Exceptional Talent in the UK

The UK digital technology sector is thriving, which is why ‘access to exceptional talent across the world is vitally important’, as proclaimed by Home Secretary Amber Rudd. This has certainly been reflected in recent government policy, from which we have seen an additional 1,000 visas available under the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent route and the introduction of a new ‘entrepreneur start up visa’ in the past 8 months alone.

The Tier 1 Exceptional Talent route is for non-EU individuals who are, or have the potential to be, recognised as world leaders in the field of digital technology, the arts, humanities, engineering or science. The application process consists of two stages: first, the applicant must apply to the relevant ‘Designated Competent Body’ within their specialised field for an endorsement; then, they must make a visa application. The first stage is an onerous one and competition is fierce, particularly given that there is a limited number of endorsement places available per year, which varies depending on the applicant’s field of specialism.

To receive one of Tech City UK’s hotly contested 200 endorsement places, an applicant must show they meet at least one of two key criteria, and two of four qualifying criteria, by submitting a number of documents including:

• A 7000 character personal statement;
• A two-page CV;
• Letters of recommendation by field recognised experts; and
• Up to 10 pieces of evidence to show how they meet the criteria.

There are strict requirements as to the form and content of these documents, departure from which can result in delay or rejection.

For Tech City UK applications, applicants can expect a decision at endorsement stage to take around 8 weeks. There is the option to fast-track the decision to 18 working days for those who will be based in the North of the UK, have specific skills or where a team are relocating; although we understand that these criteria have been reconsidered by Tech City UK and are to be updated.

If successful, there are few restrictions placed on a Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa holder. The individual is able to select the length of their visa (ranging between 1 and 5 years) and can work freely in the UK for an employer or themselves. Applicants endorsed under the Exceptional Talent criteria may apply to settle in the UK after 3 years; whilst those endorsed as Exceptional Promise can apply for settlement after 5 years. The freedom to live and work in the UK, and subsequently settle, also applies to the family members of Tier 1 Exceptional Talent migrants, who can apply to come to the UK at the same time as the main applicant, or to join them later. These benefits, combined with the comparatively low application fees, is reflected through the increasing popularity of the visa. As such, the bar for endorsement as a Tier 1 Exceptional Talent has risen in the past year alone, which is why it is prudent to seek legal advice when considering making an application.

Tilly Snow