Artist Visa UK – Access Denied


Artist Visa UK

Following on from an article we wrote in 2010 (included below), we are reviewing how this category has progrees, if at all five years down the line, and provide some more insight in to the type of UK visas now available to artists.

On 6th April 2015, UK Visas and Immigration consolidated the visitor visas under 4 categories.

There are now two options / categories for Artists coming to the UK.

Option 1 –Paid Permitted Engagement (PPE)

This type of visas covers the following:

An artist, entertainer, or musician may:

(a) give performances as an individual or as part of a group;
(b) take part in competitions or auditions;
(c) make personal appearances and take part in promotional activities;
(d) take part in one or more cultural events or festivals on the list of permit free festivals, see here for a list.

The Paid Permitted Engagement visa is issued for a maximum of one month. There is no option to extend this visa.

The eligibility requirements for this type of visa are as follows:
You must prove that you:

• are 18 or over
• are visiting the UK for no more than 1 month
• will leave the UK at the end of your visit
• have enough money without help from public funds to support and house yourself
• can pay for your return or onward journey
• are not in transit to a country outside the UK, Ireland, Isle of Man and the Channel Islands

An invite from a UK company is very important and must be provided as part of the requirements process.

If entering on this type of visa, the arrangements for the UK must be made and confirmed before applying for a UK visa and details need to be disclosed on the application as well as documented with evidence.

Documents required

If you wish to apply for a permitted paid engagement visa, you should ensure that you have the following documentation:

• Proof that you can support yourself during your trip, eg bank statements or payslips for the last 6 months.
• Details of where you intend to stay and your travel plans – you shouldn’t pay for accommodation or travel until you get your visa.
• A formal invitation from the organisation or authority you’ll be paid by.
• Proof that the paid engagement relates to your expertise, qualifications and main job in your home country, eg a letter from your employer

Option 2 – Tier 5 (Temporary Worker Creative and Sporting) Visa

This category allows people coming to the United Kingdom to work or perform as sports people, entertainers or creative artists for up to 12 months.

This visa option is only available for a creative person who will make a unique contribution to the labour market and a sponsor who is able to issue a certificate of sponsorship is required.

If a person is required to perform at more than one engagement whilst in the UK the sponsor can provide a certificate of sponsorship that covers the entire length of stay required. Alternatively, should a person be working for more than 1 sponsor, they can get a certificate from each sponsor, however, on both options there can’t be a gap of more than 14 days between each job.

The maximum time allowed in the UK on this visa is 12 months.

Based on the options above, it would seem that perhaps things have become a little easier for artists to visit the UK, however this is not entirely true.

In June, The New Collective, based in Tbilisi were due to perform at the Flare Festival in Manchester and were refused artists visas. The British authorities are so concerned that this young collective will want to migrate to the UK that their visa application has been refused. They are young, single, without dependents and have very little in their bank accounts, so cannot prove satisfactorily that they are “genuine” visitors to the UK and would leave following their performances according to the authorities reasoning. Ai Weiwei, does not fit this profile, however, he was denied a six month visa a few weeks ago, too, decision which was subsequently reversed once the Home Secretary herself became involved in the case.

Earlier this year, Thaeir Helal was due to attend a high profile exhibition of his work at Ayyam Gallery in London, however he was refused entry on the grounds that the Home Office “were not entirely satisfied Helal was genuinely seeking entry to the United Kingdom as a business visitor. In addition they were not satisfied that he intend to leave the United Kingdom at the end of his visit.” Helal confirmed he submitted all the required documents and a letter from the university where he is a lecturer for the purpose of his visit.

In 2013, Gaza-based husband and wife writers, Ali Abukhattab and Samah al-Sheikh, were due to talk about their writing at London’s ICA and Kazakh artist Karipbek Kuyukov, who was born without arms, said he was denied permission to enter Britain because he could not give fingerprints.

Between 2011 and now it seems very little has changed in terms of the ease of artists being allowed to enter the UK to perform and the reasons are mainly based around their intent to leave.


September 2010

Fortress Britain is blocking cultural exchange UK immigration rules that refuse artist visa UK to artists from non-EU countries are destroying our reputation for being open to international engagement.

Click here for full article in The Guardian

This afternoon Brett Bailey, founder of the renowned Third World Bunfight company and often described as South Africa’s edgiest theatre director, was due to give a talk in London as part of the Greenwich and Docklands international festival. The talk will no longer be happening because Bailey has been denied entry to the UK as a result of the Home Office’s points-based visa system, a process so intricate and full of red tape that Visiting Arts frequently finds itself called upon to come to the aid of producers inviting artists to these shores.

Since the system was introduced in 2008, many artists and writers from non-EU countries have found themselves either prevented from entering the UK or unable to get visas in time to perform or take part in discussions and festivals for which they have formal invitations. In June, the Russian ballerina, Polina Semionova, due to give eight performances in Swan Lake at the Royal Albert Hall, became a high-profile casualty of the visa system. It is causing damage to the UK’s reputation as a country that is open to engagement with international artists.

Last month, Brazilian theatre company, Teatro da Curva, was invited to bring their production of Candide to Camden People’s Theatre as part of the Camden fringe. But despite having correct documentation, the group was held for five hours, denied entry to the UK and then deported. The case, and the group’s treatment at the hands of immigration officials, has received high-profile coverage in Brazil and is unlikely to help the cause of international cultural exchange between the two countries.

There is something insane about the fact that the British Council and Visiting Artsspend so much time and effort forging international links and promoting UK theatre and culture abroad when the Home Office and UK Border Agency can so easily scupper all the goodwill. After the Teatro da Curva incident, British artists travelling to Brazil may find it harder to enter the country and receive a cool welcome.

Reciprocity is part and parcel of cultural exchange. Just as work here on the fringe constantly reinvigorates the mainstream, so work produced from beyond these shores can also open theatre-makers and audiences’ eyes. Without these influences, our own theatre is in danger of becoming provincial and parochial. Over the last 40 years since the World Theatre Seasons and the advent of the London international festival of theatre (LIFT), British theatre has been far less inward-looking, and events such as the Barbican BITE seasons and the Edinburgh international festival continue to present high-profile international work. That’s great, but cultural exchange at a grassroots level is also essential to the development of artists.

Manick Govinda, a producer at Arts Admin, is at the forefront of a campaign spearheaded by the Manifesto Club to overturn the current visa system, and has compiled a dossier of the testimonies of artists refused visas and denied entry. There is also a petition that has been signed by many high-profile supporters, including the National Theatre’s Nicholas Hytner. The previous government, which introduced the visa system, refused to see reason, and the country is rapidly becoming known in the international arts world as “Fortress Britain”. Will the coalition government recognise the damage current rules are doing to our cultural standing? Let’s hope so.


Founder and Managing Director Anne Morris is a fully qualified solicitor and trusted adviser to large corporates through to SMEs, providing strategic immigration and global mobility advice to support employers with UK operations to meet their workforce needs through corporate immigration.

She is a recognised by Legal 500 and Chambers as a legal expert and delivers Board-level advice on business migration and compliance risk management as well as overseeing the firm’s development of new client propositions and delivery of cost and time efficient processing of applications.

Anne is an active public speaker, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals

About DavidsonMorris

As employer solutions lawyers, DavidsonMorris offers a complete and cost-effective capability to meet employers’ needs across UK immigration and employment law, HR and global mobility.

Led by Anne Morris, one of the UK’s preeminent immigration lawyers, and with rankings in The Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners, we’re a multi-disciplinary team helping organisations to meet their people objectives, while reducing legal risk and nurturing workforce relations.

Legal Disclaimer

The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct at the time of writing, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.

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