British Music Bodies Look to End 'Costly' Visa Restrictions for Visiting US Acts

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A group of politicians, promoters, venue owners and music industry associations are calling for the British government to scrap controversial new visa restrictions for visiting artists from the United States, Canada and South America. 

Until recently, the majority of touring artists from non-EU countries could enter the U.K. using a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) -- effectively a temporary work permit -- from an agency or promoter. That changed last August when the United Kingdom and Visa and Immigration Service (UKVI) unexpectedly changed its guidance for foreign nationals, requiring them to now get U.K. visas if arriving via the Irish Republic -- long a popular first port of call for artists beginning a European tour. 

The changes were not properly advertised and were introduced without any proper consultation, say concerned live industry execs. They warn that the new restrictions impose "significant" costs on touring artists visiting the U.K and that, as a result, there is now "a real risk" that the new visa requirements will force hundreds of acts to cancel the Irish or British leg of a European tour.

In May last year two U.S. musicians travelling from Dublin to Manchester using a PPE (Permitted Paid Engagements) were entry to the UK at the Irish border and imprisoned overnight. The next day they flew from Dublin to Paris and from there to the U.K. where their Certificate of Sponsorship was deemed acceptable.

Responding to the issue, the MP Alex Sobel has written to the Minister of State for Immigration calling for her to reverse the visa entry changes.

"What was previously a simple system now asks visitors to acquire U.K. visas which takes weeks to obtain, cost hundreds of pounds each, and involves a complex application process," writes Sobel in a letter signed by 50 MPs and Peers, as well as a number of music bodies, including the Association For Independent Festivals, AIM, labels trade body BPI and umbrella organization UK Music.

Other signatories include Coda Agency, the Concert Promoters Association, the Association for Festival Organisers and Music Venue Trust.

If the changes are not scraped, Sobel warns they will have a "hugely detrimental effect on musicians and entertainers including participants in world-leading events such as Glastonbury," as well as restricting sportsmen and women, researchers and journalists from visiting the U.K.

"The Home Office needs to apply some common sense to this issue and reinstate the old system for visiting entertainers," said Sobel in a statement accompanying his letter to Caroline Nokes MP.

Calling the revised requirements "bureaucratic box-ticking of the worst sort," he goes on to say that there is now a real danger of performers from the U.S. and Canada organizing "shorter European tours -- or not at all -- due to the additional costs and bureaucracy."

Many in the live industry share the same fears, with UK Music deputy CEO Tom Kiehl pointing to the U.K.’s long-held status as a key touring destination for international artists, contributing to the £4.4 billion that the music industry generates towards the British economy each year.

"UK Visa and Immigration are now jeopardising this success by issuing advice that contradicts long established practice in the entertainment sector," says Kiehl, echoing calls  for the government to "look again" at the measures.

When reached for comment, a Home Office spokesperson said, "We welcome artists and musicians coming to the UK to perform," adding, "We recognise concerns raised by the sector about the operation of Tier 5 Certificate of Sponsorship for travel to the UK from Ireland. We are working with them to understand and address these accordingly."

This article was updated with a comment from the Home Office.