The music industry has urged the government to clarify its proposed immigration rules amid fears that bands from the EU will not be able to tour the UK without written permission or a visa.
They are the latest to warn of the economic risks posed by the new immigration rules which have already drawn criticism from the agriculture, hospitality and social care sectors.
Deborah Annetts, the chief executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, said the policy paper published on Tuesday night did not offer the pledges it had sought to allow EU bands to enter the country freely for gigs post-Brexit.
The paper suggests performers will need advance permission “at the very least”, she claimed.
The Home Office spokesman denied this was the case. “The UK attracts world-class artists, entertainers and musicians and that’s not going to change under the new system,” he said.
“The rules already permit performers from around the world to take part in events, concerts and competitions without the need for formal sponsorship or a work visa and that will continue to be the case.”
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The issue stems from paragraphs 21 and 25 in the paper. Annetts is concerned that paragraph 21 suggests a visa will be required while paragraph 25 seems to be a summary of existing rules that require non-EU citizens to get permission before performing in the UK.
The Home Office points to paragraph 25 as the relevant section for musicians which states performers are allowed entry without a visa for up to six months and “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”.
Annetts says this is “a misrepresentation” of the current visa arrangements for non-EU citizens as those who want to come up to a month have to get what is known as a permitted paid engagement visa which requires an advance engagement letter.
“To get into the country for 30 days as a musician from the EU as from January 2021 you will at the very least need a letter of engagement,” she said. “It is not at all clear what type of organisation is qualified to give such a letter. And you will need supporting documents such as bank statements. Neither of these are required for EU musicians at the moment.”
How it works
Bulgarian welder, holds A-level equivalent, has job offer for £26,000 a year, does not speak English.
Now: Able to work in the UK under free movement rules.
From January 2021: The worker scores points for a job offer, salary over £25,600, educational qualification, and working in a shortage occupation – meaning a score of 80 points, 10 more than the 70-point threshold. Ticks two of the three mandatory boxes for entry to the country – a job offer and job at appropriate skill level. But falling short on the third compulsory condition for entry of speaking English rules the welder out and they cannot come into the UK.
Sri Lankan production manager, has job offer for a salary of £28,000 a year, holds A-level equivalent, holds a PhD in a Stem subject, speaks English.
Now: Eligible courtesy of the requisite educational qualification of degree or over.
From January 2021: The worker earns less than the £34,000 “going rate” for their profession, meaning that they must pick up 70 points elsewhere to be eligible. They are not in a shortage occupation and so score zero on that point – but succeed nonetheless with 20 points for a job offer, 20 points for their A-level equivalent, 10 points for English, and 20 points for a PhD in a Stem subject – a total of exactly 70.
Italian waiter has job offer in a hotel at £20,000, has languages degree and fluent in English.
Now: Able to work in the UK under free movement rules.
From January 2021: Is eligible to enter on the three mandatory conditions – job offer, speaks English and has met education threshold. Picks up 50 points. But scores zero for salary, zero for shortage occupation, does not have a PhD and cannot come into the country.
The Home Office said it was “maintaining the generous provisions for visitors, which include the provisions for artists, entertainers and musicians” and that the UK’s existing visitor rules permit artists, entertainers and musicians to perform at events and take part in competitions and auditions for up to six months.
The post-Brexit policy outlined by the government will form the foundation of an immigration bill, which is expected to easily pass through the House of Commons on account of the Conservative party’s 80-strong majority.
However, the Home Office is still going to consult on exemptions that will form a shortage occupation list and the music sector leaders hopes clarity will also emerge for the creative industries.
Annetts said: “This landed like a bombshell on Wednesday. We had been into the Home Office explaining to them that touring is not the same as immigration and they didn’t really get it. We have also been to the department of culture, media and sport and they do absolutely get it.
“Touring is the lifeblood of the industry and if we don’t have an exemption it is at risk.”
The music industry is worth £111bn a year, as much as the construction industry, and Annetts is worried the government is not taking it seriously enough. “We have been making the point very strongly that the Home Office has totally ignored this as far as we can see.”