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Latitude Law

Entertainers and the UK visa system – who gets in, who gets paid, and why does the Home Office so often say no?


Visas for entertainers have filtered into mainstream press in the past few weeks.  First there was news of performers at WOMAD music festival facing problems with the visa application process (https://www.nme.com/news/musicians-refusing-to-perform-in-uk-due-to-humiliating-post-brexit-vote-visa-process-and-right-wing-politicians-says-womad-festival-organiser-2360263).  Next it was the Edinburgh Literature Festival that saw a number of its booked acts refused permission to travel to take part (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/aug/08/visas-refused-for-a-dozen-authors-invited-to-book-festival).  When Celebrity Big Brother started last week, the biggest headline was that performer Stormy Daniels did not participate as planned, something she claims was due to the threat from TV executives that she would be ‘deported’ from the UK if she didn’t do what they asked (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-45247997).

As we continue to race towards Brexit in March 2019, the government has repeatedly stressed that the UK remains ‘open for business’.  But for creative performers, is that really true?  This week we take a look at the discord between the UK’s reputation as a home of culture, and the way our visa system stifles artistic endeavours.

Entertainers would usually travel to the UK in one of two ways: as visitors in a specific class, or under sponsorship from a licensed employer.  The standard rules for UK visitors prohibit payment for services however, meaning that for an entertainer to be paid for what they do, they must rely on an exception to usual arrangements:

  • Permitted paid engagements are allowed for professional artists, entertainers, musicians or sports persons, where those people will carry out an activity directly relating to their profession. However, this only applies if the individual has been invited to the UK by a creative or sports organisation, agent or broadcaster who is based here.
  • There are also a number of permit free festivals listed in the Immigration Rules, allowing performers to appear for a fee while still having status as visitors. Interestingly, this includes the likes of WOMAD, whose performers have been struggling to secure the visa permission that they require.

Beyond this (and a less popular option), temporary employment visa routes have a specific creative and sporting sub-category, in a more formal sponsorship arrangement.  This route is useful where the visa applicant needs to be in the UK longer, with a 12-month initial visa on offer instead of the maximum 6-month trip that visitors are allowed.

So far, so straightforward, so where does it all go wrong?  At the heart of the issue are entry clearance officers (ECOs), employees of UK Visas and Immigration working in visa posts abroad or from inside the UK.  These individuals review visa applications and decide whether they should succeed or fail, and the number of applications refused is on the increase.

Entertainer visitors to the UK may benefit from special arrangements relating to payment, but crucially they remain subject to other standard requirements.  This includes the need to satisfy the ECO that they are a genuine visitor with an intention to leave the UK at the end of their trip.  Here at Latitude, our experience is that the standard of assessment of this requirement is poor, often with spurious reasoning relied upon.  Failure to provide a long history of previous income, failure to show guaranteed employment upon return, or the simple presence of family members/friends in the UK, are all cited as sufficient reason for a visitor to be refused entry.

This approach by ECOs demonstrates both an arrogance in assuming the intention to illegally overstay, as well as the extreme difficulty to fulfil what are largely subjective criteria.  The hostility towards visitors and other short-term migrants then continues upon arrival here, with many facing questioning at the border. The effect of all this is that visitors are dissuaded from applying (like those booked for WOMAD), are refused when they do apply (such as those who should have appeared in Edinburgh), or they encounter such a hostile environment upon arrival in the UK that the threat of imminent removal feels real (nobody can fault Ms Daniels for not wanting to take risks with her immigration status).

Despite the attempts to accommodate culture and performing arts in the Immigration Rules, clearly their application does not convey the ‘open for business’ message.  When our music, our literature, our television and more are affected, the question is whether our immigration system is protecting society, or failing it.

If you would like to discuss UK visit visas or sponsorship, contact one of our experts now on 0161 234 6800 (Manchester and London) or 0151 305 9600 (Liverpool), or e-mail us at info@latitudelaw.com.