Solidarity Beyond Borders: Why Artist Visas Are More Than A Brexit Issue

The ending of visa-free travel for artists threatens the livelihoods of many musicians, especially in the underground. Yet while fighting for change to these Brexit rules, we must consider the wider implications for those beyond the EU, and how attitudes to migration reflect Britain's colonial history, argue Fielding Hope, Mariam Rezaei and Stewart Smith

The recent rejection of a visa-free work permit for touring UK-based artists and industry professionals in Europe, either by the hand of the UK government, or by the EU (depending on which account you trust), is a significant blow to countless workers, many of whom are already facing challenging times under the COVID-19 pandemic. The impact of Brexit and inadequate government support for arts organisations is not the entire picture, however, and neither should we only consider UK or even EU-based artists and music biz workers when thinking about how art and people move across borders.

New restrictions add further hurdles for artists looking to enter the UK, and follow on from a long history of racist and exclusionary legislation which restricts cultural workers from far beyond the borders of Europe. This is not just a major threat to us as individuals – it's a threat to internationalism, our cultural ecology in the future, and a further blow to migrants seeking to come to the UK to live and work.

The UK music industry is in serious jeopardy of collapsing as a direct result of both the lack of meaningful support from the Conservative Government throughout the pandemic, and the messy visas row in the Brexit negotiations. According to studies by the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM), the UK music industry grew to £5.8 billion in 2020, providing more than four times the value to the economy than fishing's £1.4 billion. When combined with other creative industries, which are also greatly affected by this lack of provision, the sector is worth £111.7 billion. Before the pandemic, 44% of UK-based musicians earned up to half of their earnings in the EU. Touring forms the fiscal backbone to a lot of artists' careers, but the current restrictions limit this in numerous ways.