The purpose of the Tier 1 system of visa applications is to allow workers with valuable skills and expertise to gain access to the UK. By prioritising those with a high level of experience and knowledge, the system permits immigrants who have a lot to offer the UK to enter the country - those who are younger, better-educated, and higher-earning stand a good chance of getting in.
The “Exceptional Talent” visa application also reflects this by providing a route for individuals with particularly high levels of skill in certain areas to enter the UK. This application is specifically geared towards applicants who demonstrate a high level of expertise in a certain field, and who can be said to be a leader in their given discipline. This guide will cover the general requirements of the Exceptional Talent visa application, and point out the ways in which it differs from other Tier 1 application processes. If you’re applying for entry to the UK, this guide will provide a useful overview of the process, but you should also visit the UK Government website for more details.
Who is the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa for?
This form of visa is aimed at the small segment of potential applicants who are highly skilled in a particular field but do not necessarily meet the requirements of the standard Tier 1 visa. Applicants must demonstrate that they are either exceptionally talented, or are exceptionally promising, in one of the following fields:
- Digital Technology
- The Arts
Entering the country under an exceptional talent visa allows individuals to undertake a wide variety of activities, and is less restrictive than some other forms of entry. The visa comes with certain rights and responsibilities which differ from the standard Tier 1 visa, and applicants will need to understand exactly what they can and can’t do when entering the country on an exceptional talent visa.
Terms of an Exceptional Talent visa
The Government recognises that applicants with valuable skills and talents should not be restricted with what they can do in the UK once they arrive, and the Exceptional Talent visa grants a fair degree of liberty to successful applicants. Once granted, the visa allows immigrants to work either for themselves or for a company, to seek employment in any field at any level and to switch jobs without requiring permission from the Home Office (many specialist visas require that applicants work only in their given field).
An exceptional talent visa is also designed to help retain highly qualified individuals within the UK, and as such it grants a fairly lengthy term of residency to successful applicants. If applied for from outside of the UK, immigrants are given a leave to remain of 64 months (if the application is made from within the UK, this is reduced to 60 months). In addition, immigrants who remain in the UK for the full 5 years of their visa can apply to receive “indefinite leave to remain” and settle in the UK (although there is no English language skill requirement for exceptional talent visas, applications for settlement do require evidence of English language skills).
Exceptional Talent Tier 1 visas come with many benefits, but the process for applying is not straightforward. It’s important to understand what steps are involved when submitting an application, because the requirements and process differ from most other applications.
The application process
This form of visa consists of a “two step” application process, which requires applicants to complete two separate stages before receiving approval. These two steps are applying to be recognised as a leader in their field (or as a potential future leader), and the actual visa application itself.
Stage 1 - Endorsement as an Exceptional Talent
“Exceptional Talent” is judged by UK authorities, not by any other body. For each field, a different organisation assumes responsibility, and is able to approve or reject applicants - they will do so according to their industry’s criteria, and will supply applicants with the relevant documentation if they’re successful. It’s worth mentioning that applicants for Digital Technology endorsements will be more likely to be approved if they’re part of a team of 5 or more experts relocating to the UK or intending to set up a company in certain Northern cities.
There are only 1,000 places throughout the year for exceptional talent endorsements, which are released in two “batches” of 500 - one in April, and one in October. Within this batch, the applications are further subdivided between different disciplines
- Science and Medicine - 250
- Engineering - 150
- Humanities - 150
- Digital Technology - 200
- Arts and Culture - 250
If the full number of endorsements for a particular field has been reached, a notice to this effect will be displayed on the exceptional talent application page and no new endorsements will be issued.
It costs £287 to apply for endorsement as a leader or future leader, and usually takes 3 weeks to complete. Bear in mind that endorsement does not guarantee a successful visa application, and since this first stage of the application isn’t a visa request there is no right to remain in the UK while it’s being processed.
Stage 2 - Visa Application
Once endorsement has been received, it’s possible to move forward with the visa application itself. This requires that you submit a copy of your endorsement letter as well as completing a “valid” application (information on which is supplied by the Home Office). At this stage a further payment of £287 is also required to process your application, which is non-refundable in the event of a rejection.
As with most other visa applications, you can only apply up to 3 months in advance of when you intend to travel. However, it is possible to seek endorsement as a leader in your field at any time, and there are no restrictions on when you can apply. Because the “pool” of endorsements is refreshed in April and October, it’s a sound idea to time endorsement applications for these months; this reduces the chance that there will be no endorsements left in the relevant fields.