Freedom of Movement: The Other Side of the Coin

I’ve written previously about the impact of Brexit on those AAUK members who are working in the UK as EU nationals, and the worrying consequences that we face. This time, I want to talk about those AAUK members who are working here either as UK nationals or under Indefinite Leave to Remain or other visa routes, and what they are going to have to take into consideration when (if?) Britain leaves the EU.

 

One of the banner issues of Brexit, which politicians of most parties seem to accept unthinkingly as a Good Thing, is that of curtailing freedom of movement, one of the precious four freedoms of the EU. However, the perspective taken is always that of preventing non-Brits from coming into the UK, without anyone ever considering that the flip side might be possible – that there might  be those based in the UK who wish to have the ability to work somewhere other than Britain. To raise such a topic in the current climate is almost heresy, unthinkable and unpatriotic; even though for many it is a fact of life, especially those like ourselves in the entertainment industry.

 

 By only considering one side of the coin, the UK’s pitched fight against freedom of movement has thus fallen subject to the Law of Unintended Consequences. In trying, as the government sees it, to desperately protect the livelihoods of British citizens from unwanted immigrants coming over to the UK to take their work, they could inadvertently destroy the careers of those very people whom they wish to shield. Why? Because they forget that nowadays, creative work is increasingly global, and that the dreaded freedom of movement has allowed British-based actors to go to Prague to shoot commercials on a moment’s notice; to Vienna and Frankfurt to work in the English speaking theaters; to Malta to shoot feature films; while British stage managers work on blockbuster musicals in Paris; British circuses and ballet companies carry out lucrative European tours and Game of Thrones shoots on location across Eastern Europe; all without worry about visas or paperwork.

 

This is all about to end. Once the UK leaves the EU, British citizens, like those of the USA or Canada, will become “third country nationals without automatic right of admission.” While Britain has been fretting about protecting its borders from unwanted immigrants, the EU has equally been developing something called the European Travel Information and Authorization System or ETIAS, to protect the EU’s external borders from illegal immigration. This has been in development for years, predating Brexit, and if the UK had remained in the EU, no one holding a British passport would have been affected by it.

 

So what is ETIAS, exactly? Under ETIAS, third country nationals — such as AAUK members holding only UK, Canadian, or US passports will soon be — who wish to travel to the EU will need, for the first time ever, to register their details and intentions online and pay a fee. You will be required to answer questions such as name, address, contact details, passport details, occupation, state of health, criminal record, and why you are travelling. This will have to be done in advance, online, and could take up to four days, and you won’t be allowed into any country in Europe without doing so. You may be turned down, and even if you aren’t, just having ETIAS will not guarantee you admission into the country, as you could be subject to further questioning at the border. But crucially, even if you do make it past the EU border, as things stand now, you will only be given a 90 day tourist visa and not have the right to work.

 

So what is being done to protect UK performers’ right to work in Europe? As of this point, virtually nothing where the government is concerned. Despite the fact that the creative industries make up the fastest growing sector of the economy, worth almost £92 billion in 2016, there seems to be little recognition that this success is due in part to the ability of these industries, ours included, to work across borders, in an increasingly international connected world. Although ETIAS won’t be in place immediately, the implications for the UK entertainment industry are sobering, particularly for those who don’t hold an EU passport. The moment restrictions are thrown into the mix, both for workers coming to the UK and for workers going to Europe, the landscape will change dramatically. Units and companies will relocate to within Europe, and look increasingly to local talent or to the US; the English-speaking theaters may end up closing; and touring within Europe for UK-based theatre and dance companies could become a thing of the past. And in case you think this is scare-mongering, as of right now UK opera students can no longer get placements at European opera houses, and Game of Thrones is said to be moving some of its operations across the border into Limerick, Ireland.

 

Amidst the doom and gloom, there are still ways to have our voice heard, though time is running out. Equity is campaigning to have a seat on the Creative Industries Council, the body that is advising the government over the arts and Brexit. (Astonishingly, there is not one representativeon the Council of actual workers , the people who are going to be affected by this the most.) The union is also fighting hard for freedom of movement for workers in the arts, one of its campaigning objectives. Further information can be found here: https://www.equity.org.uk/getting-involved/campaigns/brexit-seat-at-the-...

 

On a personal level, it’s worth writing to your MP to let them know the implications of losing freedom of movement for our industry and talking about it with employers at castings and on the job. Though Brexit is a massive concern on many levels, too few people in our industry are making noise about the immediate impact on our day-to-day working lives and awareness must be raised.

 

Whatever happens, our working lives are going to change. Being aware of how those changes could affect us, will help us all be better prepared.