What musicians need to know about the UK’s new Points Based Immigration System

Last month, the Home Office published a Policy Statement on the UK’s Points Based Immigration System that is expected to come into force in January 2021. The Statement received a lot of attention from different sectors who were concerned about the new rules (including social care, agriculture, music).

At the ISM, we’ve been thinking about what the recent Policy Statement means for musicians and the music sector, and have come up with some explainers that might be helpful.

Why is the Policy Statement important?

The Policy Statement is important because it sets out how the UK Government intends to allow people from both the EU and the rest of the world to work in the UK, once freedom of movement ends on 31 December 2020. It’s also important because it will signal to EU countries how their citizens will be treated when they come to work in the UK – and this may have an impact on the UK-EU trade negotiations.

What do we know so far?

In brief - from 1 January 2021, EU and non-EU citizens will be treated the same, though EU citizens will be treated as non-visa nationals (much like US nationals and others). The aim of the Government’s points-based system is to bring “highly-skilled workers” into the UK, which will be assessed using criteria such as salary thresholds, job offer, English language proficiency, and education qualifications.

However, as we know, musicians are often highly skilled but not highly paid. This makes it very difficult for musicians to ‘fit’ the points-based system. There are exceptions – such as the Shortage Occupation List – but this covers very few types of musician.

What does the Policy Statement say about temporary movement?

The detail is extremely limited, but it looks like the existing system for non-EEA citizens will be applied to EEA nationals. This means that the following existing routes would be available to EU musicians coming to the UK on a short term basis:

Standard Visitor
Permit Free Festival
Permitted Paid Engagement
Tier 5 – Temporary Worker (Sporting and Creative)

What does this mean for EU musicians coming to work in the UK in January 2021?

The long and the short of it is that it will become more difficult for EU musicians to work in the UK. EU musicians will need to use the routes listed above which require varying combinations of Certificates of Sponsorship, Letters of Invitation, proof of their professional status and proof of onward travel within a permitted time frame. In certain cases – namely using the Tier 5 route for longer than three months – a visa would be required. The overall takeaway is that EU musicians will have to encounter the UK’s immigration system for the first time, taking on a lot of paperwork and in some cases, cost.

Why should I care what happens to EU musicians coming to the UK?

We are concerned about the implications of imposing restrictions, bureaucracy and cost on EU musicians because it may well be reflected in the rules that EU countries set for us. Ultimately we are trying to protect UK musicians from the same restrictions, bureaucracy and cost. And it’s not just about the UK and the EU as a bloc; it could be about UK musicians navigating the rules for each of the 27 remaining EU countries, which would have a catastrophic impact on our bands, artists, orchestras.

The Beatles were fine travelling to Europe in the ‘60s. Isn’t this a lot of fuss about nothing?

Composer Howard Goodall recently raised this exact issue. He correctly points out that not only did the Beatles (and others) have repeated difficulties with customs and visas touring to Germany before we joined the EU, but that touring - as well as security and customs regulations - has changed dramatically since those days. Not only that, but most bands and emerging artists don’t have a team around them doing the admin or lots of money to spare.

How can I stay informed? How can I make my voice heard?

The ISM works tirelessly to keep members up-to-date with the Government’s Brexit developments and make the case to Government on issues that affect musicians. Sign up to the ISM’s Save Music campaign to find out ways you can get involved and have your say: savemusic.org.uk.

- Dr Naomi Bath, ISM Senior Policy and Research Officer.

Advice correct at time of publication, 4 March 2020.

Brexit package for ISM members

From visas to car hire, accommodation to advice, we've highlighted a range of member services to help you get organised and save money when you're working in the UK, Europe and beyond.

Updated August 2019

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