Brexit: movement of people in the cultural sector Contents


The cultural sector makes a profoundly important contribution to the UK’s society and economy, and to its international image and influence. Cultural sector workers are highly mobile, and have thrived on collaboration with people from all over the world.

This report argues that the cultural sector urgently needs more clarity on free movement post-Brexit. The Government wishes to “take back control” of the UK’s borders by ending the free movement of persons. However, by the time of writing, it had provided little detail about what this would mean in practice. Its most recent pronouncement on free movement appeared in the White Paper published on 12 July 2018, but contained few concrete proposals. A White Paper on immigration is expected by the end of this year, with an Immigration Bill to follow in the New Year. Until then, the structure of the UK’s future immigration system will remain unclear.

Despite the lack of detail about the Government’s plans, we suggest that future immigration from the EU to the UK will be shaped by one of two broad imperatives. The UK immigration system will either give preferential treatment to EU27 citizens, or treat them in the same way as people from third countries. We reaffirm the conclusion of our previous inquiry, Brexit: UK-EU movement of people, that the Government should pursue reciprocal preferential arrangements. But we also analyse the likely effect on the cultural sector should EU citizens face the same restrictions that currently apply to third country nationals.

The cultural sector relies on highly talented individuals, yet often pays salaries that are less than the UK median. Bringing EU cultural workers under the same restrictions as third country nationals could therefore prove detrimental to the sector, because existing visa rules require a minimum salary in excess of what many cultural organisations can offer. As a result, the UK may struggle to attract talent.

Many individuals working in the sector are self-employed. At present, EU social security coordination regulations mean that EU citizens pay contributions only in the Member State in which they are resident, instead of the Member State in which they work temporarily. The UK and EU will need to find agreement in this area if performers, artists and other cultural sector workers are to travel easily from the EU to the UK, and vice versa, in the future.

In addition to describing the potential hurdles posed by the current immigration system, we make suggestions about how aspects of the system might, in fact, facilitate movement for cultural sector workers post-Brexit. We urge the Government to explore whether it could extend the permitted paid engagement and permit-free festival arrangements to EU citizens, two schemes that allow short-term travel to the UK. We also suggest that the Government offer a multi-country, multi-entry short-term ‘touring visa’ for EU citizens, and seek a reciprocal commitment for UK citizens travelling to the EU. This would recognise the two-way benefits that accrue from allowing artists, entertainers and other cultural sector workers to move freely between the UK and EU.

We therefore recommend that the Government be flexible. The UK’s negotiators must recognise that any restrictions on EU citizens wishing to enter the UK may be matched by restrictions on UK workers in the EU. A decline in skilled workers from the EU would not only damage the UK’s cultural sector, but also represent a significant loss to the audiences that benefit when talented people from across Europe perform in the UK.

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