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Spain Loosens Visa Rules, Ushering Back U.K. Artists

MADRID — British acts, and artists from other countries, are set to return to Spain after the government agreed to remove an onerous and complicated work visa procedure that came into force following the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union early last year.

Under the new Spanish rules, British musicians, actors and other artists, or people working in the audiovisual sector, will be allowed to perform in Spain for up to 90 days without having to comply with work visa procedures. Those wishing to work in Spain longer — for up to 180 days — will still need a work visa.

The regulatory change, which came into force on Sunday (Nov. 14), is not specific to British artists. It extends to all those visiting from countries for which the EU does not normally require a travel visa.

The Spanish government’s decision to remove the post-Brexit visa hurdle was welcomed not only by the British music industry, but also by the Spanish Association of Music Promoters, which had been lobbying for months for politicians in Madrid to allow British artists to tour and perform in Spain with greater ease.

“It’s a real relief for both sides,” Albert Salmerón, president of the Spanish Association of Music Promoters, tells Billboard, “because Spain represents a big market for British artists, and because British musicians are important for all those organizing festivals and events here, also in terms of being able to attract the tourists who also come to hear their music.”

After Brexit came into force at the end of January 2020, the British government found itself under intense criticism from artists and promoters for leaving them stranded and unable to continue to travel and work in the remaining 27 countries of the EU. Organizers canceled numerous festival and concerts in continental Europe because of the coronavirus pandemic, and nightclubs in party hotspots like Ibiza remained closed for two consecutive summers.

Promoters and venue owners have highlighted visa red tape as one reason why some concerts got canceled in Spain after the country lifted its strictest COVID-19 lockdown rules earlier this year. In September, two indie bands, Squid and Black Country, New Road scrapped their concerts in Spain, citing the cost and “the bureaucratic problems related to Brexit,” which made it unfeasible for band members and their road crew to visit Spain.

Among the British artists set to visit Spain, Van Morrison is performing in early December in Madrid and A Coruña. Several artists have recently pushed back their concerts to 2022, including Dua Lipa, who will be in Barcelona and Madrid next June, after canceling a visit to Spain that had been scheduled for last month.

Last August, the U.K. government announced it had negotiated bilaterally with 19 of the EU countries in a deal to allow short-term, visa-free travel for performers. Spain was not part of the deal, and so stood out as the most important European music market not to offer any alternative arrangement for British artists seeking to travel to Spain.

“We are delighted that our hard work has paid off and the Spanish Government has agreed to lift the restrictive visa process for touring artists, ending the complicated and painful process of expensive visa applications,” Craig Stanley, chairman of the LIVE Touring Group said in a statement issued on Tuesday.

But LIVE also urged the U.K. government to do more to help artists and stressed that “taken together with the visa issue still affecting other areas of the E.U., the impacts of Brexit continue to cause a logistical nightmare for Europe-wide tours.”

In an email to Billboard, the Spanish foreign ministry says the visa regulatory change had not specifically been designed to alleviate the post-Brexit problems of British artists but was instead part of a broader strategy to turn Spain into an audiovisual hub, in line with the goal recently set by the government of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to increase audiovisual production in Spain by 30% by 2025.

“The plan requires setting up an agile, flexible and simple system to hire artists, technicians and other professionals,” the ministry says.