Blog: New UK visas for overseas architects

Recently, the Home Office implemented changes to the Immigration Rules to extend the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa route to include applications from exceptional architects. Prior to now, the Home Office had only considered applications from exceptional individuals in the fields of science, engineering, humanities, medicine, digital technology, the arts, fashion, and film and architecture, who will enrich the United Kingdom’s economy and culture. However, as wide as the scope appeared to be, there was no specific provision allowing for architects wishing to emigrate to the UK, Francesca Freeman-Dark of Gherson explains more.

The Royal Institute of British Architects (“RIBA”) has been working with Arts Council England, in partnership with the Home Office and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport to develop assessment criteria for the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa for architecture applicants from outside the EEA and Switzerland. From 10 January 2019, RIBA will operate in the role of assessing applications for recognised or emerging leaders in architecture.

Applicants may apply for a Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa if they have been endorsed in their field as either: a recognised leader (Exceptional Talent); or an emerging leader (Exceptional Promise).

Architecture applicants of Exceptional Talent will have established themselves as producing work of outstanding quality which has been published, presented or exhibited internationally and have won international awards for excellence in architecture. Architecture applicants of Exceptional Promise will have exhibited a developing track record of work of outstanding quality and may have won or been nominated/shortlisted for national or international awards for excellence in architecture.

Applications under this visa route are assessed in a two-stage process. The first stage requires the applicant to apply for an endorsement from a “designated competent body”. For architects, the relevant body is RIBA. To this end, RIBA will carry out an assessment of the applicant’s skills, abilities and achievements based on documentary evidence provided by the applicant. It is expected that applicants will demonstrate recent and regular activity as a professional practitioner in the field of architecture, having produced high quality work in one or more countries.

If the applicant is successful at this stage and receives endorsement, they must apply to the Home Office for entry clearance or leave to remain in the UK (as applicable) within 3 months of the date of their endorsement – this is the second stage of the application. It is also open to non-EEA dependant family members to make an application join or remain in the UK with them. At this stage, the Home Office will assess whether the applicant (together with their family members) meet the criteria for entry clearance or leave to remain as per the Immigration Rules.

The Arts Council, who are the primary designated competent authority for Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visas in the arts, advise that it is unlikely that a recent graduate or architect at the outset of their career would be able to demonstrate a track record of appropriate range and quality to meet the required level of criteria for Exceptional Talent/Promise.

As expected, there continues to be a limited number of endorsements available each year across the Tier 1 (Exceptional) Talent route, a mere 2,000. Even then, an endorsement from RIBA will not guarantee the applicant’s success at the second stage of application. Rather interestingly, the endorsement limit is split into 2 phrases, with half of the limit being available form 6 April to 30 September each year, and the remaining being available from 1 October to 5 April. Further limits are placed on the number of endorsements to be allocated by each designated competent body.

In a sector reportedly worth £4.8bn to the UK economy, an estimated 54,000 architects are currently employed in the UK, with at least one in five being a non-EEA migrant. Even as the UK prime minister, Theresa May, continues to insist that net migration will be reduced to tens of thousands, the timing of these new rules makes it clear: as Caroline Nokes, the Minister of State for Immigration, that the UK is “committed to having an immigration system which ensures we attract the best talent the world has to offer so our businesses and industries can grow.”

 Francesca Freeman-Dark is a Senior business immigration specialistat Gherson