Politicians, Actors, And Musicians Call For Visa Negotiations To Save The UK’s Arts Industry

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Pre-Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic, the UK had a rich and diverse arts industry. Now, this vital element of UK culture and heritage is facing several roadblocks to survival as the international talent needed has been excluded from immigration policies and Brexit deal negotiations with the EU.

The UK’s Science, Finance, and Technology sectors have welcomed the Chancellor’s updates to talent-based visas in the 2021 Budget.

Creative industries producing live events have already been hit hard by a year of pandemic restrictions and closures. Many creative workers have also been exempt from government financial support schemes. Performing arts union Equity reported that 40% of its members do not meet the eligibility criteria for the self-employment income support or the job retention schemes.

“The language of art and entertainment knows no boundaries; freedom of movement for our members as artists and working people is achievable, desirable and essential”

The end of free EU movement is another vast setback for many creative arts industry workers as the nature of this industry often requires a fast and flexible response to opportunities abroad. Before Brexit, those working in events, theatre, film, music, and television could freely travel to working locations within the EU.

Now, visa costs, managing application forms, and approval waiting times are likely to result in the loss of these jobs once pandemic travel restrictions are lifted.

[Image by CineDirektor FILMS from Pexels]

The general secretary of Equity has described the ‘government intransigence’ as a threat to one of the UK’s international cornerstones and key exports, adding: ‘The language of art and entertainment knows no boundaries; freedom of movement for our members as artists and working people is achievable, desirable and essential.’

Many events and theatre companies have historically employed skilled migrant artists due to the vast creative talent pool and previous ease of movement between EU countries. The exodus of skilled foreign workers ahead of the Brexit deadline has left a deficit in many creative roles. 

Performing arts union Equity reported that 40% of its members do not meet the eligibility criteria for the self-employment income support or the job retention schemes

The government’s Shortage Occupation List currently includes several arts industry roles artists, dancers and choreographers, orchestral musicians, and arts officers, producers and directors. However, creative practitioner jobs can typically be short term contractor or freelance based. Creative roles are also often within minimum rates of pay. In order to be eligible for a skilled worker visa and take advantage of the Shortage Occupation List points bonus, applicants must have a job offer from a licenced sponsor and a yearly salary above the rates these roles are paid. 

The Government has been criticised for not doing more to secure terms with the EU that would allow freer travel for both British and European workers in the arts industries.

Equity has published an open letter to the Prime Minister signed by prominent UK actors including Sir Ian McKellen, Patric Stewart, and Julie Walters. “Prime minister, we urge you to negotiate new terms with the EU, allowing creative practitioners to travel to the EU visa-free for work, and for our European counterparts to be able to do the same in the UK,”.

Venues are shut because the Government has failed to control the pandemic, musicians are facing uncertainty because the Government has failed to secure visa-free access to the EU, and now artists can’t even be sure their equipment can be transported across the continent

Sources have revealed that an EU visa-free touring offer was rejected by the UK during negotiations as a reciprocal exemption was required. A UK government spokesperson has since stated ‘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.’

Musicians wishing to tour within the EU face significant barriers [ Image by Wendy Wei from Pexels ]

The Labour party has also written a letter to the government recommending actions be taken to save the UK’s music industry. UK musicians wishing to tour in the EU face additional hurdles to obtaining potentially costly visas per country within the continent.

Vehicles carrying equipment are subject to Brexit terms only allowing three stops per EU trip, meaning that concert logistics and operations would be forced to disclude the experienced British drivers and tour operators who previously relied on this income. 

Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Rachel Reeves and Shadow Minister for Green and Future Transport Kerry McCarthy are among those who have signed. McCarthy has also spoken on the topic: ‘Venues are shut because the Government has failed to control the pandemic, musicians are facing uncertainty because the Government has failed to secure visa-free access to the EU, and now artists can’t even be sure their equipment can be transported across the continent.’

Over 100 UK musicians including Sir Elton John, the Sex Pistols, and Ed Sheeran have joined the criticism signing a separate letter that claims the government’s ‘negotiating failure’ threatens cultural exchange with Europe. 

The arts are built upon diversity and collaboration, much like any industry based on creativity and innovation. Although the government has recognised and responded to the impact deficits in foreign talent could have on the UK economy within STEM industries, the arts are yet to be acknowledged. 

Header image by Pexabay