Changes to Exceptional Talent Visa invites promising architects to the UK

As of January 10th 2019, the UK government will be welcoming talented architects to the UK by implementing changes to their guidelines for a Tier 1 Visa. Joining those who work in digital technology, science, engineering, humanities and the arts, architects will now also be entitled to apply to live in the UK for up to five years if they qualify for a Tier 1 Visa under the ‘exceptional talent’ or ‘exceptional promise’ specifications. 

Taking into account the fact that 1 in 5 architects who are working in the UK today was born elsewhere in the world, the importance of maintaining these figures post-Brexit is paramount. The Royal Institute of British Architects chief executive Alan Vallance has voiced his own concerns by stating that many architects have considered leaving Britain because of the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, and that it would be ‘an outcome [that] will cause unilateral harm to the sector.’ The importance of employing the Tier 1 Visa to attract architects from outside the UK therefore cannot be underestimated. 

What is a Tier 1 Exceptional Talent or Exceptional Promise Visa?

The Tier 1 Exceptional Talent Visa was created with the purpose of encouraging both those who are either a recognised leader within their field (showcasing ‘talent’) or who are clearly establishing themselves as an emerging success at their profession (showcasing ‘promise’). Successful architects looking to base themselves within the UK borders must therefore have been published, presented or exhibited internationally and ideally have won multiple awards for their professional achievements. In order to prove their caliber, the applicant must be able to present past or ongoing work of an exceptional quality and in return will be offered the privilege of being able to work in the UK with more freedom than a normal work visa would allow. However, the overall visa is subject to an annual limit of 2000 endorsements that makes it highly competitive. 

What must potential applicants do in order to obtain this Visa and what does it allow?

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has been working closely with the Home Office and Arts Council England to establish the most important criteria that applicants must meet in order to be successfully granted a Tier 1 visa. 

The evidence that must be provided to prove an individual’s exceptional promise within the architectural field can include; 

  • National recognition through at least one country’s media outlets. Features, reviews and articles all count, and this can be within the artist’s country of residence. 
  • Physical proof of having won, shortlisted, or nominated for an international or national award for excellence in the field of architecture
  • Having produced work that is of an outstanding quality and that has been exhibited, presented or published either nationally or internationally

To be considered as an exceptional talent applicant within architecture, you must be able to prove; 

  • Significant international media recognition such as features, reviews, or articles in at least one country other than the applicant’s country of residence 
  • Physical proof of having won, shortlisted, or nominated for an award for excellence in the field of architecture on an international level
  • Having produced work of outstanding quality which has been exhibited, presented or published internationally 

For both of these categories, potential applicants can provide up to 10 pieces of supporting evidence to successfully establish that they meet the criteria laid out by RIBA, the Home Office and Arts Council England. 

Once an application has been successfully accepted by the Home Office, architects in possession of these forms of visa can; 

  • Work within the UK both under the employment of an external company, as an individual in charge of a company or as a self-employed individual
  • Change between jobs without having to inform the Home Office
  • Carry out work on a voluntary basis 
  • Travel outside of the UK and return 
  • Bring other family members to the UK 

Holders of this visa can stay in the UK for up to 5 years if they apply from within the UK but they must pay a healthcare surcharge of £200 for each year that they choose to be staying within the UK. Successful applicants can also apply to extend this visa and will not require further endorsement, only proof that they have been maintaining their professional status as an architect while in the UK. 

The application process for a Tier 1 is divided into two stages. Firstly, RIBA will assess the applicant’s skills, abilities and achievements before deciding on whether to endorse them or not. If they are satisfied with the application, RIBA informs the Home Office who then considers the immigration side of the application.
On average, the process around 8 weeks until completed. 

What could this mean for architecture in the UK? 

The most obvious way in which this will benefit the field of professional architecture in the UK is that it allows holders of the visa to be flexible in the way in which they take on work, and they will be able to move easily between different projects. For the UK, this means that highly skilled architects that have moved from abroad will be more readily available to assist on projects and lend their skills to the country. For employers, the Tier 1 route is a great alternative than a Tier 2 Work Visa since will not need to apply for Sponsor Licence that is normally necessary when hiring workers from overseas. 

The Government’s decision to add architecture to this list of viable professionals that can apply for this visa is an undeniably positive step as the country moves closer to an environment in which we will need to be maintaining a high standard within the sector, despite the many challenges that Brexit may bring.