London’s role as a talent hub for the global fashion industry will take a substantial hit as a result of new immigration rules being imposed after the Brexit transition period, according to several leading modelling agencies.
New visa requirements to enable British and EU models to work in each other’s countries after the ending of EU free movement on January 1 will reduce the attractiveness of London for models, stylists and photographers working in the industry, they warned.
John Horner, managing director of Models 1 and chairman of the British Fashion Model Agents Association (BFMA), said the new layer of bureaucracy would reduce the ability of agencies to get models quickly into different markets. “UK PLC is going to lose out very dramatically,” he added.
Under the UK’s new points-based immigration system, EU models and other creatives will be required to obtain either a “tier 5 certificate of sponsorship’ to work in the UK, or a “permitted paid engagement visa” for a one-off visit.
The BFMA estimates that, of the 15,000 models on the books of UK agencies, just under half are British, a quarter are non-EU and almost a third are EU citizens, all of whom will now require tier 5 sponsorship alongside non-EU models.
They expect the number of tier 5 applications from UK agencies to triple in 2021, while UK models going to work in the EU will need to meet the entry requirements of individual EU countries and will no longer be able to hop from country to country with ease.
Simon Chambers, director of Storm Model Management, a major London agency that has generated about 25 per cent of model bookings from the EU in recent years, said the new rules would make it harder to assemble photoshoots at short notice.
He added that London’s status as a gateway to Europe would come under threat, with EU-based brands such as Mango, Zara and H&M finding it easier at the margin to arrange shoots in Paris, Milan, Stockholm or Barcelona.
“This is a fluid and transitory business. Every shoot is put together by a brand — a stylist, make-up, models — and they’re all bought in from somewhere else and put together to make a shoot. It’s difficult to see how London is not going to lose business,” he said.
Mr Horner added that the hit would also be felt outside the agency industry, which the BFMA estimates turns over £220m a year. “We’ve already had clients saying ‘we’ll shoot in Paris — and then the whole enchilada goes to Paris: the restaurants, the hotels, studio crews etc.”
Nicola Scagnolari, chief executive of Ubooker, a digital agency that looks to streamline the industry processes, said the UK visa system would enable access for models, but warned the extra bureaucracy might make it harder for upcoming talent to enter the market.
“Am I worried overall? No, models can still come to London, but it is a shame, because London will lose a bit of credibility as a hub,” he added.
The Home Office declined to say how long it would take to process EU sponsorship applications after January 1, but said it was working to make the process as streamlined and simple as possible.
“Under the new immigration system, our existing generous and dedicated provisions for workers in the creative sector will continue to provide both short-term and long-term routes, including international models,” a spokesperson said.