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“(1) A Minister of the Crown must, within 12 months of this Act coming into force, lay before Parliament a report evaluating the effects of this Act on the arrangements for temporary entry and stay for business purposes for EEA and Swiss nationals.
(2) That report must include—
(a) the qualification requirements for a short-term business visitor
(b) the activities that can be undertaken by a short-term business visitor;
(c) consider the reciprocal arrangements for UK nationals travelling to the EEA and Switzerland.”—
This new clause would require the Government to consider the requirements of short-term business visitors.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
The new clause is not unlike some of the other proposals we have made in this sitting to ask the Government to go away and develop an evidence base, shining a spotlight on certain sectors, which we hope would then inform more concrete proposals. This proposal has a particular focus on the creative industries, temporary migration and visa requirements for working arrangements.
We understand that the Government are currently negotiating a reciprocal agreement with the EU that would allow UK citizens to undertake some paid business activities in the EU without a work permit on a short-term basis. However, the precise details, including the range of activities, the documentation needed and the time limit, are all still to be negotiated; certainly the details are still to be put into the public domain.
One sector directly affected is culture, music and the performing arts. The creative sector contributes over £100 billion a year to the UK economy and employs over 3 million people, according to the Confederation of British Industry. There are growing concerns in this sector about the lack of progress on a reciprocal agreement being reached before the end of the transition period, and whether it would guarantee short-term work and visits for EU nationals, all of which is critical for the survival of the music profession.
Britain’s music industry has long attracted world-class artists, entertainers and musicians to perform in the UK, but this is all very precarious if visa issues are not resolved by the end of the year. This is also one of the sectors hardest hit by the coronavirus, as events and performances will no doubt be one of the last elements across society to return to normal.
Working in the European Union, whether that involves performing, recording, teaching or collaborating, is an essential part of the music professional’s ability to earn. The music industry is very transient and often there is not enough work available in the UK for musicians to sustain livelihoods, but going abroad has often provided a solution. We are not talking about performers earning megabucks, although of course we want the UK to be an attractive stage for them and for our international talent in the rest of Europe—for example, UK performers who may go to work in a holiday resort for two months of the year, or may tour venues in a number of European countries.
If the UK leaves without a comprehensive arrangement in place, musicians could very quickly find themselves trying to navigate the entry requirements for each of the 27 EU member states, which risks causing major disruption to the UK’s music industry. Without effective reciprocal arrangements, the UK may see a decline in skilled culture sector workers entering the country from the EU. If the music industry is to survive and we are to continue attracting the best talent from across the world, musicians and performers must be able to continue travelling abroad to work with ease after the transition period. It is the same for many other businesses and industries.
The Home Office previously pledged that it would allow EU bands to enter the country freely for gigs post Brexit, and that it would continue to include special arrangements for creative workers. A potential solution might be a multi-entry touring visa valid for about two years and EU-wide, covering all 27 member states, which I know is the preference of the Incorporated Society of Musicians.
I hope the Minister agrees that the UK must continue to attract musicians and performers from all over the world with an immigration system that is fit for purpose. Providing the best possible situation to do that would be achieved by commissioning the report set out in new clause 29.
It might help if I briefly outline how the current system for those visiting the UK for business purposes operates. I note the shadow Minister has focused on creative purposes, but the wording in the new clause is “business visitor”.
The Government welcome genuine visitors to the UK, and this is not going to change once free movement has ended. We want to ensure legitimate travellers who support our economy and enrich our culture can continue to come to the UK smoothly in future. The UK’s current immigration rules for visitors are already fairly generous. Visitors can, in most cases, come to the UK for up to six months, and take part in a wide range of activities beyond simply tourism, or visiting family and friends.
Visitors can attend conferences, carry out independent research, undertake work-related training and maintain and install equipment where there is a contract with a UK company. We also allow audit activity and knowledge transfer where these take place in an intra-company setting. Visitors can undertake creative and sporting activities, and there are also some exceptional instances in the visitor rules whereby we allow payment by a UK source for certain activities, including performing at a permit-free festival, such as the Edinburgh festival. There are also provisions for paid performance engagement—or PPE, as we call it—whereby an individual who has been invited by a creative organisation can be paid for a short period for performing in the UK.
Those are already available to non-visa nationals, such as Canadian, Australian, Japanese and New Zealand citizens, and we have made it clear that EEA and Swiss citizens will not need a visa to undertake these activities, and will be able to travel and enter the UK on that basis. The EU has already legislated so that UK nationals will not need a visa when travelling to the Schengen area for short stays of up to 90 days in any 180-day period, as opposed to our slightly more generous provisions for visitors.
The Government recognise that it is desirable for UK nationals to have greater certainty about what they can do when travelling to the EU on a temporary or short-term basis, hence future arrangements on entry and temporary stay in the EU are subject to ongoing negotiations. Further, we look forward to reaching agreement on the future entry and temporary stay of natural persons with Switzerland and the EEA-European Free Trade Association states. For obvious reasons, we cannot legislate that the 27 member states of the EU offer a deal to the UK, but we hope we can come to a mutually beneficial agreement.
The UK’s visitor rules are kept under regular review. In our points-based system policy statement from February, we committed to
“continue our generous visitor provisions, but with simplified rules and guidance”.
We have engaged with stakeholders to understand how the rules can be simplified and improved and will continue to do so once free movement ends. For these reasons, there is no requirement for an additional report, and the new clause would be an odd addition to the Bill, for reasons I have set out in response to previous new clauses. I would therefore ask the hon. Member for Halifax to consider withdrawing the new clause.