What will the music scene look like in a Brexit Britain?

Immigration Advice Service’s Maddie Grounds tells IAM what the sector can expect. 

Maddie Grounds
Maddie Grounds

With May’s Withdrawal Plan from the EU facing its greatest defeat to date this month, British industries are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain any air of confidence in the government’s handling of the UK’s post-Brexit future. Among those feeling hesitant is the UK’s music industry whose trepidations over Article 50 continue to be felt by musicians, producers and music companies as the possibility of a no-deal creeps closer to reality. Here is what the sector can expect to happen if current conditions remain the same (with no new deal negotiated and no delay in the delivery of Article 50).

The importance of EU workers

The UK holds a reputable global status in the music industry, producing some of the world’s most talented and influential musical legends. Musicians and performers from across the world travel to world-renowned festivals such as Glastonbury, Isle of Wight Festival and BBC’s Music Biggest Weekend Festival to perform for immense crowds of spectators every year. Consequently, the music industry contributed GBP4.4bn (€5bn) to the UK economy in 2017 with live concerts pumping GBP1bn alone.

Yet, the enabling of cross-collaboration of creative talent relies heavily on free movement between the UK and EU, a fundamental constituent set to be scrapped in May’s post-Brexit immigration plans. The White Paper released in December 2018 consolidated the prospective struggles musicians and producers are set to face whereby touring EU artists and entertainers will need to satisfy visa requirements and regulations to perform in the UK for six months at a time. This comes as a massive deterrent for EU musicians whose ability to work in the UK is primarily enabled by EU prioritisation to cross EU-UK borders. As a result, around 1,000 EU-based bands and artists say they are likely to stop travelling to the UK after Brexit.

Furthermore, a CBI report released last year demonstrates the sizeable impact these changes may have on the industry. As many as 131,000 EU nationals currently work in the UK’s creative industries while a further 10% of the 47,445 music tourism jobs in 2016 were filled with EU expertise. The strong reliance on Europe for the music industry’s workforce becomes increasingly problematic as the chance of a no-deal rises. The surrendering of the transitioning period will provide the music industry with little under two months to prepare, making it difficult to ensure that the availability and access of these valuable workers are not lost.

Restrictive Visa Options

Unfortunately, the Immigration White Paper has failed to create a promising alternative. In addition to the visa requirements imposed on EU artists and entertainers, accompanying tour staff such as technicians, producers, security staff and bar workers will also be required to apply for temporary visas during the festival season, subject to strict limitations regarding the routes they can take.

With up to 70% of those in music and performing arts identifying as self-employed, European workers who fall under this category and are not already in the UK will be unable to apply for the Tier 2 Work Visa. Additionally, despite lifting the 20,700 cap, the Tier 2 Visa’s minimum income requirement of GBP30,000 excludes many of the industry’s low-paid workers who are fundamental in the behind-the-scenes running of music performances, production and event organisation. The CBI observes that huge projects like Glastonbury would be unable to function without the work of casual EU workers.

Contrary to the recommendations of the CBI, the Migration Advisory Committee’s (MAC) report last year stated that there was no need to extend the work visa system to lower-skilled workers. Coming as a major blow for the festival industry, the White Paper has followed the MAC’s proposals, offering only a 12-month temporary visa as a ‘transitional measure’ in order ‘to institute a time-limited route for temporary short-term workers’. As a seemingly preventative rather than supportive measure, the White Paper went on to emphasise the visa’s time limitation, offering a ‘cooling-off period of a further 12 months to prevent people effectively working in the UK permanently’ as prohibiting the rights to extend stay, the chance to switch to another visa route or the eventual ability to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain.

As a highly restrictive visa option, this alternative presents severe problems for employers and recruiters by reducing the instability and security of a sustainable workforce at the expense of strict time restrictions. What’s more, the UK Government is only promising to extend this scheme until 2025 in efforts to radically overhaul the UK’s heavy reliance on EU migrant labour in ‘low-skilled’ positions.

One glimpse of hope for individuals whose music careers rely on temporary travel is the Permitted Paid Engagement Visa. This visa allows individuals to stay in the UK for up to one month and is available to apply from three months before you travel. You are able to apply for a Permitted Paid Engagement visa if you have been invited by a UK-based organisation or client without having to be sponsored under the current points-based visa system. However, the exclusivity of this visa rests in its eligibility requirement that individuals are not from a country in the European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland. Akin to the other visa options, this route fails to acknowledge the invaluable workforce from the EU needed to maintain and expand the UK’s music industry.

Touring too expensive

With the end of EU prioritisation in crossing UK borders, EU workers seeking work in the UK will be faced with the financial barriers of visas, carnets and safety checks currently required for their non-EU counterparts. As a major reason behind the reluctance of many American musicians to perform in the UK, tour carnets are expensive legal documents which require the declaration all equipment being taken into the UK. These carnets have to be renewed every year, costing individual artists up to GBP500 and touring bands up to GBP2,000.

Large expenses like carnets will predominantly impact smaller, up-and-coming artists who will be unable to afford these new additional touring costs. Budget tours and performances will no longer be affordable, depriving the UK of exciting and fresh talent from a diverse range of musicians and performers. The financial effect will be further intensified by the potential loss of EU cultural funding which supports a variety of organisations and projects, ranging from GBP3,900 to GBP1.8 million. Many smaller groups are reliant on this funding to support their work, increasing the necessity for these financial aids in tackling future costs.

However, it is not just musicians that will have to bear the burden of a price-tag on their creative talent. A no-deal Brexit would also mean a rise in ticket prices if there are significant gaps in low-skilled workforce and an increase in rates to pay musicians who cannot travel over without paying for a visa and additional charges. Festivals like Glastonbury would have no choice but to adapt to these new expenses. Despite the festival having a turnover of GBP37 million, its profit is just GBP86,000, equivalent to just GBP0.50 a ticket. Therefore, festivals will have to pass the price increases onto their audiences or simply be unable to invite them.

As long as the possibility of a no-deal looms in the air, the music industry will continue to anxiously speculate over what the future of the UK’s music scene will entail. As an almost unanimous group of Remainers, British musicians will not feel confident in the current government’s chaos. The industry needs to stick together to ensure the government considers the importance of the UK’s music scene. Otherwise, its farewell to festivals.

Maddie Grounds writes for the Immigration Advice Service, an organisation of UK Immigration Solicitors who distribute legal advice on Brexit and immigration-related matters.