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How can architecture benefit from the Exceptional Talent visa route?

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Lawyer Joanna Hunt examines the extension of the Home Office’s Tier 1 category to cover architects wanting to work in the UK

The government has announced that from 10 January 2019, the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa route will be extended to allow applications from the field of architecture. With Brexit looming on the horizon, this news will provide some much-needed reassurance that the UK’s architecture sector will still be able to attract the best in global talent over the coming years. However, the new measures are limited in their scope and are unlikely to plug the gap that will be left once freedom of movement for EU workers comes to an end.

The Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa is designed for highly skilled individuals from industry and arts sectors who the government hopes will enrich the United Kingdom’s economy and cultural life. An independent body, separate to the Home Office, assesses whether their experience and skills reach the threshold of exceptional talent and are deserving of a visa to work in the UK. In this case that body will be the RIBA.

What will an applicant have to show?

The RIBA will accept applications from those with ‘exceptional talent’, who are already considered leaders in the field, as well as those who demonstrate ‘exceptional promise’, who are more junior but have shown potential to make significant contributions to the sector.

Applicants will have to show that they have produced work of the highest quality and that they have an international reputation. They will have to submit a portfolio of evidence to back this up which should include at least some evidence of media recognition for their work, proof that they have won or have been involved in winning an international award or that they have published or exhibited internationally.

If they are successful in being awarded the endorsement, the applicant can apply for a visa of up to five years and eventually apply for indefinite leave to remain (ILR).

What does this mean for architecture practices in the UK?

The major advantage of this visa is that it is flexible and allows the holder to work for whomever they choose or to be self-employed. They can then move employers while in the UK and take on projects to suit them.

For employers, this provides a welcome alternative to the complex work permit scheme known as Tier 2 of the points-based system. This requires a business to have a sponsor licence, to pay a £1,000 per year levy to employ a foreign worker and adhere to a series of record-keeping and reporting duties.

The requirement to have attained international recognition means only a select elite will attain this threshold

The change provides some good news for the architecture sector and represents an acknowledgement by the government that the sector needs to be bolstered in light of the Brexit-related challenges that lie ahead. But it will not revolutionise how foreign architecture candidates can be recruited. The pool of candidates who will apply for this visa is likely to be very small. The requirement to have attained international recognition in the form of awards and other accolades means that there will only be a select elite who will attain this threshold.

Employers will still have to rely primarily on the Tier 2 category when looking to employ global talent. As the government has now announced, from 2021, EU nationals will have to use the Tier 2 category to work in the UK, and the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent category will only cover a tiny fraction of these extra visa applicants. It is designed for a small talented minority and doesn’t tackle the issue of sourcing a larger number of skilled workers for the industry post-Brexit.

Joanna Hunt is managing associate at law firm Lewis Silkin

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