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Certificates of Sponsorship (Work Permits)
and Taxation

By Jacey Bedford

If you are entering the country to work and you don't have a British passport then you will need to have your paperwork in order prior to travelling. Don't try and talk your way in, as you'll find yourself on the next flight home. British immigration staff at airports are much more polite than (say) in America, but don't let that fool you. They still have the power to refuse you admission. You can come in on either a Certificate of Sponsorship, a full visa (Entry Clearance) or via the Permitted Paid Engagement route.

Work Permits are called Certificates of Sponsorship.

Yes you need authorisation to enter the country if you are doing gigs in the UK, even if it's only a few gigs and you're not being paid much (even if you're not being paid anything, in fact). It's no longer called a work permit but think of it as that if it helps. It's now called a Certificate of Sponsorship, usually referred to as a CoS. Only a licensed sponsor can apply for a CoS on your behalf, so even if you arrange your own tour you will need to pay someone with a sponsor's licence to apply for your certificate.

iF YOU ARE FROM ONE OF THE COUNTRIES WHICH HAS VISA-FREE TRAVEL TO THE UK (the USA, Canada, Australia, Israel, Mexico, Taiwan, Japan etc. and all EU countries from January 2021) and if you are coming in for less than three months, the application process is relatively straightforward (though there's a lot of careful form-filling to be done). A Certificate of Sponsorship comes in the form of a number. It's a virtual certificate - not a paper one. All you have to do is present that number to the immigration official upon entry to the UK, and it will enable them to find you (and your certificate) on their database. Ask your sponsor for a print out/pdf of the entry on the online Sponsor Management System, just because most people feel better if they have a piece of paper in their hands when they arrive.

NOTE: In May 2019 major airports in the UK extended the use of E-Gates to the citizens of Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and the United States. These are fine if you are a regular or holiday visitor, but if you are coming in with a CoS you MUST SEE A REAL PERSON. Opt to go through a manned gate in order to get your CoS activated and your passport stamped correctly. If you don't do this you are not legally allowed to work. If the officer tells you that you don't need him to stamp your passport HE IS INCORRECT. Show him your Certificate of Sponsorship and tell him that you know you are not legal to work until he has activated it with the CORRECT STAMP in your passport. There have been problems at some UK airports recently (and with immigration on the Eurotunnel trains coming in from France and Belgium, with officers either not knowing how to deal with your CoS, or being unwilling to take the time to do it properly.

If you are entering the UK from the Irish Republic you will need to fill in a government form and send it off at least three days before you travel in order to get your CoS activated. This came in in April 2019. It is the way to get around an old piece of legislation from 1972 that says you cannot enter the UK through Ireland to work without a full visa. Also you will need to have your British CoS before entry into Ireland if you are intending to travel onwards to the UK.

Anyone coming in from ANY COUNTRY for longer than three months, or anyone coming in from a country where a visa is a pre-requirement for travel - such as African counties, India, Pakistan, and a number of counties in South America and Asia - has to get documentation in their passport in their own country (called Entry Clearance) before travelling. For this you need your Certificate of Sponsorship number. Allow plenty of time. ALLOW AT LEAST THREE MONTHS FOR THE ACTUAL VISA APPLICATION. THE GUIDELINES ON THE UK VISA WEBSITE SAY THAT VISAS USUALLY TAKE ABOUT THREE WEEKS, BUT PRESUMABLY DUE TO COVID, THE SYSTEM IS IN CHAOS AND VISAS ARE TAKING MONTHS. You need to apply to the British Embassy or High Commission or Visa Application Centre in your own country. You can find details and download forms on the web.

Also please note that having a Certificate of Sponsorship does NOT automatically guarantee that you will get a visa/entry clearance. A lot depends on you being able to prove your international standing as a performer when you fill in the application form. Send as much evidence of your status as you can. You will have to attend for an interview, which could be by phone of video link. You will be asked questions that relate to your application. You must give the answers as they appear on your CoS, otherwise you could be refused a visa because they think your application is not genuine. I can't stress enough how important it is to have answers to their questions. You have to show that you are a genuine applicant.

