The UK visa application process can often be challenging for international entertainers who are planning to perform in the UK, but there are ways to improve prospects of making a successful application to the British Home Office.
If you’re a professional performer, you will only be granted entry into the UK and the required permission to work if you hold the correct visa. This means making an application to the UK Home Office.
The reality however is visas are usually the last thing on anyone’s mind when organising overseas music events. The venues are booked, the promotion wheel is in motion. How the artists will actually get to the destination usually comes somewhere down the list of priorities.
What is the permitted paid engagement visa?
The Permitted Paid Engagement visa is for experts who have been engaged by a UK-based client or organisation to come to the UK on a temporary basis to work without being sponsored.
Under the PPE visa, you are allowed to stay for up to one month if you have been invited by a UK organisation for any of the following reasons:
- To perform or take part in arts, entertainment or sporting activities
- To take part in fashion modelling assignments
- To undertake ‘minor’ activities relating to your work, eg attend meetings
- To provide legal advocacy services
- As a student examiner or assessor
- To take part in selection panels as a highly qualified academic if you’re invited by an education, arts or research organisation
- To deliver one-off lectures at a higher education institution
- To examine UK-based pilots so they meet the standards of the country you come from if you’re invited by an approved UK training organisation regulated by the UK Civil Aviation Authority
The PPE visa does not allow you to:
- Carry out paid-for work that is either outside of the visa conditions or unrelated to your main job or area of expertise in your home country
- Get married or enter into a civil partnership
- Be accompanied by dependants without their own visa or permission
- Extend or apply to switch into a different route while in the UK
- Live in the UK
- Access benefits
Permitted paid engagement visa requirements
You must show that:
- you’re 18 or over
- you’re visiting the UK for no more than 1 month
- you’ve been formally invited and paid by a UK-based organisation to attend an event or other permitted engagement
- you’ll leave the UK at the end of your visit
- you will not live in the UK for extended periods through frequent or successive visits, or make the UK your main home
- you’re able to support yourself during your trip (or have funding from someone else to support you)
- you’re able to pay for your return or onward journey (or have funding from someone else to pay for the journey)
- you have proof of any business or other activities you want to do in the UK, as allowed by the Visitor Rules
Applying for the permitted paid engagement visa
You apply online for the PPE visa on the Home Office website up to 3 months before you plan to travel.
You will also be required to attend an appointment at a visa application centre local to you to provide your supporting documents and to prove your identity.
Documents will include your current, valid passport or other travel document; proof of your invitation from the UK-based organisation who will pay you; and proof that the engagement is directly related to your expertise.
The application costs £95.
UK visas for performers
Following the end of EU free movement, European nationals are now required to have the required permission to come to the UK to carry out paid work. For international musicians, the immigration options would – depending on the nature of the engagement – typically include the Permitted Paid Engagement Visa or the visitor visa, or if you plan to be working for a longer period, you should consider alternative options such as the Skilled Worker or Tier 5 visa or Global Talent route. Take advice on your circumstances to ensure you progress with the most appropriate route for your requirements and eligibility.
Whichever route you apply under, you will need to ensure you meet the eligibility criteria and submit an application that evidences your case to the Home Office.
A failed visa application means the artist won’t be able to gain entry into the UK. You could be looking at scaled-down sets and cancelled gigs, lost revenues and wasted expense on fees and flights, and reliance on back up sets and contingency plans. In the worst case scenario for British music fans, international artists will start to avoid UK performances.
Is there anything artists and their management can do to improve their prospects of making a successful visa application?
“Don’t you know who I am?”
The UK Home Office processes visa applications from artists, musicians, and celebrities of any kind in the same way as all other visa applications. Do not expect special consideration or dispensation. You are required to follow the rules, just like any other applicant for a UK visa.
By the same token, do not assume the Home Office caseworker will know who you are. Your application will need to be comprehensive and thorough in explaining who you are, the purpose of your visit and how your skills and experience meet the visa criteria. It’s safer to assume the caseworker has no prior knowledge of your talent, achievements or status.
The Home office will also be looking for specific evidence and reassurance that you will leave the UK and return home at the end of your trip.
Don’t underestimate the timescales
Even with the smoothest of visa applications, they still take time to process. And if anything, I’d say the Home Office is taking longer to make decisions. This is clearly at odds with the reality of a musician’s relentless schedule and limited availability. Try to address visa applications as early as possible, particularly where there are complex circumstances, for example if you have multiple performances as you will need to ensure you hold the appropriate status for the duration of your stay.
Beware border control
If you enter the UK on a private jet, you will still be subject to border control and you will need to have secured the relevant visa.
As an example, we once took a call from a musician who had landed on a private airfield outside London. They had told the immigration officer they were in the UK for tourism purposes and as such did not have a visa. The immigration officer wasn’t convinced; they did a quick Google search and came across the artist’s imminent UK tour dates. The individual was refused entry on the basis they did not have a visa or permission to work.
Don’t forget the visas for the entourage, band and crew
Travelling with a party, whether an entourage, crew or other artists, will complicate matters. Each individual will need to make an application. More applications will mean more time.
Considerable logistical challenges usually arise where individuals are making their applications from different locations across the globe. Each applicant will need to attend a visa application centre local to them and passports may need to be surrendered while the Home office processes the application, limiting ability to travel further.
Performers on the Home Office banned list will not be granted entry to the UK. Entry bans usually relate to offensive content and preservation of the public good.
If you are concerned about a ban, before making an application, you should first check if you are on the list. If you are, it may be possible to petition for the ban to be lifted if you can provide grounds to justify removal from the list. For example, it may be that the ban relates to material from many years ago, or was created under a different persona.
Petitioning against a ban will require additional time and effort in submitting to the Home Office.
A tough stance on immigration: the biggest losers are UK music fans
It is a difficult and uncertain period in UK immigration policy, but there are ways to ensure visa applications are optimised for Home Office faster and smoother processing.
For US artists and their management, UK immigration rules undoubtedly present substantial challenges. Form filling, box ticking – it’s an unwanted distraction from the business at hand. But there’s no getting around it if performers want to satisfy their British fans’ appetite to experience their favourite artists performing live.
DavidsonMorris specialise in all aspects of UK immigration, with particular experience and expertise in helping media and entertainment professionals with Home Office applications.
If you are a musician, entertainer, artist or any other creative professional and need to secure a visa to perform in the UK or have had an application refused by the Home Office, speak to our experts today to discuss your options.
Permitted paid engagement visa FAQs
What is permitted paid engagement visa?
The PPE visa is for established individuals in their profession who have been invited to come to the UK to carry out limited work for up to one month, without the need to be sponsored.
How much is the permitted paid engagement visa?
It costs £95 to apply for the PPE visa.
Do I need a visa to perform in the UK?
Non-UK resident performers will require a visa to work in the UK. Depending on the circumstances, the visa options include the Paid Permitted Engagement Visa, the visitor visa, a Skilled Worker visa or a T5 creative worker visa.
Last updated: 3 January 2023