World-class soprano denied right to settle in the UK

Acclaimed soprano Erika Baikoff
Acclaimed soprano Erika Baikoff - RII SCHROER

One of the world’s best young opera singers who was accepted to the UK as a global talent has been denied the right to make Britain her home.

Erika Baikoff, 25, described by English National Opera (ENO) as a world-class soprano, decided that she wanted to settle in the UK after graduating with a masters degree from the Guildhall School of Music in 2018.

The US-Russian singer took advantage of the global talent visa which gives internationally-recognised artists, academics and tech inventors the opportunity to remain in the UK for five years as part of Rishi Sunak’s drive to attract the world’s “brightest and best” to Britain.

However, her application to settle in the UK five years after being granted her visa in 2019 has been rejected because Home Office officials say she has not spent enough time in Britain to justify it.

She is challenging the decision as she says opera singing is an international profession. With work opportunities in the UK decimated by the pandemic, she says she had no option but to travel to earn money and progress her career as a rising star.

This included performing at New York’s Metropolitan Opera where she won a place on its young artist development programme and Opéra de Lyon.

I love making music here

“I love working in this country and I love making music here,”said Ms Baikoff. “This is where I did my degree. There are so many musicians living here but the musicians who want to stay, they don’t encourage to stay.”

The singer and her legal advisers say her plight has exposed a flaw in the Government’s drive to attract the brightest and best whereby academics, but not artists or musicians, are allowed to spend time overseas without damaging their visa claims.

Under the rules, visa holders should not spend more than 180 days in any 12-month period outside the UK but academics and researchers are exempt.

“Academics and researchers don’t have the same 180-day restrictions so why shouldn’t musicians who also work on an international stage,” said Ms Baikoff.

She said the Home Office appeared to have also disregarded a provision in its own rules that any period of absence from the UK would not be counted if it was caused by travel disruption during the pandemic and/or where there were “compelling” personal reasons that meant the time away from the UK could not be avoided.

Pandemic had devatating impact

Ms Baikoff debuts this season with the London Symphony Orchestra, Houston Grand Opera and Ciclo de Lied. In her application to remain in the UK, she cited a personal letter of recommendation by Martyn Brabbins, artistic director of the ENO from 2016 to 2023, describing her as a “world-class soprano”.

Originally from New York, she came to Britain to do her masters at the Guildhall in 2016. After graduating, she was granted a five-year global talent visa in 2019, just before the pandemic hit, closing down opera houses across Britain and around the world.

“The pandemic had a particularly devastating impact on opera in the UK,” said Nick Nason, her lawyer. “This was because, not only were performances cancelled during the 2020/2021 lockdowns, but because those cancelled performances were rescheduled with previously cast singers into 2021/2022.

“There was almost no new opera work in the UK from the start of the pandemic until deep into 2023. As a result, Erika had to travel outside of the UK for a substantial period of time to take up work in order to make ends meet.

“Had she not travelled outside of the UK, she would have struggled financially and not have been able to practise in the field in which she was given a visa and which was and is the basis of her stay in the UK: her talent as an international opera singer.”