But it is probably not well known that, in addition to any normal visa requirements, a US (or Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, South African, Brazilian etc) performer needs to have a Tier 5 (Temporary Worker – Creative and sporting) visa before he or she can perform. This costs £244, or £854 if you are in a hurry and can’t wait the three weeks or so that it takes to process these things. You need to get a ‘Certificate of Sponsorship’ from a ‘licensed employer’ and you may face a healthcare surcharge. It’s a hassle, basically.
This has hit the news because the Home Office, in preparing for tighter security after Brexit, has discovered that for many years performers have been able to avoid this charge if they made landfall in Ireland, played a couple of gigs in Dublin, then moved on to the UK.
Things are now going to be toughened up. Apparently Beyonce, for example, travels with an entourage of 250 and should have paid over £160,000 in visa fees. The Home Office needs the money. Kerr-ching.
All very well for the corporate behemoth that is Beyonce Inc, you may say. But what about today’s version of the young Paul Simon, who may simply have – in the words of a song he famously wrote on Warrington station – ‘a suitcase and guitar in hand’?
Suppose you are travelling to do a stand-up slot at next month’s Edinburgh fringe, for example. Getting a Tier 5 visa is a complicated business and the expense is disproportionate to any likely benefit you’ll get.
Put another way, it’s indirectly a tax on UK consumers of American music, comedy and drama. It is no doubt supported by the Musicians’ Union and Equity.
EU performers are exempt, and thus it’s cheaper to bring over a ballet from Berlin than one from Russia. Economists see this as trade diversion, a common feature of customs unions and free trade areas.
And of course it’s cheaper to have a British actor attempt an excruciating American accent in a West End version of Tennessee Williams – I’ve seen too many of those.
It’s maybe a small thing. But when we eventually redraft our immigration rules, please let’s make it easier for creatives to come to the UK. We should have the freest possible trade in entertainment – just as for other goods and services.