Culture Secretary hosts Festivals Visa Summit

Bid to resolve immigration issues for performers.

Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop will today chair a summit on visas for international festivals.

She will be joined by senior representatives from the Welsh and UK Governments, the Northern Ireland Executive, and members of the culture community across the UK to discuss potential solutions to immigration barriers faced by international artists coming to participate in our world renowned festivals.

The Scottish Government and festival organisers in Scotland have regularly raised concerns with the UK Government about challenges faced by international artists and performers navigating an immigration process which is lengthy, complex and costly.

Key members of Scotland’s culture sector are calling on the UK Government to take immediate action such as:

  • designating an organisation with expert knowledge of culture in Scotland to endorse visas for performers
  • extending the Permitted Paid Engagement (PPE) scheme to a period longer than one month, to make performers’ visits to the UK more viable
  • expanding the Permit Free Festivals scheme – which allows overseas performers to take part without needing a certificate of sponsorship under the points-based system - to include smaller festivals with a minimum of five international performers and an audience of 10,000
  • introducing a streamlined, digitised and accessible application process that is less costly and without passport retention whilst awaiting a decision
  • considered case handling with real time updates and named contacts to liaise directly with applicants to resolve visa application issues
  • allowing touring artists to switch from one type of visa to another without leaving the UK

The UK Government’s immigration proposals have caused concern in many sectors across Scotland’s economy.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, inviting him to meet representatives from key sectors in Scotland to discuss how to ‘prevent serious and lasting harm to Scotland’s economy’. The letter highlights a number of industries which will be significantly affected by the new immigration policies including tourism and hospitality, which play a vital role in supporting the success of Scotland’s festivals.

Ms Hyslop said:

“Scotland’s festivals are world-leading and we welcome cultural exchange and participation. Key to this is the ability to host international visitors for festivals and gatherings.

“The UK Government have reneged on their promise to deliver an immigration system that works for the whole of the UK – or even that works at all. Their restrictive policy negatively impacts all sectors of our economy and this is only likely to get worse with the implementation of the new immigration system in 2021.

“Festivals across Scotland and the UK already face significant challenges when it comes to the mobility of artists and performers, and the UK Government’s new immigration proposals, including ending freedom of movement, will exacerbate this.

“The UK Government have ignored the evidence presented to them by the Scottish Government, businesses and industry on Scotland’s labour market needs. These proposals will cause catastrophic damage to Scotland. Holyrood must be given the powers to develop a Scottish Visa to protect our public services and economy.”

Julia Amour, Director of Festivals Edinburgh, said:

“Edinburgh’s Festivals were born with an international spirit at our heart – so along with festival colleagues across the country, we’re increasingly concerned that the complexity of visa rules can deter artists, and we’re determined to protect the free flow of ideas at a time when people and countries need to be even more globally engaged with each other.”


Ms Hyslop wrote to Home Secretary Priti Patel, Seema Kennedy MP, the former Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Home Office, and her successor Kevin Foster MP urging them to collaborate with the devolved administrations to find practical solutions for immigration issues affecting festivals and performers across the UK. All three Ministers declined to attend the Festivals Visa Summit.

The Edinburgh Festivals collectively involve nearly 8,000 non-UK participants from 85 countries, attracting audiences of around 4.7 million, generating more than £300 million in cultural tourism value every year. Freedom of movement is fundamental to the attraction of non-UK participants – around a third from the EEA, with a third from visa-exempt countries and a third from countries requiring a visa.

The UK Government’s immigration proposals disregard the need to expand both the Permit Free Festivals and Permitted Paid Engagement routes. EU citizens will now face the same difficulties as international artists wanting to participate in and enjoy Scotland’s festivals.

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