ISM report calls for an overhaul of the visa system for musicians visiting the UK from outside the EEA

The Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) has today released a report ‘How Open is the UK for the Music Business?’, revealing the need for an urgent overhaul of the current immigration system which regulates musicians from countries outside the European Economic Area (EEA) visiting the UK to perform. The report:

• Demonstrates how an integral part of the UK’s immigration system is ‘not fit for purpose’ and must be reformed before the end of the Brexit transition period

• Highlights the significant threat facing the UK music industry (worth £5.2 billion per annum) if the current system for non-EEA nationals is applied to EU nationals, as outlined in the recent Policy Statement from the Home Office (February 2020)

The report also reveals a mismatch between the UK immigration system and the needs of touring musicians who want to come to the UK to tour short-term, play one-off gigs, festivals and other engagements.

Other findings include:


• Following policy changes and legislation, particularly the Immigration Act 2016, it has become more difficult for musicians from non-EEA countries to obtain visas for the UK.

• An increasing reluctance from agents and promoters to book non-EEA visa nationals for UK performances.

• That there is not an effective option for non-EEA visa nationals travelling to the UK at short-notice, as the outcome of visa applications take several weeks.

The report also details the concerns of musicians, artist managers, promoters and agents who are arranging gigs and other short-term work in the UK. In first-hand accounts they describe the significant difficulties being encountered when trying to secure visitor or temporary worker visas and documentation.

The music industry is part of the creative industries (worth £111 billion per annum). The value of both industries is not just monetary but also forms part of the UK’s highly prized soft power.

Deborah Annetts, Chief Executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians said:


‘It is clear from the ISM’s latest research that the current immigration system is causing severe difficulties for many non-EEA musicians when they come to the UK for short-term work such as gigs.

If the Home Office applies this current system to EU nationals from January 2021 and a reciprocal system is then applied to UK musicians, the UK music industry will be harmed still further. As the music industry and wider creative industries are already facing ruin from the dreadful impact of COVID-19, the Government’s decisions on short-term work mobility will be paramount to the future prosperity of the UK’s music industry, which is currently worth £5.2 billion per year.’


Comments from the report


‘The UK pays the lowest fees, has the worst hospitality and treats bands the worst out of any European country. It's a complete money loser for musicians / bands, but everyone still tours there because of the cultural significance.’

‘UKVI is currently not fit for purpose. They need a dedicated Sports and Entertainment team (like they used to have before 2008) to handle Tier 5 applications. A visa officer issuing entertainment visas should be obliged to know something about the entertainment industry. Currently they don't.’

‘The UK has always been the *only* country in the EU that strictly requires all non-EU performers to have a work permit (the Certificate of Sponsorship) while most other EU countries have flexible exemptions for visa-exempt non-EU performers. In the past, I witnessed numerous instances in which visa-exempt non-EU performers (specifically from the US and Argentina) didn't know about the CoS requirements and were subsequently deported from the UK because they didn't have a CoS, and were also banned from entering the UK for a long period. I'm very concerned that in a post-Brexit scenario, EU citizens will also require a CoS to perform in the UK.’

‘For touring musicians who are there for less than 5 days, it's too much paperwork. We are not trying to emigrate to your country. We are global musicians on tour. There must be a way to make exceptions.’


For more information, see Notes for editors.

Notes for editors


• The ISM’s new report ‘How Open is the UK for the Music Business?’ reveals the need for an urgent overhaul of the current processes and systems in place which regulates musicians from countries outside the European Economic Area (EEA) visiting the UK to perform.

• The report highlights that the future of mobility for musicians after the Brexit transition period (currently ending on 31 December 2020) is at risk. The recent Policy Statement from the Home Office (February 2020) on the points-based immigration system outlines that the current system for non-EEA nationals making short-term visits to the UK will apply to EU nationals from January 2021, and that EU nationals will be treated as non-visa nationals.

• Music agents, venues and event organisers can experience a high level of risk and uncertainty when booking musicians from non-EEA countries, particularly when dealing with visa nationals. If the current system for non-EEA nationals is applied to EU nationals, it will mean that EU musicians and promoters will have to navigate the UK’s immigration system for the first time, encountering new costs and bureaucratic demands. This is likely to act as a disincentive for musicians and promoters from coming from the EU to the UK. Given the stated intention of reciprocity between the UK and EU countries, our UK musicians will suffer similar hurdles and costs, adversely affecting their ability to work in the EU and thus putting their livelihoods at risk.

• The UK urgently needs a better immigration system which is tailored to meet the specific needs of the vital music industry (worth £5.2 billion) and to safeguard its future viability. We need systems and processes which will work and support musicians from the EU coming to the UK to perform and vice versa. This should not be left to the blunt instrument of UK immigration policy as it currently stands.

• The music industry is part of the creative industries (worth £111 billion per annum). The value of both industries is not just monetary but also forms part of the UK’s highly prized soft power. A new system must be put in place before the end of the Brexit transition period.

About the report


This survey had 150 respondents from performers, promoters, managers, sound engineers, admin staff, composers and venue owners. Respondents represented a cross-section of genres including classical, jazz, popular, rock, world and folk, film and gaming, religious, experimental, electronic, and many more. The most common purpose of respondents’ travel to the UK (69%) was for a specific paid performance opportunity such as part of an international tour or at a UK festival. Respondents to the survey came from 48 non-EEA countries. 71% of respondents were self-employed or freelance.

The full report, plus the appendix of full results, can be found at ism.org/reports

About the ISM


The Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) is the UK's professional body for musicians and a nationally recognised subject association for music education. Since 1882, we have been dedicated to promoting the importance of music and protecting the rights of those working in the music profession. We support over 10,000 musicians across the UK and Ireland with our unrivalled legal advice and representation, comprehensive insurance and specialist services.

Our members come from all areas of the music profession and from a wide variety of genres and musical backgrounds. As well as working musicians, our membership also includes recent graduates, part-time and full-time music students, and retired musicians. We campaign tirelessly in support of musicians’ rights, music education and the profession as a whole. We are a financially independent not-for-profit organisation with no political affiliation. This independence allows us the freedom to campaign on any issue affecting musicians.

For more information, please contact [email protected]