From the government’s anti-immigration campaigns of 2013 to the EU Referendum in 2016 to the Windrush scandal of 2018, the multicultural principles of modern Britain have been under severe threat in the last few years. There has been a rising tide of division, discrimination and demonization towards Black, Asian and minority ethnic individuals who live and work here in the UK, reinforced by distrustful politicians and fabricated media narratives.
But underneath the layers of distorted narratives lies the truth about the fundamental value of migrants in the UK. In the writing and publishing industry, much of the best and brightest talent comes from overseas, and migrant literature helps us understand cultures and societies across the globe. The ability of authors from migrant backgrounds to write their experiences provides UK publishing with authenticity and diversity. British Black and Asian literature is a vital educational tool for a society otherwise dominated by white narratives, particularly within the school curriculum. Students are beginning to demand the inclusion of a variety of perspectives to match the variety of race and cultures in their classrooms.
Literature shapes minds and is hugely important in conquering misinformation given out by politicians and the media. It creates compassion and empathy for minority groups that bear the brunt of hatred due to their ‘otherness’. We need stories to combat the representation of migrants as a threat to economic stability and social safety, and instead portray the personal narratives of individuals who have been able to rebuild their lives in the UK and contribute to society.
But Brexit provides a huge obstacle to migrant literature in the UK. Europe is currently the biggest export region for UK-published books, accounting for more than a third of the £1.2bn annual sales of English language print titles, but once our EU membership ends, US publishers may aggressively take advantage of a newly open market. A price battle between UK and US publishers may lead to a focus on big names—most likely white and wealthy—to drive profits, leaving those below star author status behind.
To maintain diversity in the creative sector, publishers and authors alike ought to urge the government to review proposed visa requirements. The end of free movement, combined with unduly harsh immigration fees, will make it much harder to attract world-leading creative workers from overseas.
Currently, the minimum salary requirement for long-term workers stands at £30,000—£35,000 for Indefinite Leave to Remain—and there are significant fees for British citizenship
. This immediately excludes the majority of freelancers in the writing and publishing industry. As ALCS’ 2018 figures show, authors in the UK earn an average of just £10,500 per year. For the 35% of creative workers who are self-employed, their hope of coming to the UK long-term rests on securing an ‘exceptional talent’ or ‘entrepreneur’ visa, both of which apply to a very select few.
The ability to attract fresh new talent is hindered by these steep financial barriers. They tell young, self-supporting creatives that their ideas and talent are no longer welcome. Many European authors, poets and spoken-word artists from outside the EEA were refused entry to this year’s Edinburgh Festival due to complications in the visa application process. Such a drain in creative talent will inevitably damage the UK’s creative sector.
We encourage publishers to demand that the government reconsiders these unrealistic salary criteria, and emphasise the importance of skill over income. So far, exceptions to this salary requirement have been outlined for the likes of the health sector, but the creative industries have been significantly neglected on this front.
One glimmer of hope is the Creative Europe funding scheme, which has pledged to double its funding from 2021. The scheme brings an average of £18.4m a year in funding to the UK, and its stated aim is to ‘promote the transnational circulation and mobility of cultural and creative works and artists to reach new audiences’. This is another way in which the publishing industry can voice its concerns and put pressure on the government to strike a deal that allows the UK to remain within the Creative Europe programme—and other organizations—once we leave the EU. We must ensure that creativity, ideas and individuals can freely move to inspire and educate audiences in the UK and across the globe.
Maddie Grounds is a content writer for the Immigration Advice Service, an organisation of UK immigration lawyers which provides legal support for those looking to migrate to the UK or hire overseas workers. For more about the work of the IAS, click here.