Information related to Visas and Sponsorship on our website is out of date – last updated in 2012. Regrettably, Visiting Arts does not have a staff member working in this area currently and we are not available for advice related to visas. Getting international artists to the UK can be a complex, difficult process and is one of the main enquiries Visiting Arts gets. This article offers guidance to how to go about the process and what you need to know as a prospective employer, and also gives you direct links to relevant web sites, to try and help you through the routes you have available.

For artists to come to the UK and exhibit or perform their work, those not nationals of the EEA may well need a Visa and/or a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS). In many cases the artist may need both.

Note: This document relates to visas. For a comprehensive guide to Certificates of Sponsorship, please see

Note : A visa and a CoS are two different things which serve a different purpose. A visa allows entry into the UK, whilst the CoS allows working in the UK.

Is a visa needed?

Before you begin the Visa application process, it is advisable to check if a visa is needed and which kind of visa you will need.

The UK Border Agency updates its site regularly as legislation and procedures are frequently changed. We suggest that you keep yourself up to date by checking their site during the period of your Visa application process.

A handy step by step guide is available here

Non-British/EEA (European Economic Area) nationals wanting to enter the UK may require a visa before travelling, depending on the reason for coming to the UK. Certain nationals, known as ‘visa nationals’, require a visa for all travel to the UK. Visit visas can be applied for at any UK visa issuing post overseas. Applications for other types of entry clearance should be made at the visa office in the country in which the applicant is normally and legally resident.

A list of countries classed as “visa nationals” are listed on the link below

On arrival in the UK, non-visa nationals will need to satisfy an immigration officer that they qualify for entry under the Immigration Rules, including CoS holders. Those who hold a valid UK visa will not normally experience any difficulties on arrival, providing:

• They have provided all information relevant to their visit to the UK;
• They have not, with or without their knowledge, given false information to support the visa application;
• There has been no change to their circumstances, or reasons for going to the UK, since the visa was issued.

Visa requirements depend on individual circumstances – it is essential to check all requirements before planning a visit.
The UK Border Agency has a dedicated website for Visa enquires and applications. You can apply for a visa online or download the appropriate forms

Artists are defined as ‘painters, sculptors, photographers of international artistic standing and cartoonists and illustrators whose work has been published or exhibited for its artistic merit’.
See the above web link for further details.

Prior entry clearance for artists is mandatory and applicants must satisfy the following criteria:

• They must be established outside the UK and primarily engaged in producing original work that has been exhibited for its artistic merit;

• They do not intend to work except as a self-employed artist (CoS are required if they work for a fee);

• They have, for the preceding year, supported and accommodated themselves (and any dependents) from their own resources without working except as an artist;

• They are able to support and accommodate themselves in the UK without reliance on public funds.

Visas indicate:

• Purpose of travel
• Length of stay in the UK
• The latest date that a person can enter and/or be in the UK

Applying for Visas

When applying for a visa, you should apply to your normal country of residence visa application centre.

Note : Be aware that the centre may be a long distance away, or in some cases, in a neighbouring country e.g. Residents of Afghanistan will have to apply to the Pakistan or Indian Centres.

If the person is only a temporary resident in the country in which they make the application, the UK visa office may reject the application or there may be a long delay before a decision is made. If the applicant needs to travel far to get to their nearest UK visa office it is advisable to contact them in advance to ensure that he/she has all the necessary documentation with them. If you are required to attend an interview, the office will notify the applicant, either on the same day or within ten days. This may vary at each centre.
On receipt of the visa, the artist should check that all personal details, travel and date information are correct. A visa can be post-dated for up to three months.

Certain countries and visa application centres do have an online facility for appointments and/or payment. For a list of centres offering this service, follow the link below

A list of Visa application centres outside the UK is available here

Biometric Data

Since 2009, the UK Border Agency has required that biometric data be taken for those visa nationals wanting to enter the UK. Usually this entails enrolling their fingerprints and having a digital photograph taken.

Health Screening

Applicants from certain countries will also need a health screening for tuberculosis (TB) prior to any issuing of visas. The countries where this is required are : Immigration. Testing has begun in the following countries: Bangladesh, Ghana (which also takes applications from Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Togo and Niger ), Kenya (which also take applications from residents of Eritrea, Somalia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Uganda (visitor applications) and Tanzania), Pakistan, Sudan, and Thailand (which also takes applications from Cambodia and Laos).

