11 January 2021

Visas or no visas?

It has recently been reported that 'the UK [has] rejected an offer of visa-free tours by musicians to EU countries, despite [previously] blaming Brussels for what the industry is calling the devastating blow of them requiring permits. The composer Michael Berkeley proposes to raise this in the House of Lords.

'A “standard” proposal to exempt performers from the huge cost and bureaucracy for 90 days was turned down, The Independent has been told – because the government is insisting on denying that to EU artists visiting this country.

'“It is usually in our agreements with third countries, that [work] visas are not required for musicians. We tried to include it, but the UK said no,” an EU source close to the negotiations said.'

The Incorporated Society of Musicians (of which I am a member) comments:

‘If these reports are true then we are looking at a serious breach of trust after the Government provided multiple assurances throughout 2020 that they understood the importance of frictionless travel for UK musicians and would be negotiating an ambitious agreement to achieve this objective.

‘We join the call with leading UK businesses that trade negotiations with Brussels should restart to address the serious regulatory challenges facing many industries, and a better deal for UK musicians should be included in those talks. We need complete transparency on what was discussed during the negotiations and an urgent statement in the House of Commons outlining what steps the Government are taking to protect our world leading performing arts sector.’

On the classical music blog SlippeDDisc, Robert King writes:

'Thank you so much to Michael Berkeley: behind the scenes (and in this case, in front of them) he and a handful of other members of the House of Lords continue to try to hold the UK government to account.

'All power to Michael’s elbow (and to that of the ISM, MU, ABO, IAMA and all the other major representative bodies fighting for UK performers to continue to be able to make a living), because the cost of a visa for (say) a member of a chamber orchestra heading off for a day to perform at a European concert hall is now all but prohibitive. As example, a visa to perform for one night in Germany will cost €80 per person, plus attendance at the embassy to get this visa assigned (so that’s another half day – more if you live outside London: a half day during which you can’t earn or work). If a tour covers more than one country, each country has a different set of criteria: apparently a visa for Spain currently has a waiting list of many months. So a four concert tour across four countries (a typical scenario) could see several days in advance spent queuing for visas (no earnings for those days), plus hundreds of pounds of cost for each performer.

'“Oh, they can afford it”. No: most of them can’t! For a section violinist or chamber choir singer whose daily touring fee may be around £150, to have to add another unpaid half day (to queue up) plus €80 for the visa – multiply that for each separate country – makes such dates and tours, which are the lifeblood of many a freelance orchestral player or choral singer, all but impossible.

'Across the UK classical music sector, with dozens of symphony and chamber orchestras, chamber choirs and instrumental ensembles doing such dates, in a typical year we are talking many millions of pounds of income which used to come into the UK economy. All these dates are now at serious risk. Whatever people may feel about the UK “taking back control”, there are no winners here.'


Using the statements from the ISM (of which I am a member) and Robert King as a basis, I have written to my MP. Others may wish to do likewise.

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