Immigrants into the UK may be entering for any number of reasons, and it’s the job of the UK Immigration services to ensure that those who are granted entry have a specific, useful purpose to fulfil once in the country. In many cases, applicants will be intending to start a life in the UK, but there are many people entering the country who are only doing so for a short period of time. The Tier 5 series of visas is designed specifically with these applicants in mind; temporary workers who will only remain in the UK for less than 12 months.
The system of international work exchanges is very important to the continuing development of UK talent. Not only does it allow the UK to benefit by bringing in useful talent from overseas, but it also provides an opportunity for UK citizens to study and train in other countries. This can impart major advantages, as it allows individuals to work with some of the top experts in their field, honing their skills and building experience.
One of the key strengths of the Tier 5 visa is that there are several different pathways which applicants can take, with different criteria tailored to different applications. This allows it to provide access not only to temporary workers, but also to exchange workers who will only reside in the UK temporarily. In this article we’ll examine the Government Authorised Exchange visa, and highlight some of the key issues which applicants must consider when applying. Candidates should be sure to consult the Government’s own documentation on this visa before making an application, as further detail is available from their website.
Who is the Government Authorised Exchange Visa For?
The Government Authorised Exchange visa meets the needs of applicants who are coming to the UK to take part in an exchange program, and who will be staying in the UK for a year or less. There are dozens of authorised exchange programs in the UK, in nearly every field: there’s the well-known Erasmus student exchange scheme, the Lord Chancellor’s Young Chinese Lawyer exchange, schemes for medical, fire rescue and mining workers, exchanges in Government departments like Defence and the Treasury and a Welsh-Patagonian language exchange, amongst many others.
- Length of Stay:
Duration of exchange posting plus 28 days, up to a maximum of 12 months
Applicants cannot accept permanent work, nor can they access public funds
- Able to work?
Yes, up to 20 hours per week in any field
- Processing Time:
£230 application fee + healthcare surcharge
Sponsorship for a Government Authorised Exchange Visa
Applicants for this form of visa must be able to prove that they are taking up an authorised exchange post in the UK. This means that they must provide a “certificate of sponsorship reference number”, which gives details about the work they’ll be carrying out. This reference number will identify the specific role in which they’ll be working, the salary they’ll be paid (if any), and how long the role will last - this information will then be used to provide a decision on whether the application will be approved or denied.
This reference number will be supplied by the organisation through which the applicant has arranged their exchange, and isn’t a certificate in itself; it’s simply a reference number, and will allow immigration officials to track down the job in their database.
The sponsoring body of each exchange program is listed on the Government’s website: for instance, the Medical Training Initiative is overseen by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, while the International Horticulture Scheme is represented by Lantra. If applicants are unsure as to which organisation is responsible for providing their reference number, they should refer to the Government’s own documentation, which provides an exhaustive list.
Applying for the Visa
Like most visas, it’s possible to begin an application up to three months in advance of beginning a role in the UK. Because the Tier 5 series of visas is for temporary workers, the time it takes to process each application is notably shorter than for many other long-term visas; it only takes three weeks to receive a decision, rather than the more usual eight. However, three weeks is only a guideline, not a guarantee, and applicants should make sure to submit their applications in good time.
Applicants must apply for a “biometric residence permit” by supplying their fingerprints and a photograph at a visa application centre. The permit will then be supplied, and must be collected within ten days of the stated date of entry into the UK (even if the applicant actually ends up arriving at a later date).
Costs of a Tier 5 Government Authorised Exchange Visa
It costs £230 to apply for a visa of this type, but applicants should bear in mind that this is not a guarantee that the application will be accepted - should their application request be denied, no refund is available. In addition to this £230 administration fee, applicants must also pay the “healthcare surcharge”, which contributes towards the cost of medical services in the UK. This usually costs £200 per year per applicant, but is reduced to £150 per year for students (applicants should check whether they qualify or not before finishing their visa application).
If the visa must be received quickly, it is possible to use the premium “priority” service, which allows applicants to have their applications processed within ten days. This allows candidates to extend or switch their visas rapidly, but is subject to numerous conditions; firstly, it may only be used by applicants in the UK. Secondly, the number of applications which can be processed is limited to the first 60 received after 8:30 am each day - this ensures that demand for this priority service doesn’t swamp the capacity of the civil servants processing applications. Finally, it costs an additional £500 to use this service, which significantly increases the price of a temporary Tier 5 visa.