5 Tips for U.S. Musicians Applying for U.K. Visas

by | Oct 24, 2018 | Booking Gigs & Touring

International artists are finding it increasingly difficult to secure visas to perform in the UK, but as immigration expert Anne Morris explains, there are ways to improve prospects of making a successful application to the British Home Office.

The reality is, visas are usually the last thing on anyone’s mind when organizing overseas music events. The performers and venues are booked, the promotional wheels are in motion. How the artists will actually get to the destination usually comes somewhere down the list of priorities.

If you’re planning to come to the UK to work, you will only be granted entry if you hold the correct visa. This means making an application to the UK Home Office.

For US musicians, there are a number of immigration options to consider. Permit-Free Concessions allow entertainers to take part in pre-approved events. The Permitted Paid Engagement Visa allows eligible, established performers to stay in the UK for up to one month for specific paid work. Where these specialist schemes don’t apply, you may be looking at one of the visas under the UK points-based system, such as the Tier 2 or Tier 5 visas. Whichever you opt for, you will need to ensure you meet the eligibility criteria and put in an application that evidences your case to the case worker.

Non-UK performers and their management are however becoming more vocal about the challenges of securing a UK visa. Immigration is under the spotlight in Britain, impacting how visa applications are being processed. Applications are being heavily scrutinized, and petitions are generally taking longer. It’s hitting the music industry hard.

A failed visa application means the artist can’t gain entry the UK. You could be looking at scaled-down sets and cancelled gigs, lost revenues and wasted expense on fees and flights, and reliance on back up sets and contingency plans. In the worst case scenario for British music fans, international artists will start to avoid UK performances.

Is there anything artists and their management can do to improve their prospects of making a successful visa application? Let’s explore…

Don’t you know who I am?

The UK Home Office processes visa applications from artists, musicians, and celebrities of any kind in the same way as all other visa applications. Do not expect special consideration or dispensation. You are required to follow the rules, just like any other applicant for a UK visa.

By the same token, do not assume the Home Office caseworker will know who you are. Your application will need to be comprehensive and thorough in explaining who you are, the purpose of your visit and how your skills and experience meet the visa criteria. It’s safer to assume the caseworker has no prior knowledge of your talent, achievements or status.

The Home Office will also be looking for specific evidence and reassurance that you will leave the UK and return home at the end of your trip.

Don’t underestimate the timescales

Even with the smoothest of visa applications, they still take time to process. And if anything, I’d say the Home Office is taking longer to make decisions. This is clearly at odds with the reality of a musician’s relentless schedule and limited availability.

Try to address visa applications as early as possible, particularly where there are complex circumstances — for example if you have multiple performances as you will need to ensure you hold the appropriate status for the duration of your stay.

Beware border control

If you enter the UK on a private jet, you will still be subject to border control and you will need to have secured the relevant visa.

As an example, we once took a call from a musician who had landed on a private airfield outside London. They had told the immigration officer they were in the UK for tourism purposes and as such did not have a visa. The immigration officer wasn’t convinced; they did a quick Google search and came across the artist’s imminent UK tour dates. The individual was refused entry on the basis they did not have a visa or permission to work.

Visas for entourage, band and crew

Travelling with a party, whether an entourage, crew or other artists, will complicate matters. Each individual will need to make an application. More applications will mean more time.

Considerable logistical challenges usually arise where individuals are making their applications from different locations across the globe. Each applicant will need to attend a visa application center local to them and passports may need to be surrendered while the Home Office processes the application, limiting ability to travel further.

Banned list

Performers on the Home Office banned list will not be granted entry to the UK. Entry bans usually relate to offensive content and preservation of the public good.

If you are concerned about a ban, before making an application, you should first check if you are on the list. If you are, it may be possible to petition for the ban to be lifted if you can provide grounds to justify removal from the list. For example, it may be that the ban relates to material from many years ago or was created under a different persona.

Petitioning against a ban will require additional time and effort in submitting to the Home Office.

A tough stance on immigration: the biggest losers are UK music fans  

It’s a difficult and uncertain period in UK immigration policy, but there are ways to ensure visa applications are optimized for Home Office faster and smoother processing.

For US artists and their management, UK immigration rules undoubtedly present substantial challenges. Form filling, box ticking – it’s an unwanted distraction from the business at hand. But there’s no getting around it if performers want to satisfy their British fans’ appetite to experience their favorite artists performing live.


Anne Morris is a UK immigration lawyer and managing director at DavidsonMorris, specializing in all aspects of UK visas for the music industry.