The new barriers to music

Barriers to music - a fiddle lying on a map of Euorpe
Images licensed by Adobe Stock: Map of Europe with capitals – Vintage texture by Neyriss and Old violin in vintage style on wood background
by Brebca

Robbie Sherratt is a fiddle player from Cheddleton, Staffordshire. He is currently studying at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki and is in constant demand as a studio musician and performance substitute for bands. Until this year, he could work freely across the EU and live in Finland. However, Brexit has created new barriers to music that mean he is now restricted in what he can do, with limits on where he can live and work and a whole new world of extra expenses, delays and checks. He could gain EU citizenship if he marries his Estonian partner, Eva, but it would mean giving up his British citizenship, further restricting him from working in his own country.

For musicians in both Britain and the EU, this struggle has very quickly become their reality. A House of Commons survey of musicians showed that 81% would stop touring in Europe, and an astonishing 60% said they were considering changing their careers. All because of Brexit. This would be hugely damaging to the UK music industry, which relies heavily on touring for revenue. With the industry valued at £5.8 billion in 2019, musicians need solutions and support if they want to get back to pre-pandemic levels of touring and working.

There are ways for UK musicians to work in the EU, however they are a lot more complicated than previous pre-Brexit rules. UK Europe Arts Network provides guidance for both UK and EU musicians wanting to work abroad and is regularly updated with changes to information and advice.

UK musicians working in the EU

UK musicians are now classed as third-country nationals by the EU, so they must apply for a visa to work in the block. Tourists can stay in EU Schengen countries for up to 90 days in any 180-day period. Within this allowance, you can work in any EU country providing you follow each individual country’s work rules. This, however, varies from country to country. In France and Germany, you can work permit-free for 90 days within any one year, while Spain and Portugal do not allow any permit-free work. Keeping abreast of these regulations is a complicated and confusing process, both for musicians and their management.

The country-by-country arrangement may not cover support staff and it does not include equipment. Carnet agreements must be arranged in advance so all equipment and instruments can be moved without incurring import and export charges. Add on extra complications surrounding tax, National Insurance, and VAT on merchandise sales and a whole new tangle of procedures has opened up. Before Brexit, touring in the EU was a much simpler affair.

EU musicians working in the UK

EU musicians coming to the UK do not need sponsorship or a visa for up to 6 months, as long as they are not being paid (beyond expenses or prize money). Otherwise, they may qualify for entry under the Tier 5 (T5) Creative Worker route which requires them to have formal sponsorship from a UK sponsor licensed with UK Visas and Immigration. 

Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS) can be used for entry of up to 90 days, but after that, a T5 is needed. This requires an additional payment of between £189-244, depending on the country you are coming from.

Even with a T5 work permit, musicians must prove they can support themselves in the UK by demonstrating that they have at least £1270 in their bank account for 28 days. The proof must be provided on application, unless the applicant has been in the UK with a valid visa for 12 months already, or their employer can cover the £1270 cost.

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Possible solutions for UK musicians

It is clear that solutions are needed to make it easier for musicians to access the EU, not only for themselves but also for the UK music industry. Labour MP Harriet Harman suggested the creation of a British Music Export Office, and the introduction of ‘elite’ visas. This system has already been introduced for scientists, engineers and researchers and allows access to fast-tracked visas without the need for a sponsor.

Another possible solution is the introduction of group visas for musicians and their tour teams. Applications could be done by managers or record labels, rather than everyone having to apply individually. This would make things easier for all concerned by removing the necessity of collecting documents from every member of staff and ensuring everyone is up to date individually.

Possible solutions for EU musicians

Ian Smith, of, suggests that the UK government could establish a system similar to the new EU ETIAS system due to come into effect by 2023. A pre-authorisation system could sit on top of the current UK visa application and include a tick box for an exempt occupation. The UK could match the EU’s condition of 90 days within 180 and the need for permits or visas would be waived. 

Smith also suggests a system whereby musicians and staff can classify equipment and instruments as ‘portables’ with UK and EU Customs. These could then be declared through green channels and Carnet agreements would not be necessary.

Another suggestion is that EU musicians could apply for Frontier Worker permits. These were in place before Brexit, but anyone who had not begun working in the UK before 31st December 2020 now has to apply for a visa. The scheme could be extended to musicians and other creative or technology sector workers to access to work in the UK more easily.

The Musicians’ Union provides guidance, resources and answers to common questions to help musicians understand how Brexit affects their ability to work in the EU on their website along with a useful flowchart.

An industry devastated

Action needs to be taken soon if musicians from both sides are not to suffer massive losses. The restrictions are devastating the industry – musicians are struggling to tour and some are even considering giving up on their industry altogether. Many were excluded from support through the pandemic and they now face major disruptions due to Brexit. The government need to take responsibility and help these creatives get back on their feet and doing the jobs they love.

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