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FAQs: Tier 1 exceptional talent visa

Update: The government has announced the closure of the Tier 1 (Exceptional talent) visa route to new applicants with effect from the 20 February 2020.

The visa is being replaced by the global talent visa that opens to applicants on the 20 February 2020.

If you have a pending application for a Tier 1 (Exceptional talent) visa or need information about applying to extend your exceptional talent visa or to settle in the UK read our latest update. If you want information on the new global talent visa, the application process and how to deal with the transition, read our global talent visa guide.  

In this article we answered your Tier 1 Exceptional talent visa FAQs and offer guidance on the exceptional talent visa. 

What is the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent Visa?

The Tier 1 Exceptional talent visa enables EEA-nationals who have ‘exceptional talent or promise’ in a recognised field to apply to enter the UK. The government has said that it wants to attract the brightest and the best to the UK and this visa is designed as an entry route to the UK for those with that qualifying talent or promise.

The advantage of a Tier 1 Exceptional talent visa, rather than a Tier 2 (General) visa, is that it enables a non-EEA migrant to come to the UK and work either in an employed position (the job role does not have to be on the Shortage Occupation List and there are no salary restrictions) or set up in business in a self-employed capacity.

The other positive of a Tier 1 Exceptional talent visa is that it provides a route to settlement in the UK after a period of three or five years (depending on the type of Tier 1 Exceptional talent visa you obtain).

Who is eligible to apply for the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa?

To be eligible to apply for a Tier 1 Exceptional talent visa you need to be:

  • Endorsed as a leader in your field of exceptional talent; or
  • Able to show that you are an emerging leader who shows exceptional promise.

Exceptional talent and promise is limited to the following fields:

  • Architecture
  • Digital technology
  • Fashion
  • Humanities
  • Medicine
  • Science and engineering
  • The arts, film and television.

Is there an annual cap on Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa applications?

United Kingdom Visas and Immigration (UKVI) imposes an annual cap on the number of visas available under the Tier 1 Exceptional talent visa category. The current annual cap is 2,000 visa places per year. The year runs from the 6th April to the 5th April of the following year.

What work can I do under the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa?

The Tier 1 Exceptional talent visa gives you a lot of flexibility over the work you can do whilst in the UK. Unlike the Tier 2 General visa it does not limit you to applying for jobs on the Shortage Occupation List or sponsored jobs that are subject to the Resident Labour Market Test. Instead, you have the flexibility to:

  • Work for an employer of your choosing – the employer does have to provide you with a Certificate of Sponsorship.
  • Set up your own business and be self-employed, either as a sole trader, partner or company director.
  • Join an established business on a self-employed basis, for example becoming a partner in an established architect practice.
  • Carry out voluntary work.
  • Change your employer without having to notify UKVI or having to secure an offer of employment with an employer offering a Certificate of Sponsorship.

Although many potential Tier 1 Exceptional talent visa applicants are too modest to call themselves ‘exceptional’, when they realise the scope and flexibility of the Exceptional talent visa, in comparison to their alternative visa options, the Exceptional talent visa becomes increasingly attractive.     

Are the rules the same for the technology sector?

Whether your field of exceptional talent or promise is in the technology sector or another field, your application for a Tier 1 Exceptional talent visa will undergo a two stage assessment process:

  1. Apply for endorsement to your relevant Designated Competent Body as either having exceptional talent or showing exceptional promise as a leader in one of the specified fields; and
  2. Apply to the UKVI for the visa.

If you are applying for an Exceptional talent visa in the field of digital technology your Designated Competent Body (DCB) is Tech Nation.  Each DCB has its own eligibility and assessment criteria, which is set out in the 2019 updated Tier 1 Exceptional talent of the Points Based System – Policy Guidance.

Can you apply as part of a team?

You can apply as part of a team for a Tier 1 Exceptional talent visa, but each applicant must meet the eligibility criteria and demonstrate either exceptional talent or promise. Examples of team applications are found in the digital technology sector where groups of talented individuals want to relocate to the UK to either set up a start–up or join an established digital company.

Can the application be fast-tracked?

Some applications for Tier 1 Exceptional talent visas can be fast-tracked. Each Designated Competent Body sets out its eligibility criteria for endorsement and fast-tracking. For example, if you are applying for endorsement in the field of digital technology to Tech Nation, the DCB provides a fast track option if you can provide evidence of being accepted onto a recognised UK accelerator programme. 

