The UK’s displaced talent visa scheme is designed to allow certain highly-skilled asylum seekers to come to the UK to work for up to two years.
Many refugees have marketable skills but are locked out of international skilled migration systems, often because they are inadvertently discriminated against due to documentary requirements and administrative processes. Meanwhile, UK employers face critical talent shortages that could, in many cases, be met by skilled and talented refugees.
The displaced talent scheme aims to address the administrative and legal barriers that refugees and other forcibly displaced people face when seeking skilled employment internationally.
What is the displaced talent visa scheme?
There is currently no level playing field in migration frameworks across the globe, including the UK, where forcibly displaced people are faced with various obstacles that stem directly from the circumstances of displacement. These obstacles can be overcome, either by enhancing flexibility or by creating bespoke pathways for skilled people in need of international protection. The displaced talent visa aims to level the playing field so that refugees and other displaced people can compete fairly in the international labour market, using their own skills to change their fortunes and rebuild their lives with dignity.
The displaced talent mobility scheme also provides an opportunity for UK employers to recruit skilled workers who have both the skillset and capability to fill roles that the employer would otherwise find difficult to fill. UK employers will benefit from the skills that migrant workers can bring, whilst filling a skills shortage with capable and experienced employees.
The scheme has been designed in collaboration with Talent Beyond Boundaries (TBB). TBB is a global nonprofit organisation that was set up to explore safe legal pathways in which forcibly displaced people such as healthcare professionals, IT professionals, engineers, skilled trade workers and many more, can use their skills to create a more secure and self-sufficient future for themselves and their families.
The scheme adapts the UK’s existing work permit rules to facilitate applications from skilled refugees and displaced foreign nationals, giving applicants and their dependants the chance to move to the UK for work in a number of different fields.
Who is eligible under the displaced talent mobility scheme?
The scheme gives up to 100 primary applicants the chance to move to the UK to gain skilled employment in a variety of fields, including engineering, construction and IT.
The displaced talent scheme is aimed at refugees who have fled conflicts in Gaza, Iraq, and Syria, and are resident in camps in Lebanon and Jordan.
It prioritises skilled asylum seekers, as this visa route isn’t open to asylum seekers already resident in the United Kingdom.
What does the displaced talent visa allow?
With permission under the scheme, the visa-holder can work in an eligible job, bring their partner and children with them, provided they are eligible, and apply to settle permanently once they have lived in the UK for 5 years and meet the other eligibility requirements. As with all international skilled workers, candidates under the displaced talent visa programme will be entitled to a 5-year skilled worker visa, together with the opportunity to apply for indefinite leave to remain, provided the relevant criteria is met.
Displaced talent mobility candidates will also have access to safeguards in the event that they lose their job to ensure that they are not returned to a country where they may face danger.
How will the displaced talent visa programme work?
In many ways this route mirrors the UK Skilled Worker visa. The skilled worker route allows approved UK employers to sponsor workers to undertake skilled jobs in the UK, subject to requirements such as a minimum salary and skill level and English Language proficiency.
To qualify for the skilled worker visa, a skilled migrant worker has to have the skills or experience to secure a job that falls within the required work skill level through inclusion on the government list of UK jobs allocated a standard occupation code.
If the job doesn’t have a standard occupation code, a skilled migrant worker can’t apply for sponsored employment under a skilled worker visa. This is the case even if there are UK job shortages because of the UK skills gap.
The British government identified the need for the displaced talent visa because whilst a number of refugees have the skills to apply for a skilled worker visa, they are unable to do so because of the barriers they may be facing, without access to the equipment needed to make an online application and without all the supporting evidence to show that they have the required skills to do the job, or meet the English language requirement and TB test.
The displaced talent visa will enable those, who could have been eligible for the skilled worker visa if their circumstances had been different, to secure a skilled worker visa to help them, and their dependant family members, relocate to the United Kingdom in a safe and secure route.
Under the scheme, Home-Office approved UK employers can sponsor eligible candidates via the skilled worker route. Applicants will still need to secure a job offer and be able to speak English — where the existing eligibility criteria will not be lowered — although many of the documentary requirements and administrative processes which can inadvertently discriminate against displaced people will be removed.
Applicants under the pilot scheme will receive priority processing. They will also be given case management support to overcome any administrative barriers, including accessing passports or travel documents, as well as employment references and tax records.
To participate in the displaced talent visa programme, a displaced jobseeker must be screened by TBB, providing detailed information about their skills, education and employment history. For UK employers, to take advantage of the pilot they must be willing and able to sponsor displaced talent through the skilled worker route. To initiate the process of identifying and hiring suitable candidates, employers should register their interest via TBB’s website.
