International guests at British comic and SF conventions under threat from government visa plans?

Incorporated Society of Musicians - Immigration and VisasThe Government’s plans for a new points-based immigration system will come into force at the start of 2021, aimed at ending freedom of movement and reform the UK’s immigration policy – but concerns are being raised that despite assurances, the plans will impact on musicians and other artists, including comic creators, visiting the UK.

The Government announced on Wednesday that it would be repealing laws surrounding freedom of movement and that a new Immigration Bill will be introduced, but the Incorporated Society of Musicians has condemned the plans, saying that artists will be forced to cancel tours and small venues will be put in jeopardy.

The NME has highlighted confirmation from the Home Office that musicians from outside the UK will need to apply for a visa and pay to perform in the country from 2021 – and this of course also will also affect other creators wanting to come to the UK.

European Union and non-EU based creatives who wish to travel to the UK will have to prove they have nearly £1000 in savings in their account some 90 days before applying for the visa. The huge sum is considered to be proof that they can support themselves, unless they are already “fully approved (‘A-rated’)”.

In contrast, current rules allow artists and their crews to travel to the UK without restrictions and without applying for a work permit or visa.

The rules currently governing one-off, short visits to the UK, which can be found here (PDF), mean that currently, entertainers, artists and musicians are allowed to receive cash prizes as well as reasonable expenses to cover the costs of their travel and subsistence in the UK.

The Independent reports that in ten months time, anyone from the European Union seeking to perform in the UK will need to apply for a visa to enter the UK, at a cost of £244 for each group member of a band; provide proof, 90 days before applying, that they have almost £1,000 in savings and so can support themselves, unless they are “A-rated”; and provide a certificate of sponsorship from an event organiser – who must take responsibility for them – or a letter of invitation in some circumstances.

The Incorporated Society of Musicians argues that for the music industry, this means a huge number of bands from EU countries will be shut out by the huge cost and frightening bureaucracy of performing, dealing a hammer blow to the venues that host them. The organisation, which supports almost 10,000 members across the UK and Ireland also fears British musicians will suffer if  EU reciprocates with similar restrictions.

The extra expenses incurred and added paperwork relating to Visas, taxation and transporting equipment and merchandise will make crossing the Channel  “completely unviable” for new and mid-level artists, says critics of the new policy and over 67,000 people have  signed a petition by the Musicians’ Union calling for a new passport in support of musicians, and other creative and cultural workers that will allow acts and crew to travel freely between EU member states, ridding them of new required permits.

Musicians' Union - Musicians Passport Campaign

The proposed restrictions that will be imposed on EU creators will be in line with the onerous paperwork that is already required of non-EU artists – and blamed for global stars being unable to perform at the WOMAD festival and others.

The Musicians’ Union, calling for support for its “Musicians Passport”, notes musicians and other creative and cultural workers already have experience with difficult visa systems. It can cost thousands to take a band to the United States, and the cost of fast-track visa processing fees have just gone up 15 per cent. Musicians have voiced their fears that something similar might happen with the European Union, to devastating effect.

“The value of the creative industries has been proven once again by the Government’s own figures,” notes Deborah Annetts, Chief Executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, “growing at more than five times the rate of the wider UK economy and generating almost £13 million per hour. The creative industries are worth in excess of £111 billion per annum.

“We are deeply disappointed that free movement for musicians and other artists from the EU has been ruled out and we would ask the UK Government to reconsider our call for a two-year, multi-entry visa.

“As the former Minister of State in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Nigel Adams MP said last month, ‘touring is absolutely the lifeblood of the industry’. This latest development will mean that artists visiting the UK from the EU for work will need to apply for visas, including Tier 5, or pursue a route for short-term business visitors such as the discredited Permitted Paid Engagement.

“Any future immigration system does not exist in isolation and has huge implications for the negotiation of EU and US trade deals and reciprocal arrangements. It is vital that any immigration system supports musicians who will need to tour in the EU post-Brexit. We urge the Government to listen to the creative sector to ensure that the ‘broader unsponsored route’ works to support the UK’s creative industries and those in the EU who together generate so much wealth for the UK.”

