Electronic fix proposed for “perverse” new visa rules for musicians

Week News Highlights 13th August
Garth Brooks in Dublin. (Photo: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland)

Colin Gannon

Thousands of entertainers arriving from non-EU states into the UK via Ireland are being forced to fork out thousands of extra pounds on diverting their flights due to recent Home Office changes ahead of Brexit.

Artists are being told by the Home Office that they need an entry visa if arriving from the Irish Republic. It could mean some of the world’s biggest acts, in an industry worth £4.4 billion, writing off visiting Ireland and the UK as uneconomic.

The music industry has appealed to the Home Office to rectify “perverse” visa restrictions between Ireland and the UK for travelling tours.

It is proposing an electronic clearance is being proposed by music industry officials to combat the “highly unfair” recent implementation of rules by the Home Office, the Irish World can reveal.

For several years performers from countries such as Australia, Brazil and the US have been able to use a so-called “certificate of sponsorship” from a promoter or booking agent to enter the UK – a concession which was created in recognition of the requirements of the creative sector.

The recent demands are being seen as part of efforts to shore up security in the common travel area between Ireland and Britain before Brexit.

Industry associations including the Concert Promoters Association and UK Music wrote this week to the Home Office to urge a rethink of the new guidance that requires such artists to apply for British visas if arriving via Dublin.

alex sobel
Alex Sobel MP

The letter, sent by Labour MP Alex Sobel to immigration minister Caroline Noakes, calls on Noakes to reverse the changes to the recent certificate of sponsorship arrangements for visiting entertainers.

“This change was not announced, nor proper consultation with the sector undertaken,” the letter read, “so it was virtually unknown across the industry until very recently.”

Geographical

Many musicians, for financial, geographical and cultural reasons, tend to travel to the UK only after first playing venues in the Irish Republic.

Steve Richard, an immigration specialist for the entertainment industry, took part in a conference call last Thursday with officials from the Home Office, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and two other music industry representatives.

An online “remote clearance” option – where artists could electronically activate a certificate of sponsorship before they enter the UK from the Republic, without the need to obtain a UK entry visa – is being considered by the Home Office, according to Richard.

He told the Irish World that almost every artist he has worked with of late has been forced to re-route their flights so that they land in the UK before they enter Ireland to play shows.

Prep summer ready legs

“Many did this workaround and got screwed; the extremely long queues at Heathrow this summer meant some of them missed their flights to Dublin and had to re-book at last-minute prices,” Richard said.

He also noted how some artists rerouted but were promptly told by immigration officials that their Certification of Sponsorship can be activated by arriving through Ireland, which he said he was “bullshit”, adding that, “You just end up banging your head against a wall with these people sometimes, despairing at the pointlessness of it all.”

The recent enforcement requiring artists to obtain visas was set in place by guidelines the Home Office published in July 2018, which Richard describes as “unfair” and a change which made “Ireland an obstacle to touring the UK”.

The Home Office says that legislation dating back to 1972 requires performers travelling via the Irish Republic to have a UK entry visa – which come at a standard cost of £245 or by fast-track at £645. This can hamper the touring overheads for large-scale tours in particular, Richard said.

A Home Office spokesperson declined to comment on the contents of last Thursday’s meeting but said that it “welcomes artists and musicians coming to the UK to perform” and is working with music sector professionals to address their “concerns”.

Denial

The department has previously denied that there were any fundamental changes to the rules. “This order is not new and there has been no change in legislation or operational approach,” it said earlier this year.

Despite this denial of obstruction, Richard says that a spate of meetings are proving fruitful and that he hopes the proposals become formalised by the new year.

“The Home Office now recognises that and are seeking to rectify the situation. They have listened to the concerns of the industry and acted. It’s just a pity it ever came to this regrettable situation,” he added.

Rolling Stones croke park residents association
Mick Jagger (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

Tom Kiehl, the director of public affairs for UK Music, a representative group for the music industry here, said that this “perverse situation” meant that artists could enter the UK freely from France but that from Ireland, restrictions were now in place.

Illegal

“The change in the implementation of rules means promoters and agents are having to reconsider touring patterns and plans.

“It is after all the UK agents who are at risk. They will generally be the sponsor of a certificate of sponsorship so if that is deemed illegal then the agent could be liable,” Kiehl said.

“We have had some constructive meetings with Home Office and DCMS on the issues a fortnight ago. At the heart of this problem is miscommunication, largely down to Home Office.”

In 2009, when the immigration system was revamped, the Home Office formed the Arts and Entertainment Taskforce.

This, Kiehl said, provided a valuable dialogue between immigration officials and the entertainment sector. UK Music has called for this since abandoned taskforce to be reinstated.

Geldof renounces Freedom Dublin
Geldof renouncing Freedom of Dublin earlier this year

Earlier this year Irish musician and activist Bob Geldof wrote an open to Theresa May about the impact of a no-deal Brexit on the British music industry, saying the UK would be placed in a “self-built cultural jail”.

Ed Sheeran, Damon Albarn, Jarvis Cocker and Sting are among the musicians who signed the angry letter which called Brexit “serious madness” and a threat to “every aspect of the music industry”.

“Imagine Britain without its music. If it’s hard for us, then it’s impossible for the rest of the world. In this one area, if nowhere else, Britain does still rule the waves. The airwaves,” it said.


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