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Live industry reacts to new UK immigration plans

A “lost year of bookings” and severe repercussions for UK musicians are among the live industry’s concerns for the UK’s new immigration plans for EU musicians

By Anna Grace on 20 Feb 2020

Live industry reacts to new UK immigration plans

UK Parliament

image © Pixabay

Live music industry professionals are warning against the “significant barriers” that EU musicians and their crews will face under the UK government’s new immigration plans – and fear the consequences for UK artists if the European Union imposes similar restrictions.

Yesterday (19 February), the UK government unveiled its new points-based immigration system, which takes effect from 1 January 2021.

Under the new system, points are assigned for specific skills, qualifications or professions, with visas awarded to those who gain enough points.

However, musicians coming from the European Union to tour in the UK can curtail the points system due to their designation as being of a ‘specialist occupation’.

“Under the current immigration rules, there are a range of other immigration routes for specialist occupations, including innovators, ministers of religion, sportspeople and to support the arts,” reads the Home Office’s policy statement.

“Our broad approach for January 2021 will be to open existing routes that already apply to non-EU citizens, to EU citizens (the current ‘Tier 5’).”

This means EU bands will need to meet the same criteria as those from the US and other nationalities as of Jan 2021. According to Steve Richard of T&S Immigration Services, the majority of US acts and those of many other nationalities do not need actual visas to tour the UK for a short amount of time, but rather carry paperwork with them issued by the UK promoter, agent, venue or label, and show it on arrival.

The news could mean more paperwork for EU acts wishing to tour in the UK, but also points to more bureaucracy for the UK live industry. As Paradigm agent Rob Challice asks: “Will the EU apply a similar system for UK artists travelling the other way – is this the Brexit people voted for?”

The retaliation from Brussels is a worry for all the industry professionals and experts IQ talks too – not least because touring crews have already reported difficulties crossing EU borders in a post-Brexit world – as well as a concern for the future of the grassroots sectors on both sides of the Atlantic and a strong sense of frustration at the continued lack of clarity coming from Westminster.


Tom Kiehl, CEO, UK Music

New plans confirm that from 2021 EU musicians coming to the UK for concerts and festivals will be treated in the same way as those from the rest of the world.

This will drag some agents and promoters into the immigration system for the first time and increases the possibility that member states introduce new bureaucratic hoops for UK musicians to jump through when seeking to perform across the EU.

It’s welcome the government has reduced its salary cap, yet these proposals will still not work for many in the EU who want to work in the UK music industry over a longer period of time given musicians average earnings are £23,000 and a reliance in the points-based system on the need for elite academic qualifications.

“This will drag some agents and promoters into the immigration system for the first time”

Mark Davyd, CEO, Music Venues Trust (MVT)

Assuming the EU responds reciprocally to this position, which it has publicly stated on a number of occasions is the intention, then this will create very significant barriers to touring in Europe for both artists and crew.

Those barriers will be experienced most severely at DIY artist and grassroots touring artists level, where tight margins and schedules simply do not have the capacity to absorb additional costs or waiting times, and where skills to manage such a process simply do not currently exist.

If this is the final outcome of Brexit for our industry, then a comprehensive immigration support service which is free to access for musicians and crew from the grassroots sector must be swiftly created so that it can professionally manage such a process.

An ability to tour is a key element of any music industry UK Export strategy, and we trust the need for such a service will already have been fully considered and costed within the government’s plans.

“This will create very significant barriers to touring in Europe for both artists and crew”

Horace Trubridge, general secretary, Musicians’ Union (MU)

Our major concern is that other EU countries will apply the same restrictions to us. Equally, UK musicians are going to lose work through the fact that others won’t want to come here – visiting bands hire local support and have UK musicians perform with them.

Therefore, this is a dual problem – it is reducing work opportunities for UK musicians, as well as causing difficulties for EU musicians.

We are, however, still getting positive noises for our Touring Passport, which would allow musicians, their crew and equipment to move freely. The good news is that our campaigning has meant the message has got through to politicians – they are aware of the issue and have repeatedly said they will do something, we just but don’t know what yet.

We are not giving up. Hopefully, there will be some sort of carve out for musicians – there has to be, the music industry is too valuable to the UK for them to cut us adrift.

We just want make sure that any solution is reciprocal between the UK and the EU – that is just as important to us.

“The music industry is too valuable to the UK for them to cut us adrift”

Ian Smith, founder, Frusion/Fizzion agencies, UK EU Arts Work 

This is going to have several effects on the industry. For one, there’s a lot of misunderstanding going on around this. Promoters are freaking out and will be hesitant to book artists post-2020. This will have a real impact on small venues and the live scene in general.

Uncertainty from market to market will mean that UK musicians won’t be booked into the EU, either. Whatever happens on the EU side now, the live music scene is generally suffering and will continue to do so.

The Permitted Paid Engagement currently exists for acts coming in for a short period of time. Promoters and artists need to know if there’s a simple entry point available to use.

While this uncertainty continues, there is going to be a lot of pressure on the industry resulting in, in my opinion, a lost year of potential bookings. This will only settle down in January/February next year, then there will be a slow uptake again until 2022 when things will flatten out as we all figure out how to deal with it.

For now, we all just wish it wasn’t happening.

“For now, we all just wish it wasn’t happening”

Paul Reed, CEO, Association for Independent Festivals (AIF)

It is a concern that these plans will increase bureaucracy for EU musicians coming to the UK for festivals from 2021.

The salary threshold remains unsuitable for the industry. Hopefully, this is also an opportunity for government to review other matters concerning the visa system, such as the out-of-date definition of what constitutes a ‘permit free’ festival [those not needing a certificate of sponsorship under the points-based system]. We have members below 15,000 capacity that programme from far and wide outside of the European Economic Area (EEA).

Deborah Annett, CEO, Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM)

It’s really difficult to understand what all this actually means at the moment. The government is talking about an immigration system, but what we are referring to is touring, rather than immigration and we are very keen to explain this to the Home Office.

The creative industries are worth £111 billion a year to the UK economy, that’s as much as the finance and building sectors – we are so valuable. However, there is no evidence that the Home Office is listening to the creative industries at the moment.

We are also worried about this not being a great starting place when thinking of UK musicians working in the EU – what do we expect will happen in return? If we are coming up with a regime to harm EU musicians, that can only come back to bite us.

“If we are coming up with a regime to harm EU musicians, that can only come back to bite us”

David Martin, GM, Featured Artists Coalition

This policy demonstrates that the government has paid no heed to advice about the devastating impact of their plans on the UK’s music industry.

The impact of the loss of free exchange of ideas and experience, cannot be overstated but moreover, this policy would have a career-ending impact on many artists.

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