Brexit deal could also prevent UK artists from playing in the US, industry warns

Bands unable to prove their "international reputation" may struggle to acquire a US visa

Figures from the UK music industry have expressed concern that the impact of the Brexit deal on musicians who might not be able to tour Europe could also potentially prevent them from acquiring a visa to play in the United States.

Boris Johnson’s post-Brexit trade deal with the EU saw workers from some professions being allowed to travel on business without the need to apply for a visa. However, musicians and their crew were not covered in the deal, adding huge costs to future tours of the continent – which would prevent rising and developing UK talent from being able to afford to do so, creating a potential “glass ceiling” and threatening the stability of the £5.8 billion music industry.

The music industry has warned that if talent is unable to acquire “international recognition” through the usual channel of playing neighbouring European countries with ease, then this could make them ineligible for a visa to break America or even play US showcase festivals like South By South West.

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As immigration attorneys VisaPro state, bands and artists “must be internationally recognised” to qualify for a P1 visa to travel to and work in America, adding: “It must have a high level of achievement in a field as evidenced by a degree of skill and recognition that is substantially above what is ordinarily encountered. Such achievement must be renowned, leading, or well-known in more than one country.”

After the US recently increased visa costs by 50 per cent with another potential 24 per cent rise looming, it is feared that the odds are stacked against UK bands wishing to break America.

Mark Davyd is a former venue owner and concert promoter, and now the CEO of the UK Music Venue Trust.

“There will be a lot of ripple-out effects of Brexit that I don’t think we’ve really understood yet,” Davyd told NME. “For example, you need a US P1 visa to tour in America. One of the criteria is your international reputation. My question would be, ‘How do you acquire an international reputation as a British grassroots band if you don’t have access to play internationally?’ I’ve filled out dozens of those forms over the years, and the evidence we send to US officials is a package of all the touring done in Europe. You take that out, then how do you get the reputation?”

He continued: “That’s without the fact that the US have nearly doubled their bloody visa fees. On a Coldplay tour, the additional costs hit the bottom line and you change the ticket price a bit. If a four-piece band from Hull want to get in a van and go build their reputation in The Netherlands and Belgium and you add up the extra hundreds of pounds spent on getting the permission to play, the carnet, the health insurance, is it really worth them doing it any more?”

SXSW
SXSW, 2019. Credit: Getty

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Featured Artists Coalition CEO David Martin agreed that Brexit would add another barrier to the already difficult process of developing talent being able to play in America.

“Touring in the US is prohibitively expensive,” he told NME. “In fact, even established artists frequently tour the US at break even or at a financial loss. This is in no small part down to the visa costs and the bureaucracy of the US immigration system for performers.

“With new barriers to performers working in the EU, this will now extend to our nearest neighbours, making it impossible for new talent to tour, collaborate and exchange ideas with our European colleagues. Artists will not be able to demonstrate any international standing and this will make it harder for artists to establish their careers, build their businesses and to elevate Britain’s musical standing to the globally recognised position that it has enjoyed in the last seven decades.”

Last month, a petition calling for Europe-wide visa-free touring for musicians was launched. Responding to the criticism, a government spokesperson blamed the EU and told NME that they had rejected their proposals, before last weekend saw reports emerge that a “standard” proposal that would exempt performers from needing a visa to enter countries in the EU for trips under 90 days was actually turned down by the UK government.

They denied this, and now say that their “door remains open should the EU change its mind” over plans to allow musicians and their crew to tour Europe visa-free.

Having attracted support from the likes of Foals, Dua Lipa, Biffy Clyro, Tim Burgess, Garbage and many, many more while surpassing over 250,000 signatures, the petition will now be considered for a debate in Parliament – while music fans are still being encouraged to sign it as well as write to their MP.

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