The details of a new Global Talent visa were published on 30 January 2020, to apply to applications made from 20 February 2020 onwards. This immigration category will replace the existing Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa which will be closed to new entrants (although those already in the UK under that category can still apply to extend that visa). The new Global Talent visa is for talented and promising individuals in specific sectors wishing to work in the UK. The broadening of this visa route is good news as the Exceptional Talent route had been criticised by the Migration Advisory Committee for setting the bar too high in terms of who could qualify.

So what is changing?

The Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa was a visa category for individuals working in specific fields of work who were endorsed as recognised leaders or emerging leaders in their field. Although it was a fairly uncommon visa as the criteria were difficult to satisfy (there were significantly less than 2000 awarded per year), some employers will have employees working for them under this category. This visa did not require the employer to act as a sponsor (the employee applied in their own right and did not need a job offer to qualify). It allowed individuals to work in employment or self-employment so was a useful immigration option to consider in cases where other categories were not available.

The bodies that were entrusted to endorse individuals for these visas included the Royal Society, the Royal Academy of Engineering, the British Academy, Tech Nation and the Arts Council England. Going forward, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) will also be able to endorse visa applicants in addition to these bodies. It remains the case that no job offer will be required and the employer will not act as a sponsor.

The visa application was a two-stage process. The applicant would apply to be endorsed by one of the permitted bodies and would then apply for a visa. There was no English language requirement, nor any financial requirement.

The requirement to be endorsed will remain in place and it remains the case that there is no English language or financial requirement. However, the following changes will apply:

  • No cap - under the new rules, there will be no cap on the number of Global Talent visas. However, the existing cap of 2000 visas per year was not ever reached so this change may have a limited impact in practice.
  • The criteria/process for digital technology and arts and culture are largely unchanged. Applications still have to be made to Tech Nation and/or the Arts Council England initially for consideration of these - although the visa has been re-named as Global Talent. There will be an expanded number of fellowships that will qualify for endorsements.
  • New science and research category - this is the key change. There will be a new fast track route under the Global Talent visa intended for scientists, mathematicians, researchers, academics, research engineers or other skilled research technology/methodology specialists. This is for those hosted or employed at a UK research organisation deemed acceptable by UKRI. This new route is for UK-based research projects that have received recognised prestigious grants and awards who will be able to recruit top global talent, benefiting higher education institutions, research institutes and eligible public sector research establishments. Those visas endorsed by UKRI will be a new 'fast track' route meaning that the endorsement process should be quicker than before and more straightforward.
  • Applicants who are endorsed by bodies responsible for science, engineering, humanities and medicine will be able to apply for settlement after three years rather than five.
  • Special rules will apply to allow certain absences from the UK not to interfere with settlement applications for applicants endorsed in the fields of science and medicine, engineering and humanities. This depends on whether the absences are to undertake research overseas which is linked to their grant of leave.
  • Those applying do not need to apply for a five year visa - they can apply for a shorter period if they wish to minimise some of the costs.

Further policy changes to immigration are likely in the coming months. We will provide an update as soon as these are announced.