Performers from overseas will not have to get a work permit to come to Edinburgh Festival if it goes ahead next year, the UK’s immigration minister has said.
Edinburgh Festival’s “permit-free” status will be rolled over into next year after the month-long event was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, Kevin Foster told Holyrood’s Culture and Tourism Committee.
Mr Foster also said he wanted the Home Office to have a more “mature” relationship with the festival on the issue of immigration.
Under current rules, Edinburgh Festival performers and their “legitimate entourages” do not need UK work permits to appear.
Festival organisers usually have to apply for its “permit-free festival” status annually, but the immigration minister revealed plans to roll over this year’s list and expressed a desire for a “multi-year” arrangement.
Mr Foster told MSPs: “I don’t see any point in asking festivals this year to reapply given the unique circumstances of what happened.
“What I actually think is the Home Office should have as mature a relationship with Edinburgh International Festival as it has with Edinburgh University from an immigration point of view.
“We want to work in partnership to deliver one of the world’s greatest cultural events, not pretend each year we might effectively cancel it if they don’t fill out a form correctly – that doesn’t strike me as the sort of relationship we should have.
“We would – like we do with universities – retain the right to take action if there was flagrant abuse … ”
To be eligible for permit-free status, a festival has to have run for at least three years with an audience of at least 15,000 and at least 15 non-European Economic Area (EEA) performers.
Discussing the plan for granting festivals extended periods of exemptions from immigration rules, he continued: “We’re looking at how we can take them to a multi-year process following next year to reassure any of the festivals that are on the permit-free festival list that we will be very flexible over the next year if they can get the festival running.
“We’re asking them to try and get it on if they can, not be worrying about the immigration assessment that might follow.”
He added: “That’s a direct response to stakeholders in Scotland and I understand is something the Scottish Government’s also discussed as well.”