The Independent also reports that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is not to blame for the proposed restrictions, revealing that it had “lost” a Whitehall battle with the Home Office.

“The Home Office has failed to grasp that touring and the creative industries are not about immigration, but are a global industry in which people move around all the time,” Ms. Annetts has said.

“It’s been that way since the troubadours in Chaucer’s time – you picked up your lute and off you go. This will cut the legs off the bottom half of the music industry. And what is going to happen to our small venues who have to go through this process to bring artists across from the EU?”

UK Music acting CEO Tom Kiehl says he fears the worse, warning that ending freedom of movement for performers “increases the possibility that member states introduce new bureaucratic hoops for UK musicians to jump through when seeking to perform across the EU.”

The Government has denied the system will not change for artists despite the concerns raised, and the Home Office has stated it does allow the self-employed to work on events for up to a month.

“They will continue to be able to enter the UK under the innovator route and will in due course be able to benefit from the proposed unsponsored route.”

According to the released government policy statement, the government says “the UK’s existing rules permit artists, entertainers and musicians to perform at events and take part in competitions and auditions for up to six months. They can receive payment for appearances at certain festivals or for up to a month for a specific engagement, without the need for formal sponsorship or a work visa.”

“Musicians and performers are a valued and important part of UK culture,” a government spokesperson also commented“The UK attracts world-class artists, entertainers and musicians and that’s not going to change under the new system.”

In a statement made on Wednesday about its plans, the government stated the proposed new single global system will treat EU and non-EU citizens equally, claiming it will give top priority to those with the highest skills and the greatest talents, including scientists, engineers and academics.

A global talent scheme will also be opened up to EU citizens which will allow highly-skilled scientists and researchers to come to the UK without a job offer.

Under the proposals, both EU and non-EU citizens will have to gain 70 points under the new system to be eligible to apply for a visa. The three key requirements which have to be met are that they have a job offer from an approved sponsor, such as an employer cleared by the Home Office (which earns 20 points); have a job offer that is at a “required skill level” (20 points); and they can speak English to a certain level (10 points).

Earlier this month, Mark Davyd, a former venue owner and concert promoter, and now the CEO of the UK Music Venue Trust, told The NME that despite years of discussions with the government over the impact of Brexit, he felt frustrated that not enough has been done to safeguard the touring needs of less established acts.

“It is quite plain that so far the government has not really acted at all on the basis of the advice that we and plenty of others have given them,” he said. “That advice is that the Brexit deal creates barriers to being able to perform in Europe and for European performers to perform in the UK – barriers that will only be able to be managed by artists with a certain level of success.”

“Music and the performing arts rely on exchange of ideas and interaction between performers of different nationalities. We love working in the EU and we love artists coming over here,” says Horace Trubridge, MU General Secretary and founder member of Darts.

“If musicians can’t travel easily both ways, our reputation as a country that embraces all arts and culture will be severely damaged. Our members’ ability to earn a living will also be severely affected.”

The Musicians’ Union “Musicians Passport” petition – in support of musicians, and other creative and cultural workers is here on Change.org

Incorporated Society of Musicians is online at www.ism.org

The Government’s Policy paper “The UK’s points-based immigration system: policy statement”, published 19 February 2020, can be read here

Routes of entry for artists and entertainers – current Government policy (PDF) 

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The founder of downthetubes, John works as a comics editor, writer, as Creative Consultant on the Dan Dare audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Working in British comics publishing for over 30 years, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War and “Dan Dare”. He’s the writer of “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood for digital comic 100% Biodegradable.



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2 replies

  1. Considering the low rates of pay that most people in both the comic and music industry ‘enjoy’, pretty grim news.

  2. That is what happens when a sovereign country puts its sovereignty into practice. I was reading half a century ago about British musicians having trouble being allowed to perform in America.

    From the internet now: “When You Need a Work Permit…. For instance, if you’re a non-American performer travelling to the U.S. to perform in the Coachella or South by Southwest (SXSW) festivals, you’d need a work visa……”

    And how is having £1,000 in savings “a huge amount”?

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