What are the endorsement criteria?

The endorsement criteria for the Exceptional talent visa depends on the specific criteria set out by the Designated Competent Body for the field of exceptional talent or promise your application relates to. Each Designated Competent Body publishes its specific endorsement criteria.

When can you apply?

You can apply for an Exceptional talent visa throughout the year but you should consider that:

  • There is a limit of 2,000 endorsements available per year, split into two phases. The year runs from April to the following April. The availability of endorsements in your chosen field may therefore affect the timing of your application.

  • Although most people apply for the Exceptional talent visa in two stages, you can apply for endorsement at the same time as submitting the UKVI visa application. You should do so if you are switching visa to the Exceptional talent visa and need to make your UKVI visa application before the expiry of your current UK leave. That is because stage 1 endorsement is not an immigration application. You will therefore be treated as an overstayer if your current visa expires before you submit your Tier 1 Exceptional talent visa application to UKVI;
  • If you make your application in two stages and secure endorsement from a Designated Competent Body the endorsement letter is only valid for three months and your UKVI application must therefore be made in the three month window.

What is involved in the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent Visa application process?

There is a two-stage application process:

  1. Apply for endorsement as either having exceptional talent or showing exceptional promise as a leader in one of the specified fields; and
  2. Apply to the UKVI for the visa.

The first stage of the visa application process is specific to your chosen field and the criteria set out by the individual Designated Competent Body that assesses your application for endorsement. The Home Office has published full guidance on applications for Tier 1 Exceptional talent visas here.

Once you have secured your endorsement letter from the relevant Designated Competent Body you then have three months within which to submit the visa application to UKVI.

What is the application fee? Are there any other costs involved?

The application fees for the Tier 1 Exceptional talent visa are twofold, as separate fees are payable when applying for endorsement and when submitting the visa application to UKVI. The current application fees are set out below:

Application Stage 1 – endorsement by the Designated Competent Body Stage 2 – visa application to UKVI
Applicant £456 £152
From Turkey/Macedonia £456 £97
Dependants of all applicants Nil £608

In addition to the application fees you will also need to pay the immigration health surcharge (IHS). The amount of the surcharge is currently £400 per year for Tier 1 Exceptional talent visa applicants and their dependents. You can find more information about this here.

Who are the endorsing bodies?

Endorsing Bodies for Tier 1 Exceptional talent visas are called ‘Designated Competent Bodies’. The five bodies are:

Designated Competent Body Type of Tier 1 Exceptional talent visa application
Arts Council England Arts, culture, fashion, architecture , film and television applications
The British Academy Humanities and social science applications
The Royal Society Natural sciences and medical science research applications
The Royal Academy of Engineering Engineering applications
Tech Nation Digital technology applications

Arts Council England will pass on your application for endorsement to a relevant body for review by:

Exceptional talent field Application for endorsement reviewed by:
Fashion British Fashion Council
Architecture Royal Institute of British Architects
Film and television Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television

What is an endorsement review?

If your application for endorsement by the Designated Competent Body is refused you can apply for an endorsement review. The application for an endorsement review must be made within twenty eight days of refusal. You can only make one endorsement review application. Importantly, the reviewer can't look at any additional paperwork to the documents you sent with your application for endorsement. Details of the endorsement review process are contained in Annex C of the Tier 1 Policy Guidance.  

What happens after the document has been approved?

At stage two of your application for an Exceptional talent visa, you need to send UKVI your:

  • Letter of endorsement from the Designated Competent Body;
  • Current passport or travel paperwork; and
  • If relevant, tuberculosis test results.

Your application will then be reviewed by a UKVI caseworker who will assess whether you meet the general requirements for a UK visa.

What should you do if your application is refused?

If stage two of the application process for a Tier 1 Exceptional talent visa is refused, you can ask UKVI to review their decision if you believe that they have made a mistake. The review process is known as administrative review.

Depending on your individual circumstances, it may be possible to resubmit your stage two application. For example, if you made an application whilst in the UK but were unable to switch visa, you could potentially apply again for stage two approval using your endorsement letter provided that the letter is not more than three months old at the time of the resubmitted stage two of the application process.

