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Spain ends visa requirement for British artists, though post-Brexit touring challenges continue

By | Published on Wednesday 17 November 2021


The Spanish government has announced a rule change that will mean British artists and crew touring in the country will no longer need visas. It removes one of the big barriers the UK live community has faced since Brexit.

The post-Brexit trade deal agreed between the UK and the EU did not include any pan-European arrangement to ensure British performers could continue to tour the continent without facing any new visa, permit or carnet requirements. As a result, artists and crew must adhere to different rules in each EU member state. In some countries things can pretty much carry on as normal, but in others there is new bureaucracy to navigate.

Spain – a key touring market for many UK acts – fell into the latter group, meaning artists and crew faced new costs and administration when playing shows in the country. For many artists, those new costs would make gigging in Spain unviable. But after much campaigning, by both the UK and Spanish music communities, the rules have now changed.

A statement issued by trade groups LIVE and the Association For British Orchestras yesterday explained that, prior to this rule change, “visas have been a significant issue for Spain which, despite representing the fifth largest live music market in the world, posed the most costly and complicated visa application process across the bloc for artists looking to travel for short-term work”.

“Until now”, it went on, “artists and their promoters have had to make applications for short-term visas entirely in Spanish, provide a host of itinerary details before having even been given the green light for the tour to go ahead – including accommodation and flight allocations – and give proof of applicant earnings of up to nearly £1000 before ever having left the country. Costs were also prohibitive, amounting to over £10,000 for an orchestra to visit Spain for up to five days”.

As well as LIVE and ABO, organisations like UK Music and the #LetTheMusicMove campaign have also been putting pressure on UK ministers to negotiate a better deal on this point directly with their Spanish counterparts. Meanwhile, in Spain itself organisations like APM Musicales and the Spanish division of Live Nation have been lobbying hard for the rule change.

Welcoming the change, Craig Stanley, Chair of the LIVE Touring Group, said yesterday: “We are delighted that our hard work has paid off and the Spanish government has agreed to lift the restrictive visa process for touring artists, ending the complicated and painful process of expensive visa applications. A whole host of people came together both here and in Spain to fix this situation and this shows what we can achieve as an industry when we work together”.

Although, of course, while addressing the visa issue in Spain was a particular priority, there is still new post-Brexit bureaucracy elsewhere in Europe for artists to navigate as they start touring again as COVID restrictions lift. With that in mind, Stanley added: “[This] is still only one small part of a very large problem affecting our ability to tour … we are calling on the government to follow our lead and urgently work to fix the rules with the remaining member states so that we can continue to tour across the entirety of the European Union”.

UK Music boss Jamie Njoku-Goodwin echoed that sentiment, welcoming this development but stressing much more still needs to be done. “The lifting of visa restrictions by the Spanish government is a hugely welcome move”, he said. “It marks a big victory for all our members and reflects all the effort we have put in trying to get rid of these barriers. However, it is important to remember that major issues still remain – particularly cabotage, which makes many tours impossible. We will continue to press the case with the government here and with EU nations to remove all the costly and bureaucratic restrictions that remain when it comes to touring the EU”.

Even in Spain, there is still some new bureaucracy to deal with, as the LIVE/ABO statement also explained yesterday. “Although the successful return of visa-free short-term work in Spain represents a positive step towards the return of international touring”, it continued, “this is only one part of the picture. Touring artists still face restrictions on touring in Spain: a three-stop limit to UK touring vehicles before they have to return to home and a hugely expensive goods passport – a ‘carnet’ – including a bond for instruments and equipment”.

“Taken together with the visa issue still affecting other areas of the EU”, it went on, “the impacts of Brexit continue to cause a logistical nightmare for Europe-wide tours. Live music touring is reliant on low friction barriers to entry and movement, allowing tours to move through countries seamlessly and quickly, and, as the second biggest exporter of music in the world, the sector in the UK is feeling the pinch”.

The statement then concluded: “Not only does this affect the ecosystem of live music industry performers, workers, and businesses, but also for the UK economy which risks losing one of its finest exports. LIVE is calling on the government to work with individual EU governments to tackle the problem of visas and permits, focusing on seven member states with the most urgent issues, including Croatia”.

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