Exploring the UK’s Brexit Landscape for Musicians

by | Apr 17, 2019 | Booking Gigs & Touring

courtesy of Tim Reckmann, used under a Creative Commons license

The songwriter, artist and multi-instrumentalist Brian Christinzio, who performs as BC Camplight, based his excellent 2018 release Deportation Blues on his own experiences of the United Kingdom’s arcane, complex, and extremely frustrating immigration system.  While it may provide a source of inspiration for artists, here we consider what rules apply to visiting acts, and how things might change in a post-Brexit world. 


The UK’s music industry is often cited as one of the country’s most dynamic and valuable exports, but in order to thrive it relies on the cross-pollination of ideas that overseas artists can bring. The most common scenario is a short tour or series of dates; entry for this purpose for non-EU citizens (we’ll abbreviate here – ‘EU’ includes the European Economic Area and Switzerland) is governed by the UK’s visitor rules, which are set out in Appendix V to the immigration rules. Under the “permitted paid engagement” provisions “A professional artist, entertainer or musician may carry out an activity directly relating to their profession, if they have been invited by a creative (arts or entertainment) agent or broadcaster based in the UK.”  

Appendix V contains the following specific guidance for creative artists:

“An artist, entertainer, or musician may: 

(a) give performances as an individual or as part of a group;

(b) take part in competitions or auditions;

(c) make personal appearances and take part in promotional activities;

(d) take part in one or more cultural events or festivals on the list of permit-free festivals in Appendix 5 (where payment is permitted).

Personal or technical staff or members of the production team of an artist, entertainer or musician may support these activities provided they are attending the same event as the artist, entertainer or musician, and are employed to work for them outside of the UK.”

Note the restrictions the rules contain:

The tour or engagements must be arranged before you travel to the UK

You must provide a formal letter of invitation, and either present this to the UK Border Force official on entry (if you’re not a visa national), or to the visa officer who will consider your application for entry clearance (if you’re from a country whose nationals require a visa to enter the UK as a visitor)

The reference above to “permit-free festivals” is in reference to an exhaustive list of events, such as Glastonbury and the Edinburgh Festival, which you can find at the end of Appendix W. The idea here is that British festival organisers can pay artists without having to go through the sometimes-complex sponsorship process. The Home Office publishes a set of criteria for festival organisers wishing to be included in the permit free list. 

It is important to note that the rules won’t change post-Brexit for artists from outside the EU.   


What if you are looking to base yourself in the UK for an extended period to soak up the creativity of our great northern cities – to tour extensively, or to make a record in the tranquillity of the English countryside – and you anticipate spending a significant period (or periods) of time in the UK? Then you will have to look at complying with the sponsored work categories that form part of our Points-Based System for managed migration. 

If you’re aged under 31 and from one of a list of specified countries (including Australia, Canada and Japan, but not the United States) you could apply for a Tier 5 Youth Mobility; this gives you two years of unrestricted residence, spending your time as you choose. 

Tier 5’s temporary worker category includes a creative and sporting option for visiting artists coming for short term contracts, such as making a record, in the United Kingdom. If you’re planning to stay less than three months and you’re not a visa national (and you’re not travelling via Ireland), you can apply for this at port of entry; otherwise you’ll need to get a visa in your home country, or the country where you’re currently based.

This visa category is also for artists planning a longer period of work or series of engagements; this could be where a tour has been arranged by a local promoter, and payment is coming from a UK source.  The rules allow entry for you and what they grandly call your entourage, meaning technical support, and permit sponsorship of a series of dates by a single promoter as well as individual sponsorship by venue or producer.  


Freedom of movement across the EU, which citizens of the UK have enjoyed for more than 40 years, will come to an end when (or possibly if) the UK leaves the EU (currently scheduled to occur at the end of October, after an additional deadline extension from the previous April 12 deadline). Remember first that free movement only applies to citizens of member states of the European Union, and their family members – overseas nationals who happen to hold resident status in another EU country don’t have it, and already have to enter the UK under the rules outlined above. One more proviso – nothing here applies to Irish citizens, who will continue to be able to enter and live in the UK without restriction post-Brexit.  

EU nationals enjoy an initial, unrestricted right of entry into any other EU state, which in the UK is taken to mean up to three months. After that, a visiting artist would need to demonstrate that they are engaged in some form of “economic activity” – so working, self-employment, perhaps financial self-sufficiency, would all be acceptable. Once such activity is established, the right of residence in the UK is unlimited, and can lead to permanent resident status in time.  

In a post-Brexit landscape, how will things change for EU nationals seeking to work in the UK? First of all, transitional arrangements may or may not apply, depending on whether we leave the EU with or without a Withdrawal Agreement. If there’s no deal, the cut-off date could be as early as the current Brexit Day (as mentioned, extended from the original April 12 date); with a deal, it’s 31 December 2020.  

EU citizens already here will be able to live in the UK in much the same way as before; once residence has been established for one of the economic purposes mentioned above, they can remain, and acquire permanent residence (called settled status under the new EU Settlement scheme) after five years.  This will only be lost if you leave the UK and don’t return within five5 years (oddly, reduced to two years for Swiss nationals).

This new EU Settlement regime has just been launched nationally, and you can find out more about how it works at https://latitudelaw.com/services/eu-settlement-scheme.  

What about EU citizens arriving after the transitional period ends?  The Government plans to enact its Immigration Bill once the UK has left the Union, which means that for the most part, EU nationals and their family members who come to the UK after we leave will require immigration permission to enter the UK. However, the Government has stated that these new immigration rules – which are likely to bring EU citizens into line with other foreign nationals, subject to the same rules discussed earlier in this piece – will take some time to implement.

The Home Office therefore proposes a new category of ‘European Temporary Leave to Remain in the UK’, subject to parliamentary approval, which will enable EU nationals to apply for up to three years’ leave to remain in the UK while new rules are put into place. So, EU citizens will retain a preferential status in UK immigration law, perhaps for some years to come.     


Gary McIndoe is a solicitor and managing director of Latitude Law, specialist migration lawyers with offices in Manchester, Liverpool and London.