Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) immigration route opens

On 20th July 2011 the government announced the requirements and application procedure for the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent category under the Points Based System. The UK Border Agency (UKBA) will start accepting applications from 9th August 2011.

The Tier 1 Exceptional Talent route was introduced into the Immigration Rules on 6th April 2011 (Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules HC863), however, operation of the scheme has been “suspended” until now. On 20th July 2011 the UKBA announced the identities of the Designated Competent Bodies authorised to issue endorsements to exceptionally talented candidates and published their practice guidance. Application forms should be available before the opening date on 9th August 2011.

The recognition of talent will come from a Designated Competent Body in the form of an endorsement. There are four such bodies authorised to issue the endorsements:

  • the Arts Council – for arts and culture applications;
  • the British Academy – for humanities and social science applications;
  • The Royal Academy of Engineering – for engineering applications; and
  • the Royal Society – for natural sciences and medical science research applications.

The Tier 1 Exceptional Talent category is for “exceptionally talented individuals in the fields of science, humanities, engineering and the arts, who wish to work in the UK. These individuals are those who are already internationally recognised at the highest level as world leaders in their particular field, or who have already demonstrated exceptional promise and are likely to become world leaders in their particular area” (UKBA Guidance).

There are therefore two categories of migrants under the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent route:

  • Exceptionally talented – those who can demonstrate that they are the world leaders in their field; and
  • Exceptionally promising – those who can demonstrate the potential to become world leaders in their field.

When making an application certain documentation must be provided in support. For those seeking endorsement by the Arts Council,only established world-class artists will be considered by this body. The Tier 1 Exceptional Talent route will therefore not be open to promising artists, as the evidence required by the Arts Council is that candidates must be already professionally engaged in producing work of outstanding quality which has been published, performed, presented, distributed or exhibited internationally.

Actual or potential world leaders in the fields of social sciences,humanities, engineering, natural and medical sciences have been given the opportunity to be considered by their relevant Designated Competent Bodies, provided that they submit strong evidence of their actual or prospective success.

In all of the above categories letters of recommendations from eminent individuals or organisations will play a significant evidential role.

An Entry Clearance (visa) in this category will be mandatory (in-country applications switching from other immigration categories will not be available, unless there are exceptional circumstances which prohibit the applicant from travelling to their country of normal residence to make the application). Successful applicants will obtain leave to enter for three years, with the possibility of an extension for a further two years. On completion of five years of continuous residence in the UK in this category, migrants will be allowed to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain, provided that the government does not change the Immigration Rules in the future.

The total number of successful applications will be capped at 1000 during the first allocation period which will run from 9th August 2011 until 5th April 2012. Each Designated Competent Body has its own limit of endorsements available.


  • Before making an application for an Entry Clearance in the Tier 1 Exceptional talent category, all candidates will be required to obtain a Unique Reference Number from the UKBA. The request for the Unique Reference Number will be made by email and must indicate the relevant Designated Competent Body.
  • Once issued, the Unique Reference Number will be valid for 10 days and within this time an application for the Entry Clearance must normally be made at an appropriate UKBA Visa Application Centre abroad. All required supporting documentation must be submitted to the UKBA Visa Application Centre, which will then send it to the Designated Competent Body indicated by the applicant.
  • The appropriate Designated Competent Body will assess applicants against their published eligibility criteria and advise the UKBA whether the criteria have been met. If they have been met it will issue an endorsement.
  • An endorsement from a Designated Competent Body will entitle applicants to claim 75 points for their attributes under the Points Based System and be eligible for an Entry Clearance in the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent category. In addition to the points criteria, candidates will also be assessed against the general grounds for refusal such asfor example their immigration history.

Successful applicants will obtain the right to enter the UK for three years with the right to take up employment or self-employment. Before the expiry of their three year visa, migrants will be entitled to extend their stay for a further two years. To qualify for extension they will need to show that on the date of the application they are economically active in employment or self employment in their expert field and the Designated Competent Body has not withdrawn its endorsement. They will also need to supply evidence of their English language ability. The minimum level of English language has been set at B1 of the Common European Framework of Reference (equivalent to IELTS 4.0 – 5.0).

On completion of five years of continuous residence in the UK under the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent category migrants will be able to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain.

The new scheme places the main responsibility for assessment of candidates on the Designated Competent Bodies. Associated with this role are duties and obligations placed on those Bodies effectively passing responsibility for the assessment of the entitlement to an immigration status to a body outside the UKBA. The system therefore in part resembles sponsorship under the Tier 2, Tier 4 and the Tier 5 routes, where the burden of immigration control is effectively passed on to employers and other sponsors, with the UKBA remaining in a quasi regulatory and supervisory role, with powers to enforce the rules.

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