Participants may be hired to work within any occupation eligible under the skilled worker route, although jobs on the shortage occupation list will be prioritised. Once a job role has been identified, TBB will provide a shortlist of candidates from their Talent Catalogue: a pool of more than 25,000 skilled people, most of whom are currently living displaced in Jordan and Lebanon, where TBB have offices and local staff. The employer has the option to include any or all of these candidates in their normal recruitment process.
TBB will provide a full remote recruitment service, including identifying suitable refugee candidates and assisting employers to conduct skills validation and video interviews. That said, the employer will be ultimately responsible for assessing a candidate’s skills and experience, and deciding whether that candidate is suitable for the particular role on offer.
When the recruitment process has been completed, employers can then extend a job offer to their preferred candidate with a view to commencing the immigration process.
What happens once a job offer is made under the programme?
Once a job offer has been made and accepted under the displaced talent visa programme, TBB will assist with migration and on-boarding. They will work with the employer and the successful candidate to prepare the immigration application.
TBB will also advise the relevant team within UK Visas & Immigration (UKVI) that a displaced talent mobility application has been lodged. Visa applications under the displaced talent pilot will be expedited, where applicants will receive free UKVI priority processing with a 5-day turnaround, although complex cases may not be deliverable within this timeframe.
Once a visa is granted, TBB will then work with the employer to make arrangements for the relocation of the candidate to the UK. Successful candidates are expected to begin work 2 weeks after their arrival, where TBB will continue to work with the employer and any local support services to ensure that candidates and their family members are welcomed into the community. TBB will stay connected with the employer, candidate and their family for 12 months post-relocation to help ensure a good settlement experience for everyone involved.
TBB will not charge a fee for the recruitment and settlement coordination services provided. The cost to employers to recruit through the pilot scheme will therefore be in line with any international hire, including the visa application fee and associated costs (but with a £500 saving for priority processing), together with general relocation costs for your new employee, such as flights and temporary accommodation upon arrival.
How does the programme differ to the UK’s existing skilled worker route?
The process for applying for a visa under the existing skilled worker rules in the UK is robust, with strict points-based criteria that must be satisfied. The displaced talent visa programme is designed not to lower the eligibility threshold under the rules, but rather to refine the process to enable applications from displaced skilled workers.
The precise details of the pilot have not yet been released, but refugees will still need to provide proof that they possess the necessary skills required, primarily for jobs on the UK’s shortage occupation list. This list is subject to change and the most up to date version should be consulted at the time of any application. The applicant will also need to show that they can communicate in English to the required standard. Employers must have a valid sponsor licence in place to sponsor workers under the skilled worker route, and be able to offer a job at a suitable rate of pay and skill level.
The pilot scheme is not so much about changing the rules under the UK’s immigration system, but helping people who already qualify under the existing rules. Many refugees have marketable skills but lack opportunities because they have been forced to flee their homes, leaving all their worldly possessions behind, including important travel and other documents. The system is simply too bureaucratic for those that have been displaced, where some level of flexibility is needed to provide equal and fair opportunities for refugees.
The scheme is modelled on similar programmes run by TBB in Canada and Australia, and will be in addition to new resettlement routes for refugees based on need rather than skills.
Will the pilot lead to a new displaced talent visa?
Provided the pilot scheme is successful, and the scheme is scaled up, this could lead to the introduction in the UK of either a new displaced talent visa or a displaced talent stream to the existing skilled worker route. In addition to the 100 or so successful candidates under the pilot, this would mean that many more refugees or other forcibly displaced people who have had to flee their homes can come to the UK for work and resettlement.
This new complementary pathway would provide those who have been displaced by conflict and violence not only with a right to work in the UK, but with a route to settlement, enabling them to eventually apply for residency through the UK’s points-based immigration system.
There are thousands of skilled and talented refugees qualified to work in the UK and, equally, there is a strong need for their skills. Opening skilled migration pathways to refugees could allow thousands of displaced people to achieve security and self-sufficiency. The potential result is therefore perceived by many as a win-win: for refugees and their families, for UK employers, and for critical UK industry sectors with a shortage of suitably qualified staff.
Participating in the displaced talent visa programme will empower UK businesses to help unlock solutions, simply by recognising the skills and contributions that can be made by refugees. UK employers can recruit top talent to their organisation ‘and’ make a real difference, by providing individuals and their families with a much needed fresh start.
DavidsonMorris are specialists in UK immigration. We advise employers on all aspects of corporate immigration and international talent recruitment and global mobility, including guidance on visa options for highly skilled recruits. For advice on the immigration options open to your workers, such as the new displaced talent visa, contact us.
Last updated: 12 March 2023