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Visas: Certificates of Sponsorship

Volume 792: debated on Thursday 13 September 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of changes to arrangements for Certificates of Sponsorship, in particular those affecting artists visiting the United Kingdom for music festivals.

My Lords, we welcome artists from across the world visiting the UK to perform in music festivals, recognising the needs of the creative arts and to promote the creative industries. Specific arrangements were introduced in 2008 under tier 5. While there have been no changes to these, we recognise concerns raised by the sector about the operation of tier 5 in specific areas and we are working with it to understand and address them accordingly.

My Lords, the UKVI now seems to be telling its officers that all non-EU entertainers need an entry visa if they come through Ireland, whereas previously, certificates of sponsorship could be presented and activated when they came to Britain. This change was not announced publicly and no proper consultation with the music industry took place. It was taken unawares and the new requirement has had a major impact on major summer music festivals such as Glastonbury, Edinburgh, Glyndebourne, Reading and Leeds. Is this the hostile environment we can now expect for all artists—whether they are EU citizens or not—if Brexit takes place? Is the Home Office now dictating our cultural and creative exchanges?

I hope the noble Lord could concede that it is not hostile; it is quite the opposite. There has been a change in how the tier 5 route is implemented when individuals enter the UK, particularly from Ireland. Because there are no routine immigration controls on these routes, the correct form of entry clearance cannot be given and the certificates of sponsorship therefore cannot be activated. It has nothing to do with exit from the EU. Work is well under way to identify a workaround for the tier 5 concession route when entering the UK from Ireland to avoid the requirement to obtain a visa before arrival. I hope that gives the noble Lord some comfort.

My Lords, the music industry is very concerned about the ability of many artists and bands to move around Europe—if we leave the EU—fairly freely, with little bureaucracy. What will the Government do to make sure those artists are still allowed to ply their trade as they are at present?

My Lords, the UK, more than perhaps many countries, absolutely welcomes the creative industries. We want artists to come here and to be able to perform. It is the reason why, as I tell the noble Lord, we are looking at how to work around this issue. It is a result not of border control but of no immigration controls on these routes, and we are therefore trying to work around it. It is nothing to do with Brexit.

My Lords, it is clear more generally that the rules around writers, artists and musicians coming to the United Kingdom are complex, opaque, very costly and damaging to our reputation as a cultural hub. Having abolished the UKVI’s arts and entertainment task force, which could have helped resolved these problems, will the Government now at least consider a system of direct contact with UKVI for artists and promoters, or an online update system so that they can check where quicker progress can be made and so that there are fewer errors?

At the risk of repeating myself—I will take up the noble Lord’s point about the UK arts and entertainment committee—we are looking for a way around what is creating problems for these artists. We are in no way trying to restrict their entry; we absolutely welcome them.

My Lords, what instructions, if any, are given to our embassies and consulates abroad regarding the issuing of visas to these artists?

What I can do for my noble friend is check up on the advice that is given, but I am sure we are looking around this issue. I am sure that the advice is clear: we do not want artists who enrich our lives and our society to be impeded in any way.

Will the Minister agree to consult with the talent unions such as the Musicians’ Union and Equity, which are often consulted on and engaged in the international exchange of talent?

I know that the Government have been engaging with the sector. I shall double-check with the talent unions and if they have not been engaged with I shall make that suggestion.

My Lords, the noble Baroness says that we are working hard to understand this. She is sure that advice is given to our embassies abroad and that we are looking for a way forward. Does she not understand that, while they are working hard to understand it and looking for a way forward, this is having a devastating effect on the cultural life of the country and an impact on the economics? The organisations that are expected to bring artists over, but at the last minute find they are unable to do so, have an economic deficit in their accounts as well. The noble Baroness sounds a bit complacent. I hope she can move with some urgency to resolve this as soon as possible.

I am not complacent at all. I recognise completely the value that the entertainment industry gives to society and, of course, the economic value. We are working through a solution that will help those people entering through Ireland. It is predominantly an Irish issue.

My Lords, I think the noble Baroness said in an answer to an earlier question that there had been no change in policy since 2008. If that is the case, can she explain why the experience of people organising festivals and of individuals trying to perform at them has changed so dramatically for the worse this year?

As I said, because of the lack of immigration controls on certain routes from Ireland to the UK, there have been difficulties around the certificates of sponsorship, because there has been no immigration official to hand the certificate to. That is exactly what we are looking at.