The forecast for UK music’s future after Brexit is not a pretty sight. The effects of our post-Brexit immigration system could include a massive hike in costs for UK performers travelling to the continent, and vice versa, and a loss of casual workers like security and bar staff across the service industry.
Now, new guidance from the UK government means that citizens from North and South America will need to apply for a separate visa if entering the UK from the Republic of Ireland. Moving away from the previous sponsorship-based system, this could see the cost of a UK and Ireland tour rising markedly and a much longer bureaucratic process for American artists.
Labour MP Alex Sobel recently wrote to the Immigration Minister to argue against this change, which was apparently made without consultation with key industry stakeholders. Sobel argued that the “silly short-sighted policy” was in complete contradiction with the government’s intentions for an open Britain post-Brexit.
Sobel’s letter observed that many performing artists spend a night in Ireland before continuing on to the UK. On such tight schedules, further paperwork and visa charges could encourage artists to skip Ireland or the UK entirely.
The increased cost of travelling to the UK would most likely be passed on to audiences, increasing the already inflated cost of gig tickets. This would deny those who can’t afford it access to the biggest and best from the Americas, while leaving lesser-known talent without a chance.
The government’s current intentions for immigration post-Brexit seem to be extending the same immigration system to EEA and non-EEA citizens. This would be a drastic reduction in the ability of UK and EU citizens to travel freely between the two for production, touring and promoting. Britain’s international influence could be set to dwindle over the next few years if we go ahead and shut out such a large neighbouring market.
Without free movement, artists from across the world will need to apply for one visa for the UK, one for the Republic of Ireland and another for the rest of Europe. Artists on tight schedules may simply decide to skip the UK altogether for the bigger opportunities across the EU. The government will not easily be forgiven by the public should performances get more expensive and less frequent following these new rules.
The Home Office’s recent poor treatment of performers and artists applying for UK visitor visas has been the focus of intense public scrutiny, such as three African nationals who were denied entry to perform at WOMAD and a number of visitors who couldn’t make the Edinburgh International Book Festival. This shows how poorly the current visa system operates for genuine foreign performers and could be a sign of things to come.
At such a sensitive time in Brexit negotiations and with the ever-present difficulty of the Irish border, the change in guidance seems like an undiplomatic and questionable move by the UK government. Considering the UK’s massive international music presence, industry specialists are scratching their heads as to why the government would be so willing to jeopardise this £4 million+ industry.