Three months to go until Brexit and the UK remains in a chaotic state of uncertainty. One industry that can’t help but tremble at the knees is the UK’s culture and arts sector whose architectural talents stand at risk with future immigration laws. Currently, the UK’s architect landscape relies heavily on the ease of freedom of movement for cross-collaboration and overseas expertise. Whilst May’s post-Brexit plans will see the end to this freedom, one glimpse of hope for those wanting to work in the UK is the ability to apply for a Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa.
Employing overseas talent is critical in the growing success of the architecture sector which is currently worth £1.7 billion. According to The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), one in five current architects are from the European Economic Area (EEA). Additionally, a survey conducted by Dezeen Magazine found that up to 33% of workers in many London firms were from the EEA whilst other practices revealed that overseas staff numbers were as high as 80%.
Yet since the 2016 referendum, a dark cloud of anxiety looms over the industry with the possibility of a no-deal threatening to eradicate the current acknowledgement of EU creative talent. With ongoing, large scale projects likely to be curbed post-Brexit, around 60% of EU workers have considered leaving the industry and the UK completely. Attempting to block any severe damage to the sector, 1,000 leading architects wrote a letter to the Prime Minister, emphasising the cruciality of EU expertise in the industries workforce.
Encouragingly, efforts to publicize the industries concerns have led to some positive steps for overseas architects who can now apply for a Tier 1 Exceptional Talent Visa. The opportunity was made available earlier this month and had previously only been open to workers in the sectors of science, engineering, humanities, digital technology and the arts. Now, architects can apply as early as 10 January 2019.
The announcement comes as a breath of fresh air for the industry after concerns were raised that architects may not fit the high salary threshold and annual cap of 20,700 required for Tier 2 Work Visas. Lifting these restrictions, the Exceptional Talent Visa opens up the opportunity for all international migrants, with EU citizens able to apply as soon as the UK leaves the EU. Offering little limitations, the visa grants successful applicants the ability to stay up to five years in the UK.
In response to the promising news, the RIBA said, “This follows a year of work with partners in government to secure a new route for highly-skilled architects to come to the UK – a significant opportunity for the UK to attract the best and brightest international talent in architecture.”
How to apply for a Tier 1 Exceptional Talent Visa
For architects wanting to apply for a Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa, applicants must meet certain conditions. Applications will be assessed by RIBA and the Arts Council England (ACE) and evidence submitted must include:
- Two examples of evidence (in the last five years) that show significant international media recognition either online or in print from at least one country other than the applicant’s country of residence
- Proof that the applicants has either won or made a direct and significant contribution to winning at least one international award for excellence. Arts Council England list examples of awards that RIBA recognise and endorse.
Benefits of the Exceptional Talent visa route rests in its flexibility, giving applicants the ability to secure their placement in the UK without having to first secure a job or depend on employer endorsement to sponsor their visa. This extends opportunities for architects to change jobs, be self-employed, start a business, freelance or volunteer without putting their immigration status at risk.
Setting it apart from many other visa options, the Exceptional Talent route allows applicants to bring their family with them, travel to and from the UK and even renew or switch their visas onto a different Tier 1, Tier 2 or Tier 5 category. Switching to or extending a visa grants applicants a further five year stay in the UK, assisting the way to permanent settlement such as Indefinite Leave to Remain or being able to apply for British Citizenship.
Yet, competition is increasingly high. Only 2,000 Tier 1 visas are allocated every year with only 250 being reserved for those who work in the arts and culture industries. Therefore, applicants must ensure they are successfully assessed by the RIBA and endorsed by ACE before acquiring their visa.
Although the talent and merit requirements are crucial in acquiring an Exceptional Talent visa, the route extends further to those who have already reached reputable status and gained numerous awards. Hardworking architects who can demonstrate their capability and commitment in becoming an emerging leader have the opportunity to be granted a visa under the ‘Exceptional Promise’ route. Through submitting evidence of media recognition from within their own country of residence or being nominated or shortlisted for a RIPA approved award, architects can be eligible to apply under the ‘Exceptional Promise’ rules.
With Britain’s post-Brexit vision remaining blurry, the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa is certainly a step forward in strengthening the future for the architecture industry. Continuing to recruit overseas workers will ensure the UK thrives as an innovative and prospering creator of major infrastructure and landscape projects.
This article has been written by Maddie Grounds, political commentator for the UK’s leading Immigration Advice Service.