Exceptional Talent Visa change is a positive step for UK’s Architectural Sector

As of recent, the UK immigration rules will now be more inclined to accept promising architectural talent into the industry. While only five percent of Tier 2 visa applications made by non-EU architects last year were approved, the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent Visa has been opened up to attract overseas architects looking to advance their careers in the UK.

On January 10th 2019, changes were implemented to the guidelines for a Tier 1 Visa that mean the field of architecture is now also considered within a pool that includes fashion designers, scientists and engineers as viable - and valuable - candidates to apply. Also, the annual number of Tier 1 Visas on offer has now been increased from 1,000 to 2,000 - with 250 reserved specifically for applicants in arts and culture (including architecture) and 1,000 open to applicants from any of the participating sectors.

In regards to how this will have a positive impact on the field of architecture in the UK, it will allow the successful recipients of the visa to have more flexible working contracts. Therefore, UK employers will have easy access to a pool of architectural talent who are capable of assisting on projects and lending their varied skill set to the ever-changing landscape. This is vastly different to the Tier 2 work visa which requires employers to sponsor each of their workers which restricts architects to work solely under one employer while in the UK. Additionally, this means that employers will therefore not need to acquire a sponsorship licence to hire an architect from overseas nor will they be required to regularly record and report details about the employee or pay the £1000 yearly levy to have a foreign worker in their employment.



Currently, the UK finds that 1 in 5 architects who are working in the country today were originally born elsewhere in the world, and to lose these individuals from the country post-Brexit would be disastrous to the innovation of the sector.  Furthermore, of the 30 projects shortlisted for the RIBA Stirling Prize over the last five years, 2 in 5 project lead architects were from outside the UK. The potential risk of this has also been noted by Alan Vallance - the chief executive of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) - who stated that many architects have considered leaving the UK because of the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, and that this would be ‘an outcome [that] will cause unilateral harm to the sector.’ These figures and comments put into perspective how much the UK does rely on talent outside of the country, and many of the decisions surrounding immigration seemingly overlook this.

However, an encouraging factor about these newly implemented guidelines is that applicants can be considered not just for proving exceptional talent, but also under a category that labels them as having exceptional promise in their field. Thinking forward to the evolving face of architecture in the UK, this would mean that the country can indeed attract and nurture fresh, exciting new talent.

For an applicant looking to apply for a Tier 1 Exceptional Talent Visa through the exceptional promise route, they benefit from marginal leeway in their application process since they do not have to showcase they are renowned in their field – just that they are ‘up and coming.’

Evidence to accompany an exceptional promise application must include;

  • proof that their outstanding work has been presented, exhibited or published either internationally or nationally.
  • media coverage from the artist’s country of residence. These can include articles, reviews and editorial features.
  • proof that the applicant has either won, been shortlisted or nominated for a national or international award for excellence in the field of architecture.

The potential applicant can provide up to 10 pieces of evidence to prove that they can sufficiently meet these criteria. The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has worked closely with the Home Office and Arts Council England to define these requirements and attract the most promising talent to the UK.

In addition to attracting applicants who hold great potential to develop their skills in the UK, similar guidelines also exist for overseas architects who already possess an outstanding skill set, and who could be key in leading ambitious projects in the UK. To be considered for the exceptional talent visa, you are asked to produce proof of similar but slightly more advanced achievements in the field. These include;

  • proof that their outstanding work has been presented, exhibited or published internationally.
  • media coverage from a country other than the artist’s country of residence. These can include articles, reviews and editorial features.
  • proof that the applicant has either won, been shortlisted or nominated for a national or international award for excellence in the field of architecture on an international level.

Whilst those looking to come to the UK may still encounter a fair few obstacles, this is a positive step towards the UK being able to both maintain and attract new talent in the architectural sector. With final decisions regarding Brexit getting ever closer, the restrictions that immigration rules impose need to be consistently assessed to avoid the UK causing catastrophic damage to the architectural sector, and repelling potential talent that would be looking to come into the country and offer us a great deal.

This author of this article, Alice Williams, is a specialist content writer and political commentator who writes on a wide range of immigration news for the UK’s leading Immigration Advice Service | @IASimmigration

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