Over the last few days there has been much uncertainty about the future of the Exceptional Talent category and specifically what the future might look like for those in creative fields.

The controversy started on Monday 27 January 2020 when the Government issued a press release entitled Boost for UK science with unlimited visa offer to world’s brightest and best’ which included the announcement that The Global Talent route replaces the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) route’. This is fine for scientists, who are allegedly being given further opportunities through the new Global Talent route but the press release made absolutely no mention of those who are not scientists or researchers – such as arts and culture applicants.

Further confusion was added on Tuesday when the MAC report was released describing the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) category as ‘mysteriously named’ and stating that the route ‘does not work well’, suggesting variously a pool system for applications and/or more variable points awardable, akin to the old Tier 1 (General) category.

It was therefore with some trepidation that we awaited the further details of the Global Talent visa in the Statement Of Changes yesterday. While it remains to be seen if the Government will follow the MACs recommendations in the longer term, the good news is that creative applicants are still provided for as part of the Global Talent immigration route.

Global Talent route: What are the changes for the creative sector?

The changes being made to the Exceptional Talent category for creatives are all more or less cosmetic.

  • The immigration category is longer part of the Points Based System and instead is found within Appendix W with Start-up and Innovator. This is not a surprising change given there was no real need for an arbitrary award of 75 points, and the Government previously announced that they wanted to include work based categories within Appendix W.
  • The category is no longer called Exceptional Talent, but instead Global Talent. Within Global Talent there remains the ability to be endorsed as Exceptionally Promising or Exceptionally Talented. This change in wording is helpful as it was always a little odd that you could be granted leave in the Exceptional Talent category when endorsed as Exceptional Promise.
  • While some individuals in Global Talent are able to apply to settle after three years even where they have been endorsed as Exceptional Promise, those endorsed by the Arts Council remain on a five year route to settlement, unless they have been endorsed as Exceptional Talent.
  • There have been some changes to the wording, for example to change the requirement of providing ‘two or more’ items of media recognition, to ‘at least two’. This is reminiscent of a change in the September 2019 Statement of Changes where similar wording of ‘two or more’ was changed to be ‘more than one’. It is difficult to imagine many circumstances where this change in wording will affect a person’s eligibility.
  • A potentially substantial change is that there is no longer a cap on the number of endorsements that the Arts Council can give to Applicants.

Unlimited Endorsements for Creative Sector

To date, the Arts Council has been subject to a cap on the number of applications it is able to endorse. The initial limit given was 250 endorsements and then latterly an additional bank of 1000 places were available to any endorsing body who had used their quota. The number of places available to the Arts Council did not increase even when they took on responsibility for Fashion and Architecture applicants, reviewed by their own separate bodies.

From the statistics we have currently available (until the end of 2018) the Arts Council have never reached the maximum number of endorsements and have never had to apply for further places under the currently operating system.

  • In 2017 they received a total of 237 applications, endorsed 119 of those as Exceptional Promise and 28 as Exceptional Talent.
  • In 2018 they received 297 applications, endorsed 180 as Exceptional Promise and 48 as Exceptional Talent.

Given the trend, it is possible that the limit was reached in 2019. However, given that there was a bank of 1000 additional places the Arts Council could have endorsed, it seems unlikely that removing the cap on the number of endorsements will make any substantial difference to the way applications in the category are processed.

It could however, affect the category in other ways. For example, it is possible that people who would have been eligible for the category were put off by the idea of the cap – either that such a small number of places, of just 250 a year, made the category seem more difficult than in reality it was. People may have been put off applying, thinking they were not in the top 250 people in their field. Alternatively, people may have been put off from applying on the basis that their application might be arbitrarily refused, even if they met the criteria, simply because they had applied in the wrong month.

It is therefore possible that the removal of a cap from the Global Talent immigration category may just encourage applications and make the category appear to be more open.

Conclusion

Despite some initial fears that we may be losing the Exceptional Talent category in its entirety, the introduction of the Global Talent category seems to basically keep the status quo for Creative applicants, and has the potential to encourage more applications in this category.

We hope that the migration to Appendix W will be a positive one, and that success can be made of the Global Talent route, so as to avoid some of the MAC’s suggested changes for this category in the longer term.