Each year, 1,000 Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visas are available for individuals who wish to work in the UK and who are exceptionally talented in the fields of science, humanities, engineering and the arts. An applicant must either:

  • already be internationally recognised at the highest level as a world leader in his or her particular field; or
  • have demonstrated exceptional promise and be likely to become a world leader in his or her particular area.

In order for a visa to be granted under this category, an endorsement is required from either: the Arts Council; the Royal Society; the Royal Academy of Engineering; or the British Academy. In our experience, these visas have mainly been used by academics or performers but they have been vastly undersubscribed.

In December 2013, the Government announced plans to extend this type of visa to world-leading individuals in the digital technology sector. From April this year, eligible individuals will be able to be endorsed by Tech City UK. This points to the intention that such visa holders will work in technology start-ups in London.

There is no reason, in principle, why the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) route should not already be an option for suitable individuals planning to work for (or lead) UK businesses. Indeed, current guidance relating to non-Arts Council endorsements states that the route is open to 'active researchers in academic, industry, or government research institutions'. This guidance also includes criteria on the basis for endorsements.

In light of the above considerations, next time you have a specialised or high-calibre international recruit, it may be worth considering the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) route as an alternative to Tier 2.