Coronavirus (COVID-19): travel for creative professionals

Letter from Culture Secretary to UK Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport urging the UK Government to ensure visa-free travel for creative industry workers.

From: Culture Secretary Angus Robertson
To: Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Oliver Dowden MP

I write to you to highlight the urgent need for action to support our creative industries to recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, including through international activity. In my new role as Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, External Affairs and Culture, the recovery of the sector is a key priority, and I believe it is important that our governments cooperate where possible to ensure that the appropriate support is delivered.

As you will be aware, the ability to work internationally, particularly for activities such as touring, is vital to our creative professionals in terms of generating income, accessing new audiences, building networks and promoting our creative industries internationally. While the easing of restrictions on international travel will help these activities to return, I have heard concerns from representatives of the sector that new restrictions resulting from the UK’s exit from the EU, particularly the need for visas and work permits, and levels of understanding of those issues, both in the UK and EU, risk seriously disrupting the sector’s recovery.

I must stress the gravity with which those representing the sector view this issue. With so much activity having been restricted for the past 18 months, and with subesquent impacts on the livelihoods of creative professionals, it is imperative that we minimise barriers to recovery, including those around international work. Should barriers such as the need for visas remain in place, there are concerns that this could put in place an insurmountable obstacle to touring in parts of the EU. Ultimately this could jeapordise the ability of some to continue working in the sector altogether. As such, the ability to return to international touring without additional restrictions must be seen as a key element of the sector’s recovery from the impacts of the pandemic.

However, it is clear that these burdens, which result of the end of freedom of movement, do risk making some international activities unprofitable or unaffordable for many. Not only does this risk livelihoods, but it also risks limiting the global reach of our creative industries with consequences for the economies of the UK. In particular, the financial and administrative burden of obtaining visas and work permits for short-term cultural activities in some EU countries are proving highly restrictive, with the high cost of some visas meaning some artists have been unable to accept work in some EU countries. New rules and requirements around cabotage and customs are also proving restrictive and are compounding the additional costs already being faced.

Scottish Ministers have repeatedly called on the UK Government to negotiate visa-free arrangements for cultural professionals with the EU as a whole. This would represent the most practical and consistent means of ensuring visa-free access for those working in the sector, and legal opinion obtained by the Incorporated Society of Musicians makes clear that this could be achieved without reopening the Trade and Cooperation Agreement. It is deeply disappointing that the UK Government has so far rejected these calls, as the lack of action in this area is now having a serious detrimental impact on creative professionals across the UK.

I appreciate that DCMS is currently exploring the possibility of negotiating easements of visa requirements in the EU member states that do not already have exemptions in place. While visa exemptions in individual member states would be welcome, I must urge you to prioritise any work to achieve visa-free access for our creative professionals. It is important that this outcome is achieved quickly, regardless of how it is pursued. As I and my colleagues have previously stated, the most comprehensive way to achieve this would be to seek to negotiate an agreement with the EU as a whole. Whatever course of action is taken by the UK Government, it is imperative that there is no delay in achieving visa- and work permit-free access to EU countries for our creative professionals this year.

I look forward to your response and would be happy to discuss further how our governments can cooperate to support our creative industries in this area.

I am copying this letter to the Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development, Jenny Gilruth MSP, and the UK Minister for Digital and Culture, Caroline Dinenage MP.

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