Brexit inches closer and closer with little over six months to go until the deadline is reached. However, the UK government’s silence regarding a post-Brexit immigration plan – aside from the students, tourists and businesses favoured in the White Paper – has only added to the unease and uncertainty felt across the continent.
In a bid to ease fears, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) released its report ‘Open and Controlled: A New Approach to Immigration After Brexit’, exposing 18 industries of concern. One of these was the creative and entertainment sector as the report found 131,000 EU nationals contribute to the industry, making up 7% of the total workforce.
The UK has a strong position in the creative world, achieving a reputable status that is recognised and celebrated around the globe. At the heart of this success is the dance sector, estimated to worth £92 billion as thousands flock from all over corners of the world to watch performances.
However, one of the major shortfalls the industry will inevitably have to overcome post-Brexit is the restricted mobility of staff. The UK government has confirmed – above all – that Free Movement will definitely end. This will certainly dampen opportunities and future prospects for dance troupes whose expert performances rely on access to and from Europe. In a recent Dance UK case study, a medium-sized but high-profile dance company delivered over 100 performances in 39 European cities last year. In the same study, out of the 70 National Portfolio dance organisations registered by Arts Council England, up to 40 are touring dance companies. Their careers and futures hang in the balance, awaiting the real and final verdict of Brexit. 96% of respondents to One Dance UK’s survey expect Brexit will impact their future tours in the EU.
Migrant talent has long contributed to the success of the dance industry. According to One Dance UK, there are up to 40,000 workers in the dance sector. In the average dance company, half of current performers originate from the EEA as the case study by One Dance found every 6 out of 12 performers were European. For the 22 dancers in Rambert Dance Company, half are British with the remaining half divided between Europeans and the wider world.
However, it’s not just dancers that ensure performances run smoothly. The ‘behind the scenes’ staff are equally as integral to the industry, employing artists, admins, technical support staff, educators, musicians and health professionals. All of which vary in skill levels and qualifications.
The lack of clarity surrounding what the future may hold post-Brexit for staff in the creative industry is already impacting the dance sphere. The number of EU migrants living in the UK has been declining steadily since the EU referendum, and many industry professionals in the dance sector claim some of their EEA dancers have already left.
As it currently stands, the UK government has assured current EU nationals that they will be granted ‘Settled Status’ if they apply before or during the implementation period that runs until 2021. However, recruiters are becoming increasingly concerned with employing talent past this point, especially as speculation surrounding a no-deal Brexit is beginning to rise.
Many immigration lawyers and experts suspect the current immigration system that is already in use for non-EU migrants will extend to include Europeans once Free Movement has ended. Regardless of securing a deal, this would be a disaster to the UK’s dance industry.
The Tier 2 Work Visa that international dancers require to come and work in the UK has stringent requirements. If extended to apply for Europeans, not only will dance companies see themselves paying out the laborious Sponsor Licence Application fees, but migrants will be rushing to obtain a visa before the monthly allowance is filled. The UK government has a cap on the number of Tier 2 visas issued a year at 20,700. This means that dancers will be competing before they even get to the stage as all other incoming migrants in a variety of job roles and professions will also face scrutiny under the cap. Even if migrants pass the English language test (which shouldn’t be a prerequisite for dance anyway) and they can demonstrate that they have almost £1,000 in personal savings, a migrant in receipt of a higher salary could trump them for the visa.
Fortunately, dancers and choreographers are on the UK’s Shortage Occupation List, specifying the UK’s shortage of skilled classical ballet dancers and skilled contemporary dancers. Migrants looking for a dance career in the UK can therefore easily apply through the list as the resource is designed to advertise jobs that are in shortage in the UK and take priority. This is good news for Tier 2 dancers as not only does applying for a job that’s classed as ‘in shortage’ offer discounts on visas, but applicants will be considered for a visa even if the cap has been filled.
However, no-deal Brexit clouds over the dance industry. The implications of visa travel for touring companies would be too financially and administratively burdensome as they will have to keep reapplying for temporary visit visas in each EU country. For talented dancers, the financial costs of their visa – even with a discount – could be enough to steer them to dance elsewhere. The Royal Ballet warn that another financial crash and recession caused by a devalued pound will inevitably have a knock-on impact on funding for arts and culture in the UK. Most often than not, the collateral damage of economic troughs and austerity fall onto the arts, however, Brexit may well be the final hurdle that drains the industry out.
Akram Khan, the choreographer and dancer, warned that restricted access to artists is detrimental to the dance industry. Stricter visa regulations would be sure to drive the best international performers away. To overcome a potential skills shortage or ‘cliff edge’, the CBI recommends that the UK government drops the Tier 2 cap entirely, permitting lower-skilled migrants from a variety of professions into the UK. The CBI also calls for a complete reform of the Tier 2 visa so that migrants who don’t meet the financial requirements would also be able to work in the UK. Migrants are the lifeline to the survival of the dance industry, if the UK fails to reform its immigration policies, the industry has some very tough decisions to make.
Olivia Bridge is a specialist content writer and political correspondent for the Immigration Advice Service and leading Immigration Lawyers UK.