Within the last couple of years visa refusals for visa nationals have increased. (That is the applications for visas/entry clearance from artists who have a Certificate of Sponsorship.) They are frequently issuing refusals for new artists who have no provable record of working internationally. My advice to applicants is to make sure there is easily searchable online evidence of performances outside your own country, and that your British tour dates are online and easy to see at the venues you are playing. Also, get yourself a band/performer website, don't just rely on a facebook page. On that website, name every member of the group--their real (passport) names, not just their stage names.

If you are granted a Certificate of Sponsorship and (if applicable) Entry Clearance you have to fulfil legal requirements, like only doing work within the category you've applied for, and not overstaying your allocated time. You must not use your visa or Certificate of Sponsorship to enter the country for any other purposes than entertainment. You should not use it for marriage, or for seeking asylum or for tourism. If you make any alterations to your tour schedule, your arrival and/or departure dates you must let your sponsor know.

For Non-Visa nationals coming into the UK with a CoS ONLY... You must send a copy of your arrival stamp to your sponsor immediately on arrival in the UK. This is the stamp the immigration officer puts into your passport. (OR IF ENTERING FROM iRELAND, THE EMAIL AUTORISATION YOU RECEIVE.) If you are in a band and sending more than one stamp, make sure you label the images with the correct names.

For Visa Nationals. As soon as you get your Visa/Entry Clearance in your passport you should send a copy of the new visa to your sponsor, and then when you arrive in the UK and the immigration officer has stamped your Visa/Entry Clearance with the arrival date, you should immediately send a copy of the stamped visa.

If your visa is refused, you should send your sponsor a copy of the refusal letter.

If your visa is granted, but you decide not to travel, you should let your sponsor know immediately.



There is another route to entry and that is a Permitted Paid Engagement Visa
The details are here: https://www.gov.uk/permitted-paid-engagement-visa. The cost is £95 per person (2019 figures). You can stay in the UK for up to one month and take part in arts, entertainment or sporting activities including broadcasting. For this you have to apply online, in advance. Check all the details on the web page. As of May 2019 the guide says; "You should get a decision within 3 weeks of your appointment. You might be able to pay an extra £220 for a decision within 5 working days or £956 for a decision within 1 working day. Check with your visa application centre." When you apply for a PPE you must provide:

  • A current passport or other valid travel identification - your passport must have a blank page for your visa
  • Proof that you can support yourself during your trip, for example bank statements or payslips for the last 6 months
  • Details of where you intend to stay and your travel plans - you should not pay for accommodation or travel until you get your visa
  • A formal invitation from the UK-based organisation or authority you’ll be paid by
  • Proof that the paid engagement relates to your expertise, qualifications and main job in your home country, for example a letter from your employer
  • You must provide extra documents if you’re an established arts, entertainment or sporting professional. You can provide any of the following:
    • publications
    • publicity material
    • proof of awards
    • media coverage and reviews
    • proof of recent performance

Check the guide for a full list of documents you must provide.
You’ll need to provide a certified translation of any documents that are not in English or Welsh.


Foreign Entertainers' Taxation - The Rules Changed in July 2012

Until July 2012 there was a liability for any venue paying a foreign national more than £1000 to withhold tax at the appropriate current rate. As of July 2012 that changed and venues do not need to withhold tax if they are paying less than £12,500 (figures as of 2021) in one fee to one individual or band. (Note: a band, in this instance, only has the same limit as an individual regardless of how many members. It is a single entity.)

The annual limit which can be earned by any one person or group (paid as a group) in any one tax year (April to March) was £1250 as of July 2021. This applies to nationals of many countries, but you need to check the status of your own country. Canadians and South Africans do have this tax allowance, for example, but Americans do NOT and therefore still have no personal allowance limit. They pay British tax from the get-go on all profits from a tour.

If you earn more than £12,500 (profit after expenses) in any one tax year you should ask the Foreign Entertainers' Unit for the relevant paperwork so you can submit a return. Don't worry, you can claim it against tax to be paid in your own country when you come to do your own tax returns. You should not have to pay tax twice on the same amount of income, though the responsibility for checking this rests with you. I have always found the FEU very helpful when calling them with queries.

Foreign Entertainers Unit, Inland Revenue,
St John's House Unit 401
Merton Road
L69 9BB
+ 44 151 472 6488

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