London Falling Out of Fashion?: Modelling agencies warn of Brexit immigration struggles

January 12, 2021

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2 min read

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What's going on here?

Bosses from some of London’s top modelling agencies believe the capital’s reputation as a fashion hub will be limited post-Brexit due to new immigration requirements.  

What does this mean?

According to the British Fashion Model Agents Association, there are 15,000 models on UK agencies’ books. A third of these models are EU citizens with only half from the UK. Pre-Brexit, the industry was deeply dependent on the free movement of workers the UK enjoyed whilst a member of the EU. However, as the transition period ended on 1 January 2021, any non-UK citizen will require a T5 Temporary Worker visa. These visas allow non-UK workers to take employment in the UK for up to two years. Applicants are required to have a UK based sponsor (usually an employer) and at least £1270 in savings. Many models will now be prevented from working in London at short notice as visa applications must be made at least three weeks before travelling due to processing times.

 This is not just an issue for models. Simon Chambers (director of London agency Storm Model Management) has warned that all shoot members including stylists and photographers are normally “put together by a brand” and “brought in from somewhere else”. In London, fashion brands can no longer easily pull together the international team of creatives needed for a shoot. Chambers believes brands will simply start looking elsewhere: Brands based in the EU, such as H&M are likely to avoid visa costs and arrange shoots in Paris, Milan, Stockholm or Barcelona, according to Chambers. Nicola Scagnolari, CEO of online agency Ubooker, fears the new visa requirements might also impact new models trying to break into the industry.

What's the big picture effect?

The UK modelling agency industry is said to have a turnover of £220m a year, however, with brands likely to move their shoots elsewhere this lucrative business will be at risk. The industry is a “fluid and transitory business” which relies on pulling projects and shoots together at the last minute. While these new restrictions will not stop models from working in the UK, the bureaucracy associated with attaining a visa is likely to deter brands from choosing London as their shoot location. Scagnolari has noted “models can still come to London” however the location is set to “lose a bit of credibility as a hub”.

 These new visa requirements are set to not only affect modelling agents but impact the fashion industry as a whole. Events such as London Fashion Week are vital both for fashion companies and the city itself. The event sees 105,000 visitors flock to the UK and generates £50m for the city as well as £270m for the industry. The level of planning and funding associated with this event will now only intensify due to all non-British staff (including models) needing visas to attend.

This may also foreshadow the struggles of the wider services industry which generates 80% of the UK’s income; the UK is no longer able to flexibly rely on the EU’s workforce. These new measures will not wholly dampen the attractiveness of London as a fashion destination. However, it appears EU locations are likely to look more attractive for brands.

Report written by Amber Allen

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