Curtain, so few EE fans got through that the chances or them being anything other than genuine were slim to non-existent. Since it's fall, there has been a lot of trouble in Western European countries generally with illegal immigration and organised gangs, and unfortunately Western cons can be a soft target, unless they take precautions.
But taking these precautions can equally make Eastern fans wonder what the hell is going on...
With this in the background, Intersection took no responsibility for arranging the accommodations of Eastern fans. The local YMCA were told there would be a number of Eastern fans coming looking for cheap accommodations, but that Intersection would not be liable for any of' these. The Eastern Agents were given the contact details of the YMCA, and told to pass those onto their own fans.
Then there is the thorny question of how do you pick Agents? Well the ones I picked, I did so on the basis of what they wrote about themselves, and hoped for the best. I wasn't disappointed in any of them. The ones I rejected, I did so similarly on the basis of what they themselves wrote...
I am extremely grateful to our Agents for all their time and hard work on our behalf, and on the behalf of fans from their own countries, for whom things were made much easier by having an Agent there.
By Fiona Anderson
I phoned up the Home Office (August 1996) - their Immigration Enquiries Section - and asked them for some information about the entry requirements for Eastern Europeans, plus their permission to put this info out, which they said was ok.
I told them I was interested in organising conventions, which may have Eastern European attendees, and what were the requirements for such people?
This is what I understood them to mean, but all information needs checked with them directly, as it is subject to change, and also I only had a brief conversation.
Their telephone number is 0181 686 0688, and they only take calls Mon-Wed 9-4.45, Thurs 10-4.30, Fri 9-4.30pm.
They said it depends on the country the person is coming from as to what the requirements are. For some countries, people don't need Visitor's Visas to the UK, for other countries they do, and the list of countries which do/ don't changes from time to time, so it needs checked out prior to the actual event.
For instance a Polish person does NOT need a Visitor's visa to the UK now, but could do in a couple of year's time, if things change in between. They also said it is worth applying for a visa to know if you need one or not...
From the person's point of view, they need to convince a British Embassy Entrance Clearance Officer, stationed in the British Embassy in their country, that:
1. They are personally solvent - do they have payslips, or a bank account, or both, or something similar to prove their solvency?
2. They have no intention to stay in the UK - do they have a job at home, do they have a nuclear family there?
From the convention's point of view, *if* they decide to write a letter, ALL it needs to contain is:
a. details of the event the person is attending
b. the date it starts
c. how long it lasts
This is to show why the person is wanting to come to the country, and in particular to demonstrate they are not coming to work or get paid employment of any kind, but that they are genuine visitors only.
However, doing all these things does NOT guarantee that the person will get a visa - they must also satisfy the individual Entrance Cleary Officer, who will decide if they seem like genuine visitors or not, on the basis of whatever information is asked for and provided. And this can vary according to the judgement of the individual officer, or according to the situation at the time.
Well, as I say, that's my understanding of the conversation I had, but please check directly each time to be certain of the facts for your convention.