Application forms

Application forms can be obtained here -

Processing times

These vary significantly between application centres – sometimes it could be up to 120 working days in extreme circumstances, but the majority are usually completed within 30 days. To see the processing times for the individual centres, follow the link below

How much is the visa?

The cost of the visa depends on which visa/CoS route your are taking. For those applying via the Entertainer Visitor route, or some business routes, the fees are shown below
For those applying through Tier 2 and 5, the fees are shown here.

If you are in any doubt about which applies to you, contact your local visa application centre.

Visa fees are usually payable in local currency but are subject to change as much as entry clearance policy and legislation, so we suggest you check the official UK Visa website often.

Visa Refusal

There are occasions, for a whole variety of reasons, that a visa application is refused. UK Visas state that most of the applicants worldwide receive the visa they have applied for. If refused, a written explanation is given at the time.

In some cases it is possible to appeal – this is explained at the time of refusal as is the appeal procedure. If previously refused a visa, an artist can apply again at any time, but may be refused again if reasons/circumstances are unchanged. There is no charge for an appeal against the refusal of a visa. The notice of appeal must be completed and returned within 28 days of receipt.

You can read more details about appealing and the appeal procedure here

Sponsorship: How to Register and Issue a CoS

Remember that it is likely that an international artist will need a CoS as well as a visa to work in the UK. Please visit our article on Sponsorship for more details, and people’s experiences of the system

Other Useful Information

If you need help with your application or advice about the UK’s Immigration Rules and requirements, you should seek advice from a qualified immigration adviser. In the UK these are immigration advisers regulated by the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner (OISC –

The UK Visa website has a list of frequently asked questions which cover a lot of the standard questions about applying. They can be found here -

Guidance Notes are also available online for specific circumstances at The notes available include:

Further contacts

If you are in the UK, for general visa information contact the Visa Services Directorate at
Visa Customer Services
Visa Services Directorate
International Group UKBA
c/o Lunar House
40 Wellesley Road
Telephone - 0870 336 9240
Email contact form -

If the artist is already in the UK, and you are looking at changing the conditions of the visa (extension etc), you will need to contact the UK Border Agency directly

If you are overseas, you will need to contact your nearest visa application centre, details can be found here -


Responses to the new visa system

The UK art sector is responding to this new points-based visa system with lively debate. We suggest looking at the following organisations to start understanding the different perspectives represented in the debate:

The National Campaign for the Arts (NCA)

The NCA currently works across the arts and political sectors to provide a united voice for the arts, especially for arts organisations across the UK and for all artists, staff and volunteers who work in the arts. Their mission involves campaigning for better access to the arts, so that everyone in the UK has opportunities to experience and engage with the arts, and lobbying for adequate and sustainable resources and support for the arts.
The NCA may be able to provide additional advice on the sponsorship system in cases that are not currently covered by the UKBA website.
The NCA, aware of the potentially detrimental implications for the arts sector which the proposed changes posed in terms of costs and procedures, has been involved in the changes that have taken place since this date. As a result of meetings between the Home Office and the NCA, the Home Office established a sector specific task force to inform immigration policy and the NCA was invited to become a founder member. Through the task force, formal submissions, and meetings with Home Office officials, the NCA has consistently campaigned for an immigration system which does not place undue burdens on visiting artists and UK organisations hosting them.
Artists Newsletter (AN)

‘AIR’, the voice of visual and applied artists, identifies and explores issues that impact on artists' practice, and campaigns for artistic, legislative and economic measures that enhance artists’ working lives and their professional status. AIR promotes the central role of the artist within a diverse and sustainable cultural landscape. AIR is not only a source of practical support, but by providing a range of channels of communication and dialogue amongst artists, it advocates for artists, ensuring their views and concerns are heard within all areas of cultural decision-making.
The Manifesto Club

The Manifesto Club campaigns against the imposed restrictions on artists’ travel; they have raised many questions and provided a platform for artists and cultural practitioners to respond to debate around artist mobility and immigration law. They have also compiled a report containing many case studies of how artists have been affected by the new visa system. Their mission is to see free movement across borders, free expression and free association.

Mayor of London’s office

Immigration policy has also being questioned within the Mayor’s office. Boris Jonson recently issued the following statement:
"The Mayor [of London] feels strongly that London’s internationalism must be allowed to flourish without unnecessary hindrance, and would welcome a government review of the impact of the new visa points-based system on the cultural sector."




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Chris Morris on 26.08.10

Has anyone else had an issue with artists coming over to the UK to work on a tourist visa, and being interrogated at the airport?