In January, the government published a statement of changes to the UK’s immigration rules, introducing the new global talent visa category, due to take effect on 20 February 2020. On this date, the Tier 1 (exceptional talent) category will also close to new applicants. The details released indicate we won’t be seeing much difference: the global talent category is effectively a rebranded and expanded version of the current Tier 1 (exceptional talent) category.
The Tier 1 (exceptional talent) category is split into sub-categories for two types of applicant:
- Tier 1 (exceptional talent) – open to those who are internationally recognised as having made significant contributions as a leader in their field
- Tier 1 (exceptional promise) – open to those who have demonstrated potential to contribute significantly as a future leader in their field
The endorsing bodies and corresponding fields they can endorse applicants under are listed below:
- Arts Council England – arts and culture, fashion, architecture, film and television
- The British Academy – humanities and social sciences
- The Royal Society – natural sciences and medical science
- The Royal Academy of Engineering – engineering
- Tech Nation – digital technology
To be eligible, applicants must secure endorsement from the appropriate endorsing body for their field. This involves submitting evidence of qualifications, awards, international media recognition, publications, performances and/or recommendations by experts in their sector. The documents required will depend on the field and subcategory the individual is applying under. A ‘full peer review’ is conducted by the endorsing body, which considers whether the applicant meets their criteria. If successful, the applicant can then use the endorsement in support of their visa application within three months.
Main changes under the global talent category
Although it has been rebranded as the global talent visa, applicants still apply under the sub-categories of exceptional talent or exceptional promise in each field. In addition to some minor amendments to wording and supporting documents, there are two significant changes.
There will no longer be a cap on how many people can be endorsed under the global talent visa. Given the cap for its predecessor has never been reached, the removal is unlikely to have much impact on the number of endorsements granted.
New ‘fast track’ route to endorsement for science, engineering, humanities and medicine applicants
For applicants in these fields, there is already an ‘accelerated’ route to endorsement open to recipients of specific peer-reviewed UK-based research fellowships, and for those appointed to eligible senior academic or research positions at approved UK higher education institutions or research institutes.
Under the new rules, a further ‘fast track’ route has been introduced for applicants who will be hosted or employed in a ‘UKRI-approved UK research organisation’ (listed in the immigration rules). UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) can endorse applicants who provide critical contributions to work supported by a substantial research grant or award (minimum of £30,000 covering at least a two-year period), which must be from an ‘endorsed funder’ (listed by UKRI).
This will be welcome news for UK research organisations that appear on UKRI’s approved list – particularly because the high skills threshold generally required under the global talent category is reduced in some instances under the fast-track route. Skilled research technology/methodology specialists, as opposed to those solely filling senior PhD-level roles, will be eligible for fast-track endorsement, provided they are making ‘critical contributions’ to research and are named on the grant/award under ‘directly incurred’ costs.
The Home Office recognises such exceptionally talented individuals should have few restrictions on their economic activity once in the UK. The key benefits for applicants in this category are:
- They can be self-employed, contracted or employed by any employer and can move between employers without any additional approval from the Home Office.
- They can work in any sector and take up employment at any level, although they must be able to show they have been paid for employment in their field to extend their visa.
- There is no English language requirement.
- There is no financial requirement.
- All applicants are eligible for settlement (permanent residence) after three years, except those endorsed under the exceptional promise criteria by Arts Council England or Tech Nation.
- There are relaxed absence requirements for settlement applicants in the fields of science and medicine, engineering and humanities, as well as their partners, where they have spent excessive time abroad linked to their visa (such as a scientist undertaking research overseas).
So this visa will continue to provide a useful route for companies wishing to bring over highly skilled individuals who require flexible working arrangements. However, the threshold is extremely high and unfortunately this new route does not remedy the main obstacle to eligibility under this path. Only those at UKRI-approved institutions will really reap the benefits and even then in limited circumstances.
Chetal Patel is partner at Bates Wells