Thinking of attending European festivals as a comic creator post COVID? Here’s some things you need to know

If you’re a creator in the comics, music or creative industry seeking to work in the European Union post Brexit, you will be aware there are now significant costs attached to this. Here’s a very quick outline of the situation and some advisory links on how you may be affected if you’re planning to attend European comic conventions or Festivals once the COVID Pandemic restrictions ease.

The Current Situation

This article was first posted on 15th February 2021 and updated in 18th February

Most recently, an open letter to government, signed by stars including Sir Ian McKellen, Julie Walters and Patrick Stewart, has drawn plenty of media coverage.

In it, the signatories state visa rules for British artists, actors and theatre workers who want to work in Europe after Brexit are a “towering hurdle” that must be urgently addressed.

Responding, a UK Government Spokesperson told The Guardian: “We want our cultural and creative professionals to be able to work easily across Europe, in the same way EU creatives are able to work flexibly in the UK. Though the EU rejected proposals that would have allowed this, we hope Member States will act on these calls by changing the rules they apply to UK creatives. We’re working urgently with our cultural sectors to resolve any new barriers they face, so that touring can resume as soon as it is safe to do so.”

Culture Minister Caroline Dinenage speaking during the Parliamentary debate on a petition for visa-free touring across the EU. You can watch the e-petition debate here and read a transcript here.

Last week, Minister for Digital and Culture Caroline Dinenage responded to the Parliamentary debate on a petition for visa-free touring across the EU, which was signed by 284,069 people, set up by freelance camera director Tim Brennan. Music Week reported her comments, noting the e-campaign received a boost when high-profile artists including Elton John, Ronan Keating and Radiohead’s Colin Greenwood made urgent calls for the government to support artists.

“The support and the media attention generated by this e-petition just demonstrates how touring is not solely important to the cultural and creative economy, and those who work in it,” Dinneage said, “but it also highlights the UK’s passion for these sectors; how vital they are for our entertainment and our enjoyment, but also our emotional and mental health, and wellbeing, our sense of collective enjoyment and togetherness at a time when so many of us are separated from friends and family,” said Dinenage. “We all look forward desperately to their full return following the pandemic.”

Dinneage insisted that the UK’s negotiating team on the EU trade deal had understood the issues for the sector, saying: “The government fully understands and recognises the importance of touring for UK musicians and other cultural professionals.”

She went on to say that EU counter proposals to the UK’s suggestions for for artists movement, outlined in the Music Week article, were part of a package of visa-free travel for current and future EU members across a wide range of sectors, which were “simply not consistent with the manifesto commitment to take back control of our borders, and it wasn’t consistent with the idea of Brexit that the majority of people in this country voted for”.

“This isn’t a blame game, the outcome of the negotiations is deeply regrettable for all our sectors. It’s not the deal that DCMS or the government wanted, and it’s not the deal that the negotiators pushed for…. Our door remains 100% open, there is scope to return to this issue in the future if the EU should change its mind, and we would welcome it with open arms.”

You can watch the e-petition debate here and read a transcript here.

Back in January, both the EU and UK seemed to be blaming each other for the mess. The NME reported that the European Union had denied the UK government’s claims that they “rejected their ambitious proposals” for visa-free travel for touring musicians and “letting down music on both sides of the Channel”, with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier blaming the UK and saying that he “regretted that the British didn’t display any greater ambition”.

On 13th January, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden put the blame for the post Brexit problems at the foot of the EU following reports that a “standard” proposal that would exempt performers from needing a visa to enter countries in the EU for trips under 90 days was actually turned down by the UK government. The EU has responded to claim that this was not the case, saying it had offered visa-free and 90 days in every 180-day period in a draft agreement last March.

If, as a comics creator, you are invited to a European event, then any proper Festival organiser will, as in the UK, be looking to make the process as simple as possible for this to happen. Systems have been put in place in the UK, for example, for festivals to apply to be put on the Home Office’s list of permit free festivals.

If your event is on the list then your performers will be able to enter the UK with a Visit (Standard) – Business Creative visa.

Obviously, this system comes with strings attached. To be included on the list, your event must have been established for three years, have an audience of over 15,000 people and have 15 or more non-EEA national performers each year, which means this will be impractical for both new and small events.

“Once the dark winter of Covid has passed and we are back to some semblance of normality with regards live music-making, we face the stark reality that the UK, through its own actions, will fulfil the German author Oskar Schmitz’s 1914 snub, that we are “Das Land ohne Musik” (The Land Without Music),” feels Joseph Middleton, a pianist, fellow of and professor at the Royal Academy of Music, and director of Leeds Lieder, views that could be well applied to other aspects of arts events in future.

“While Schmitz’s insult should have really been dubbed ‘The Land Without Composers’, and I don’t agree with him anyway – we have a rich history of music – the UK does seem to have a problematic relationship with culture and the arts.”

Practical Advice and Guidance

The Incorporated Society of Musicians has compiled a guidance document on the processes required for musicians (presumably applicable to other creatives) on what is required to work in the EU “Visa and work permit requirements for Europe” .

The organisation is working with others in the creative industries to campaign for a reduction in the additional costs, delays and paperwork created by the Brexit agreement, stresses that the guide “is for reference only and does not constitute legal or immigration advice.

“The ISM recommends that if you have any doubts about your eligibility to enter any country, that you contact a suitably qualified migration expert for each individual country in good time prior to intended arrival.”


Urge your MP to support the EDM (Early Day Motion) 1312: tabled on 30 December 2020 “EU visa system for touring artists and musicians

More about Early Day Motions here

Guidance for UK Event Organisers

In order to undertake activities as an artist or entertainer in the UK, you will normally need to obtain a visa under one of the tiers of the points-based system.

The points-based system has special categories and rules for those in the creative and entertainment industries. In most categories you will need to be sponsored by an employer. However, if you are going to be in the UK briefly, or for a single event or activity, one of the visitor visa categories may be more appropriate.

The main immigration routes available to artists and entertainers are:

  • Visit (Standard) – Business Creative
  • Permitted Paid Engagement
  • Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent)
  • Tier 2 (General)
  • Tier 5 (Temporary Worker – Creative)

London law firm Richmond Chambers which offers support for organisations seeking permits for visiting artists, has published a guide here to requirements.

Employers and event organisers: if you are a UK organisation and are looking to employ an individual to work in the UK, you may need to sponsor them, unless they are only coming for a short period or they are eligible to come to the UK on a different basis which provides them with permission to work.

To sponsor an employee, you will need to obtain a sponsor licence. If the individual will not actually be working for you then they may be eligible for one of the visitor visas mentioned below.

Festivals and Cultural Events: if you organise a festival or cultural event, it will be much easier and cheaper for your performers to enter the UK if your event is on the Home Office’s list of permit free festivals. If your event is on the list then your performers will be able to enter the UK with a Visit (Standard) – Business Creative visa and you will not be required to sponsor them under the points based system. To be included on the list, your event must have been established for three years, have an audience of over 15,000 people and have 15 or more non-EEA national performers each year.

• If you have other links and information we can add to this item, please let us know. We will try and update the information above as and if the situation changes

This article is intended as guidance and is not meant to be a comment on Brexit. Comments arguing for or against the decision will not be approved as they will be considered counter to the intent of this article

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