Good Practice, Politics, Brexit

GOOD PRACTICE GUIDE Keeping the artistic talent exchange flowing

This week a House of Lords report called on the government to write the present rules on employing international creative talent in the UK into the Brexit bid, but they are complicated. Here, Anne Morris, MD of the immigration solicitors DavidsonMorris, explains how they work

UK immigration rules can prove challenging for organisations looking to bring international talent and creative workers to the UK. International talent and creative workers wanting to take up paid employment or engagements in the UK must ensure they hold the relevant permission to enter the UK and carry out the work on offer.

While EU citizens currently hold rights under freedom of movement to enter, live and work in the UK, nationals of non-European Economic Area nations - whether performers or artists, or creative production or management professionals - will in most cases have to apply to the Home Office for entry clearance.

A number of immigration options are potentially available to professionals in artistic fields.

For performers and artists, short-term entry clearance may be granted through specialist schemes such as Permit-Free Concessions, which allow entertainers to take part in pre-approved events without the need to be “sponsored”, or the Permitted Paid Engagement Visa which allows eligible, established performers to stay in the UK for up to one month for specific paid work.

Longer-term employment opportunities, however, will require an application to be made for a work visa under the UK’s points-based system:

Tier 5(Temporary Worker - Creative and Sporting) visa

Under this, holders can work in the UK for up to 12 months, with the potential to apply to extend the stay.To be eligible, the applicant must demonstrate to the Home Office that they will make a unique contribution to the UK labour market, for example being internationally renowned or required for continuity. They will also need to prove that they will be paid a required salary level or above, and hold a minimum of £945 in savings in their bank account for 90 days before the application date.

Tier 2 (General) visa

This allows highly skilled individuals from non-EU countries to work in the UK for a maximum of five years. It is possible to apply to extend the visa, provided the total stay is not more than six years. To be eligible, the applicant must show they have a job offer from a licensed sponsor for a qualifying role; that they have sufficient knowledge of the English language; and that they will be paid an appropriate salary for the role and have sufficient personal savings.

Applying for the Tier 2 and Tier 5 visas

Tier 5 and Tier 2 visa applicants first have to be assigned a Certificate of Sponsorship from the sponsoring employer, guaranteeing the individual will comply with the conditions of their permission to stay and will leave the UK when their visa expires.

The sponsoring employer has to hold a valid sponsorship licence in order to issue the Certificate of Sponsorship. Sponsor licences are granted by the Home Office and allow the organisation to hire non-EEA skilled workers.

Employers considering applying for a sponsorship licence should take the time to understand the mandatory compliance duties placed on licence holders, as well as the initial and ongoing costs of being a sponsor licence holder. It’s not a route to be taken lightly, but unavoidable where the necessity is to hire specialist talent from across the globe.

Alternative visa options may be available depending on the applicant and the circumstances, such as the Tier 5 youth mobility scheme for workers of eligible nationalities aged between18 and 30. It’s best to take advice on all immigration options.

Visa application challenges for creative workers

A number of challenges face visa applicants in thearts and creative sector: 

Artists and performers – evidencing talent

Visa applications from performers and artists are processed by the Home Office in the same way as those of other (non-celebrated!) professions such as pharmacists, engineers and architects. Applications that assume the Home Office caseworker knows of the applicant generally fail. It’s safer to assume the caseworker has no prior knowledge of the applicant’s talent, achievements or status. The application itself has to evidence visa eligibility, proving the applicant meets the criteria, for example, by way of skills, qualifications and experience. 

Multiple commitments and employers

Where the requirements is for multiple engagements in the UK, careful planning will be needed to ensure the individual holds appropriate status for the duration of their stay.

For example, under the Tier 5 visa, if there is a single sponsor with no more than 14 calendar days between each engagement, the sponsor can issue a single Certificate of Sponsorship to cover the whole period. If there are multiple sponsors, each may be required to issue a Certificate of Sponsorship for their respective event. There can be no overlap in the timing of each of the certificates, and if there is a gap of more than fourteen calendar days, the individual will need to leave the UK and reapply to enter.

Visas for entourage and crew

Complications can also arise where the requirement is for an artist or performer’s entourage and crew to join them in the UK, particularly where the individuals are in different locations at the time the applications need to be made. Each individual’s eligibility for entry clearance would need to be assessed, requiring proven technical or other specialist skills to meet the points-based requirement. In these cases, it may be possible for a group Certificate of Sponsorship to be granted.  


Creative sector applications often come with a fixed deadline, due to the applicant’s limited availability and demanding schedule, or a contractual obligation such as an organised appearance or performance. It’s important to be realistic about the timescales involved, and always try to address immigration needs as early as possible. To hire under Tiers 5 and 2, the sponsor licence application process can take around three months. The applicant then has to apply to the Home Office for clearance.


Brexit and future changes to immigration rules

These will remain as they are until at least December 2020, which is the end of the Brexit transition period. After this point, it’s not yet clear if or what changes to the UK immigration rules will follow.


What is clear is that engaging non-UK national creatives and artists for work in the UK can raise many immigration issues, requiring detailed understanding of all immigration options and eligibility criteria to ensure any application meets Home Office standards.


If future restrictions are placed on EU workers in the UK, the creative sector shouldn’t be deterred. Any attempts by government to restrict talent mobility will be met with equal force to ‘make it happen’. Talent doesn't recognise boundaries. It will always be sought out, with or without borders. The show must go on!


Anne Morris is managing director of business immigration solicitors, DavidsonMorris, specialists in all areas of UK immigration including sponsor licences, Home Office applications, HR compliance and challenging civil penalties.

See TaitMail - will Brexit kill the Fringe?

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