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The Sound of Brexit

28th March 2019

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Whilst Brexit may be music to the ears of Jacob Rees-Mogg and other Leavers, for thousands of fans and workers in the music industry, it will mean the exact opposite.

Image Credit: Pixabay

Regardless of whether the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal, the post-Brexit ‘skills-based’ immigration plan that is scheduled (for the time being at least) to come into effect by 2021 will damage the music industry financially, operationally and reputationally.

In 2017, Britain’s music industry contributed a whopping £4.5 billion to the UK economy, with live concerts and festivals producing £1 billion alone. The visa application process outlined in the government’s Immigration White Paper, released in December 2018, will make it much more difficult for European artists to visit and tour in the UK.

Glastonbury, Boomtown, Bestival, Latitude, Download, Greenman, Reading, Leeds - the list of British festivals goes on and on, each bringing their own roster of big-name artists from all over the world. Like bees to musical honey, hundreds and thousands of music lovers swarm to these events with overseas music tourists spending on average £657 each while in the UK.

This is all well and good, but if the musicians and performers themselves are faced with substantially increased visa and touring costs, will there even be any shows for these fans to see?

In order to work in the UK, one route is to apply for a Tier 2 Visa. The downside of this is that artists and their crews must earn a minimum of £30,000 to be eligible. Whilst this is unlikely to be an issue for major Euro-stars, smaller name artists, as well as the host of technicians, producers and security and tour staff members that accompany them, may struggle. This application requires a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) from a licensed employer and an application must be made within 3 months of the visit to the UK. A faster turnaround is available, but for a hefty surcharge.

On top of the complicated and expensive visa process, the lugging of vital tour equipment between countries is also something that will be made more difficult. Tour managers must pay for expensive legal documents known as tour carnets, that detail all the equipment that a company is bringing into the UK. These documents cost up to £500 for a solo artist, and £2,000 for a touring band. The time taken to process this mountain of paperwork at border control will likely add significant length to a tour, adding yet more expenses and ultimately dissuading overseas artists from visiting the UK for good.

So, we might not get Rammstein or Enrique Iglesias on the bill - so what? We’ve got Stormzy and Florence. This is all true, but the implementation of restrictive work visas means that a large portion of EU citizens working in the hospitality sector are also set to run into difficulty. As Tier 2 Work Visas will not cover the ‘casual’ nature of festival work, some of Britain’s world-leading festivals stand to take a substantial operational hit. Many rely on contracting stewards, bar and security workers, and litter pickers from overseas to ensure they run smoothly.

As the Home Office rhetoric continues to remind us, this could potentially provide more job opportunities for hard-working Brits. However, this sort of casual work is inconsistent and therefore unlikely to appeal to a large number of workers seeking job security. Positions such as bar and security staff require role-specific skills that take time and money to train, stretching festivals' overall administrative overall costs still further. Whilst these issues are unlikely to get Glastonbury axed, smaller, regional festivals will struggle to plug the gaps left by EU workers.  

In a bid to prevent a ‘cliff edge’ loss of talent across the UK, the immigration plan promises to roll out a 12-month Temporary Work Visa, ideal for short-term or seasonal staff. Yet a major oversight to this visa is that the scheme will only run until 2025. Not only are applicants only eligible to stay and work in the UK for 12 months, afterwards they must leave the country for a ‘cooling off’ period of a year during which they cannot return. While in the UK, they cannot bring any family members, switch visa routes, find new employment or seek any permanent settlement. Essentially this work experience will never contribute or amount to anything secure. Considering the Government is keen on reducing reliance on migrant labour, this route is arguably as exploitative as they come. 

As well as the hit taken by the current music industry, future expansion is just as bleak. Self-employed music and performing arts industry workers (70% of which are EU migrants) will not qualify for the Tier 2 Visa and so will be unable to come to the UK to explore new projects. If left unresolved, this could cause a serious collaborative talent gap to emerge over in the music industry in years to come.

Subject to the restrictions brought about by the post-Brexit immigration vision, the UK - once a bastion of musical innovation - risks becoming side-lined by European artists (both major and up-and-coming) who prefer to skip the hassle and expense of visiting the UK to perform. With so much white noise coming out of Westminster currently, can we really blame them?

This article has been written by Mike Bedigan; a specialist content writer and correspondent for the Immigration Advice Service – an organisation of leading UK immigration solicitors. 

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