Certificate of Sponsorship (Work Permit) Panics

This is an edited version of an older post with slightly updated details. It is still very relevant in 2017.

What is it with all the last minute panics for work permits/Certificates of Sponsorship? In the past month I’ve had several performers from Australia and the USA emailing me in a flat spin because they’ve only just realised that in order to be able to perform in the UK they need to have ‘paperwork’. It used to be called a Work Permit, but now it’s called a ‘Certificate of Sponsorship’.

And yes, anyone coming into the UK to tour or play music from outside the EU NEEDS A CERTIFICATE OF SPONSORSHIP FOR EACH MEMBER OF THE BAND in order to stay legal and not get instantly deported as they try to blag their way past the immigration officer at the airport. (That has happened to several people I’ve heard about and can be accompanied by a ban on entering the UK if you’re not careful.)

What I just don’t understand is those performers who have already carefully set up their tour, they’ve booked the gigs, they’ve booked the plane tickets, they’re about three days short of actually setting off and suddenly they think: Errr… do I need a work permit or not? Cos, like, I’m American/Australian/Canadian, so surely the UK will welcome me and my music with open arms? They haven’t been on the web and done their research. The regulations are all there on the UK Home Office website. Just google: working in the UK.

Music and dance performers are classed as temporary workers under Tier 5 regulations (entertainers and sportspeople) on the Points Based System that came into force in 2008. For tours of less than 3 months non-visa nationals (i.e. people from a country that does not require a visa to enter the UK, like Australia, Canada or the USA) can enter the country with just their Certificate of Sponsorship. This is a virtual certificate in the form of a number which corresponds to a detailed record on the Home Office’s computer system. Workers entering for more than three months or those from a country where even visitors on holiday require a visa (say South Africa) must get entry clearance at a British Embassy in their own country before travelling. Obviously if you need entry clearance before you travel, then contacting me three days in advance is just plain too late.

So to return to those panic stricken emails. Help I’ve just realised I need a work permit. I’m travelling on Tuesday, is it too late? Luckily none of them needed entry clearance, so all was not lost, but it needed some very quick work.

I can do Certificates of Sponsorship within a day if I have to, but it’s really pushing it if a performer leaves it that late. They can only be done online by a government licensed sponsor (like me) and sometimes (not very often, but it can happen) the government web site plays up, or my ISP plays up and I can’t get online to do the processing. The government website was out of action for three days once, and at other times I’ve been shut out of it by a blip for half a day. One time my ISP went belly-up for 36 hours. Any one of thise things can be devastatiing for a last minute application. Even a twenty four hour delay can be the difference between getting your certificate or not if you’ve left it so late.

So far I’ve never failed to get a Certificate of Sponsorship to a performer on time. Some of these last minute applications have taken it very close to the wire, though. One time I literally phoned the number through to the performer just 30 minutes before he was due to leave for the airport. And another time I issued the CoS while the performer was waiting for my email on the wrong side of the immigration barrier at Heathrow.

Or there were the four Mexicans in the holding pen at Heathrow, about to be sent back unless their manager could get a CoS within the hour. This was Sunday night at 7.00 p.m.. Yes I did it in time – still not quite sure how.

So a plea to all non-EU performers. Read the regulations. Think ahead. At least month ahead, but preferably a couple of months if you can. Contact me (or your Sponsor of choice) in time to make sure everything goes smoothly.

There are some grey areas, so let me clarify. You may think that if you are coming to play gigs for which you are not being paid then you don’t need a Certificate of Sponsorship however I’ve had pleas for help from people who have been turned away (literally put on the first flight back home) for coming in to have a holiday and to play some open mic sessions. The immigration officer took the view that [person] was here on a promotional visit prior to booking a tour in the UK. I’ve also had someone contact me who was turned back because [person] was coming in as part of an amateur choir to sing at one festival for no fee. The officer on duty took the view that [person] was here to work despite the fact that the festival was only one event within a two week holiday. He was also suspicious the [person] may be owning up to one gig but intending to play more.

There have, of course, also been instances of performers showing up with their band, their itinerary and not a clue that they needed to fulfil any legal obligations to be able to play in the UK. What can I say? Ignorance is no excuse.

Added in an edit:

I should also have linked to this post http://efrafandays.wordpress.com/2009/06/03/allison-crowe-deported/ which discusses the deportation of Alison Crowe, a Canadian performer who arrived here in 2009 without (her management) checking the immigration regulations. Crowe’s management said the change in the regulations was ‘little known’ but if the government publishes it on its website and even on its wordpress blog – who’s to blame for not knowing?

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About Jacey Bedford

Jacey Bedford maintains this blog. She is a writer of science fiction and fantasy (www.jaceybedford.co.uk), the secretary of Milford SF Writers (www.milfordSF.co.uk), a singer (www.artisan-harmony.com) and a music agent booking UK tours and concerts for folk performers (www.jacey-bedford.com). She's also a Home Office / Border Agency licensed sponsor processing UK work permits (Certificate of Sponsorship).
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