If your stage two application is refused it is sensible to take urgent legal advice as there are time constraints to requesting an administrative review and you may be under other time pressures if your current visa or your endorsement letter will expire.

Can you travel while you are waiting for your application to be processed?

Many applicants for a Tier 1 Exceptional talent visa want to know if they can travel whilst waiting for their visa application to be processed. The Immigration Rules say that whilst you are at stage one of the application process and awaiting endorsement by the relevant Designated Competent Body, you can travel overseas.

If you are making the application for the Exceptional talent visa from within the UK, then at stage two of the application process, when your application has been endorsed and is with the UKVI for assessment and verification, you cannot travel outside the UK. If you request your passport back from UKVI so that you can travel, your application will be treated as withdrawn.

Are you eligible to apply for settlement, indefinite leave to remain or citizenship while on the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent Visa?

You are eligible to apply for settlement and indefinite leave to remain whilst on a Tier 1 Exceptional talent visa.  If you secured your visa on ‘exceptional promise’, you can apply to settle in the UK after five years residence in the UK in a qualifying visa. If you are in the UK on an ‘exceptional talent’ visa you can apply for settlement after three years continuous leave in the UK. The standard Immigration Rules on absences from the UK apply to a settlement application based on exceptional promise or talent. Subject to compliance with Immigration Rules and meeting the general requirements, once you have secured your Indefinite Leave to Remain you can go onto apply for British citizenship and, as such, the Tier 1 Exceptional talent visa is a route to British nationality.

How long is it valid for?

With an Exceptional talent visa you can stay in the UK for a maximum of five years if you applied for the visa from within the UK or five years and four months if you applied from outside the UK. The visa can be extended for a further five years provided you meet the visa extension criteria.

Switching from Tier 2 ICT to Tier 1 exceptional talent

If you are in the UK on a Tier 2 ICT visa you can apply to switch to a Tier 1 Exceptional talent visa. The application should be made before the expiry of your Tier 2 ICT visa. 

Does the visa allow dependents?

The Exceptional talent visa allows non-EEA national dependents to accompany you if they apply for a visa as your dependent. The Immigration Rules define a dependent as:

  • Your partner
  • Your child, provided they are under the age of eighteen
  • Your child over the age of eighteen provided they are currently in the UK as a dependent.

What is the difference between the Exceptional Talent visa and the Skilled Worker visa?

The main difference between the Tier 1 Exceptional talent visa and the skilled worker or Tier 2 General visa is flexibility. With an Exceptional talent visa you do not need a sponsor to employ you, you can set up your own business and you can change jobs without having to notify UKVI. Therefore, although most people automatically assume that they should apply for a Tier 2 Skilled Worker visa, the Tier 1 Exceptional talent visa gives you far greater autonomy.

Are there any tips for making a good application?

Making a good application for a Tier 1 Exceptional talent visa comes down to thoroughly reading the criteria for endorsement as showing exceptional promise or talent in your chosen field. Each Designated Competent Body publishes and updates its endorsement criteria and the success or failure of your application can come down to how carefully you read the criteria. It is also important to remember:

  • Be realistic in your application – if you do not think you meet the exceptional talent criteria focus on an application for exceptional promise;

  • You can only submit ten pieces of evidence with your application for endorsement. Anything over that limit is ignored. It is therefore important to choose those ten pieces with care and that you focus on quality not quantity;

  • You need supporting statements from experts in your field to successfully apply for endorsement from a Designated Competent Body. The authors of those statements need to be chosen with care as the specific criteria in each field sets out who can provide a supporting statement. If you are asking an organisation for a supporting statement it is sensible to indicate the areas you need them to address in their statement and to provide relevant up-to-date information for them, such as your publications, reviews or research material;

  • Take time with your application to get it right. If you apply and you are not successful your application fees will not be returned.

What is the success rate?

The success rate for applications for exceptional promise and exceptional talent visas all comes down to the quality of the application. Business immigration solicitors believe that it pays to spend time on a quality application as a result of the flexibility that the Tier 1 Exceptional talent visa offers to successful applicants.


What next?

If you need advice on applying for a Tier 1 Exceptional talent visa or applying to review a visa refusal or to extend your Exceptional talent visa, our business immigration law solicitors can help. Call us on 0800 689 1700 or fill out the short form below.

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