Visas and Sponsorship

The UK boasts a wealth of award-winning talent, both above and below the line, and across all categories.

The BFC promotes sourcing UK crew and talent wherever possible.

Visa and Non-Visa Nationals — Do you need a UK Visa?

British nationals and citizens from a specific set of countries and territories are visa-exempt (do not need to apply for a visa) providing they meet certain criteria. Citizens from these countries are termed ‘non-visa nationals’. Countries include USA, Canada, Australia and Europe.

The UK government has a great tool to ascertain whether someone requires a visa or not. Check if you need a UK visa.

Standard Visitor Route

If an international production company requires non-UK nationals to come to the UK for a location shoot only, then the standard visitor route may be sufficient. If the individual is a non-visa national, then they do not need to apply for this in advance – but that person must meet certain criteria and bring relevant documentation with them to the UK.

Standard visitor

Nationals of non-visa countries can come to the UK without a visa for certain types of creative work. The Rules state that: “Film crew (actor, producer, director or technician) employed by an overseas company may visit the UK to take part in a location shoot for a film or programme or other media content that is produced and financed overseas.” Cast or crew members entering as visitors must ensure they are:

– non-visa nationals.
– entering the UK for a short duration (not more than six months) and that they exit the UK at the correct time.
– working on location only and not basing themselves in a film studio.
– being paid by a company outside of the UK.
– not working for a UK production (or planning to obtain the UK tax rebate).
– able to maintain and accommodate themselves and any dependants without using public funds.
– able to meet the cost of their onward or return journey out of the UK.
– entering with the correct documentation, namely: passports; proof that you are being paid by a company outside the UK,  e.g., payslips; and location schedule or call sheets to prove you are only filming on location in the UK.

Read more about the Standard Visitor Visa here.

If the individual is a ‘visa-national’ they will need to apply for this route before they enter the UK, this may include attending a visa appointment.

Other Immigration Routes

From 1st January 2021, the UK’s new points-based immigration system will be fully implemented and, for the first time, will include (most) EU nationals. (EU nationals to whom this will not apply will be those with settled or pre-settled status – see below).

The UK government created the EU Settlement Scheme to allow EU nationals ‘living’ in the UK up to 31st December 2020 to apply for either pre-settled or settled status. Application to the Scheme is free can be made any time before the end of the Brexit implementation period, i.e., 30th June 2021. Those who make successful applications will be granted authorisation as follows:

– Settled status: indefinite leave to remain in the UK (and ability to apply for British citizenship).
– Pre-settled status: up to five years to remain in the UK (and thereafter can apply for settled status).

EU nationals with either Pre- or Settled- Status do not require sponsorship to live and work in the UK; this is akin to EU freedom of movement and, essentially, allows holders to come and go as they wish.

Find out more about the EU Settlement Scheme.

In place of the previous 5-tiered system, the UK now operates under a range of immigration routes, the main ones being: Global Talent; Skilled Workers; Start-Up and Innovator; Students and Graduates; Sporting; Intra-Company Transfer; and Creative.

The Creative Route will be the most appropriate for production companies seeking to bring their international cast and crew to the UK. This Route covers all categories of creative worker, namely: actor, dancer, musician, or film crew member.

Such workers can apply for a visa or CoS under the Creative Route if they:

– have a confirmed offer of employment
– are being sponsored for their work by a suitable Home Office-licensed sponsor; and
– fit the other eligibility requirements, such as meeting the appropriate Code of Practice.

Creative Route: Short-Term Visa

If a cast or crew member from a non-visa country is required to work in the UK for longer than three months, or they are a visa national required for any length of time, they should apply for a temporary work visa (which must include CoS) under the Creative Route. This category of visa is valid for a maximum of one year, with the option to extend for an additional year.

To obtain such a visa, the worker (or Sponsor handling the application) will need to apply online and make all necessary purchases. Applications will require them to attend an appointment at a biometric centre to submit their biometric details, namely fingerprints and photographs. At the appointment, their passport will be taken and thereafter sent along with the application pack for assessment and processing. An approved visa usually takes the form of the passport endorsed with a 30-day travel vignette; thereafter the visa will be carried on their biometric residence permit (BRP) card.

On average, it takes approximately 3 weeks from the date of the biometrics appointment until the return of the passport and visa vignette.

EU-nationals applying for a temporary Creative Route visa will not be required to attend a physical appointment; their biometrics (namely, facial imagery and passport details) can be submitted online during the application process, using a custom-designed smartphone app.

(NB. this is a summary of the Creative Route visa application process and does not amount to immigration advice; further consultation should be sought before making an application.)

Creative Route: Certificate of Sponsorship

Non-visa nationals can work in the UK on a film production with just a certificate of sponsorship (CoS) and do not require a full biometric visa (Creative Visa). To qualify for a CoS, the person needs to meet certain criteria, and they cannot exceed 90 days in the UK. A CoS normally takes a couple of weeks to obtain (see below).

A CoS is not a physical certificate, but rather a reference number which holds information (inputted by a Sponsor) about the worker’s personal details and their role on the production. The worker presents this number as part of their travel documentation upon arrival into the UK. Thereafter they should receive a stamp in their passport containing a date; this entitles them to work on the production for the specified period of time.

It’s important to note that possession of a CoS does not guarantee entry into the UK – this is at the discretion of the border officials at the UK port of entry. Nevertheless, it is rare for such workers to encounter entry problems.

Read more about the Creative Route.

What is a Sponsor?

A Sponsor is licensed by the Home Office to grant CoS to foreign creative workers who meet the necessary criteria. A production company can become a Sponsor by obtaining the relevant license from the Home Office. Alternatively, a production company can enlist the support of a third-party ‘overarching’ Sponsor, to act on their behalf; this Sponsor would issue the CoS, manage the compliance responsibilities, and provide all the necessary paperwork and instructions.

The Home Office requires all Sponsors to undertake a number of ‘sponsorship duties’, including maintaining records on workers’: ‘right to work’ in the UK (e.g., their CoS stamp, visa visual or BRP; their residing address(s); contact details; and any TMOs (travel movement orders). The Home Office expects this information to be readily accessible in case it decides to audit the Sponsor.

Find out more about sponsorship.

The Sponsorship Code of Practice

Productions should always try where possible to informally search for relevant workers within the UK, before broadening their search to incorporate workers of other nationalities; this is especially true of the new points-based immigration system. The exception to this is when a production is hiring a cast member of international status, or a crew member of senior creative grade. In all other cases, the international cast and crew members chosen must meet the relevant Code of Practice (as set down by the Guilds, i.e., BECTU, PACT and Production Guild).

The Codes of Practice contain a range of categories. Broadly speaking, these require cast and crew who are internationally known, required for production continuity, or who possess highly specialised skills or experience.

Read the full Code of Practice.

Skilled Worker Visa

The Skilled Worker immigration route is usually the most appropriate for a facility company, such as a VFX house, seeking to bring a foreign worker to the UK.

A worker can apply for a Skilled Worker visa if they:

– have an offer of a skilled job in the UK
– have a CoS reference number; and
– meet other eligibility requirements.

A Skilled Worker visa is valid for a maximum of five years and 14 days, or the time given on your certificate of sponsorship plus one month, whichever is shorter.

It usually takes around three weeks from the time of application to receive a decision on a visa.

Read more about visas for Skilled Workers.

(NB. This is a summary of the ways non-UK nationals can enter the UK for work and does not amount to immigration advice; further consultation should be sought before making any such application.)

This information has been prepared by Victoria Stone of CoSmopolitan Production Services. Contact details can be found on their website