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Visas, festivals and the trouble with Brexit

A recent report by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has shown that the UK’s creative industries could face serious troubles immediately after Brexit if no deal is reached, or even if the government maintains the current visa system as it is. From individual acts on European tours to massive events like Glastonbury, losing the freedom of labour that the UK enjoys will make these projects difficult in the future.

The system isn’t working…
If the current visa system is maintained, foreign workers in the music industry will face convoluted, drawn-out visa applications, or being shut out entirely, as their jobs don’t qualify for the Tier 2 work visa. With the visa cap for working visas being reached every month this year, minimum salaries for non-EEA workers have reached £40–50,000 (€46–57k), meaning anything below this is ignored and the position goes empty.

The CBI report identifies the great contributions Europeans make to the music industry, noting that 10% of those in UK music have a European passport. As a key player in the global music industry, Britain also plays host to many EU managers who use the country as a base to manage international artists. To lose this ease of free movement with the continent could result in big names shunning the UK in favour of other countries on the continent.

The CBI report states that self-employed workers account for 70% of the music industry. Since the Tier 2 work visa route requires all applicants to be sponsored by a UK sponsor, this 70% could be at risk, and any further EU migrants may lose this opportunity entirely in the future. This would mean a much less diverse workforce, losing out on skills from the European market that many Brits do not have, such as second-language skills needed to break into the international market.

Mixed feeling on festivals…
For festivals, there is varied opinion. Adding visas and carnets to the cost of each performer could mean costs trickle down to the ticket buyers, which could see crowds drop in numbers. Festivals like Glastonbury could be struck at the source, as the festival has a turnover of £37 million but a profit of just £86,000 – or 50p a ticket.

A lack of access to casual labour, which the EU provides, may also leave us short in everything from security to bar staff. While Europeans are not being asked to leave at the stroke of midnight on Brexit day next March, those here on a temporary basis are unlikely to want to spend the money and effort to sign up to the government’s EU settlement scheme.

“The government should keep the British festival industry in mind when they are agreeing our future trade and mobility deals with the EU”

Some 823,000 Europeans visited the UK as music festival tourists last year. When compared with just 135,000 tickets available at Glastonbury each year, this could be quite a deficit to make up should Europeans choose not to make the journey in the future. Therefore, the government should keep the British festival industry (which contributes up to £4.4 billion to the UK economy each year) in mind when they are agreeing our future trade and mobility deals with the EU.

Touring troubles…
Tour carnets – documents required for all musicians touring on a visa – are needed to report all equipment entering and leaving, which could mean that smaller UK groups avoid touring in Europe altogether. Bigger names could still extend this price hike to their fans, which could affect the industry’s public image as a top authority worldwide.

While at present government hopes are that the UK and EU will have reciprocal ‘visa-less’ travel after Brexit, this would only cover certain ‘business activities’, and European artists may still need to enter on a Tier 5 temporary work visa, which also requires sponsorship, making it far more complicated for each musician to enter. A separate touring visa has been suggested that could provide a lifeline for EU bands trying to break out in the UK.

Artists from anywhere touring in Europe will also be required to pay extra for further carnets to enter the UK, meaning that artists may consider not entering the UK or touring for fewer dates to keep costs down. Smaller bands who already tour on a shoestring will be most affected, which will in turn affect the venues that support them.

Considering our music exports make up a quarter of the market in Europe, the bloc has a lot to lose from our exit without the right kind of deal, but time is running out. If the government listens to the advice of the CBI, the music industry could insure itself against a complete Brexit catastrophe. Or, the indomitable strength of British music culture may thrive no matter what happens. Only time will tell, as Europe decides what it’s going to do with us, and its citizens mull over whether they’re willing to stay in the UK.


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International musicians need prioritising after Brexit

A letter from MP Alex Sobel that calls for the remittance of changes to immigration policies has highlighted a fresh issue for international musicians looking to tour through the UK, specifically via the Republic of Ireland – and stands as a foreboding indicator of how Brexit will ultimately affect the UK music industry both on a national and international scale.

Delivered to the minister of state for immigration, Caroline Nokes MP, the document details how seemingly unannounced changes to the certificate of sponsorship (CoS) will leave overseas visitors with no other choice but to apply for a UK visa. This process costs hundreds of pounds and takes several weeks and has been criticised by Sobel as a “silly, short-sighted policy”.

Additionally, the current Tier 2 (general work visa) application regulations will likely bar new self-employed European musicians and staff from the UK. The visa route currently sets minimum income of at least £30,000, meaning anyone who earns less than this annually will not qualify. The Tier 5 (temporary worker visa) option would also raise similar issues, requiring sponsorship through the same system.

The letter follows on the back of frequent concerns voiced by the Musicians’ Union (MU) about Brexit’s threat to the free movement of individual musicians through Europe and the potential delays created by customs changes that will further affect live tours running on tight schedules. On 13 November, the EU commission’s statement that “UK travellers will not need a visa to travel to EU countries after March 2019, even in a no-deal scenario” initially seemed to be a positive affirmation of the reciprocal ‘visa-less’ travel so desperately needed for the music industry. But it soon became clear that this was still not suitably applicable for professional musicians. Article 6.3 within EU law allows member states to impose visas for paid work, meaning that UK musicians would still likely require a visa to perform in the EU.

The exchange of international talent is crucial for the arts – if Britain’s music industry is to maintain its global presence, we must find a way to allow this to continue

A recent statement from Music Venue Trust (MVT) highlights how widespread closure of venues is jeopardising the sustainability of the national grassroots touring network – further risking the UK’s highly profitable and world-renowned live music business in a post-Brexit climate. Pushing for pipeline investment funds to be channelled into this sector of the British music industry, MVT CEO Mark Davyd drew from an evidence session House of Commons held on 10 October 2018 as part of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s inquiry into live music. Of those witnesses present, Tom Kiehl, deputy chief executive and director of public affairs for UK Music, expressed his concerns on the issue, describing how “the very unique challenges and experiences that the music industry face [are not] being acknowledged” in policy changes.

Increasingly, the threat of impeded movement for performers looking to travel around Europe stands as the paramount challenge to the development of artistic talent. Questioned on her own concerns about Brexit, the artistic and commercial director of the Royal Albert Hall, Lucy Noble, voiced her fears that the reduced ease of movement for soloists and conductors after 29 March next year could “restrict the quality, the diversity and the artistic development” of Britain’s musicians, as a result of Brexit.

It is not just control over the free movement of musicians that poses a problem for the future of the British music industry. A 2017 study by UK Music on the contribution of live music to the UK economy highlights the dangers the UK potentially faces by alienating their overseas music fans. £4 billion is the total direct and indirect spend generated by music tourism in the UK, while £2.5bn is the amount spent directly by the 823,000 music tourists visiting the UK. While the promise of visa-less travel would be applicable to concertgoers, the likely cost implications of touring a country with an expensive visa application would force EU artists to hike up their ticket prices. This would discourage audiences from both within and outside of the UK – ultimately damaging this lucrative business.

As it stands, Brexit poses a direct threat to Britain’s music industry. The end of free movement alone promises a lack of external mobility for British and non-British musicians. What’s more, the proposed policy changes threaten to cut off musical talent from the UK to an even higher extent. The exchange of international talent is crucial for the arts – if Britain’s music industry is to continue to maintain its global presence, we must find a way to allow this to continue after Brexit.


Alice Williams is political commentator at the Immigration Advice Service.