A new displaced talent visa has been announced to allow certain, highly skilled refugees to work in the UK.
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 following guide examines the potential new visa for displaced talent due to be piloted in the UK — aimed at connecting skilled refugees with UK employers — and, if successful, could be rolled out to many more refugees providing UK businesses with a wealth of overseas talent.
What is the new displaced talent visa programme?
On 19 July 2021, as part of a wider package of asylum reform measures, the UK Home Secretary announced that a new sponsorship programme will be launched in the UK, offering refuge to up to 100 highly skilled people living in humanitarian camps in Lebanon and Jordan.
The displaced talent mobility pilot is set to run for up to 2 years and is part of the UK’s efforts to reduce the number of migrants entering the country illegally: by enabling skilled displaced people to come to the UK both safely and legally through established routes.
The programme is aimed at addressing the administrative and legal barriers that refugees and other forcibly displaced people face when seeking skilled employment internationally. If the pilot scheme is successful, it’s hoped that those displaced by conflict and violence will be able to benefit from much easier access to the UK’s global points-based immigration system.
The displaced talent mobility pilot 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 can use their skills to create a more secure and self-sufficient future for themselves and their families. These people include healthcare professionals, IT professionals, engineers, skilled trade workers and many more.
The new displaced talent visa programme will adapt 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 will be eligible under the new displaced talent mobility programme?
Over the next 1-2 years, the displaced talent visa pilot will give around 50-100 primary applicants the chance to move to the UK to gain skilled employment in a variety of fields, including engineering, construction and IT. The scheme will be aimed at refugees who have fled conflict and violence in Iraq, Syria and Gaza.
While the initial pilot is limited to up to 100 applications, the programme seeks to test whether a more permanent solution, such as a displaced talent visa or a displaced talent stream to the existing skilled worker route in the UK, is both viable and/or necessary.
Essentially, the end goal is to normalise displaced talent mobility, enabling refugees to move to the UK and undertake sponsored employment as skilled workers, and to open up a new labour market to UK employers in critical fields with a shortage of suitably qualified staff.
There is currently not a 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. A new displaced talent visa will 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 use of displaced talent mobility will also provide 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.
What will the displaced talent visa allow?
Being granted permission under the pilot scheme to come to the UK for work in a skilled occupation is likely to operate in the same way as a 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.
With permission under the skilled worker route, 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?
Under the new displaced talent visa programme, Home-Office approved UK employers will be able to 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 August 2021