The UK’s visa and immigration system has historically been a source of significant bureaucratic frustration for those wanting to live and work in the United Kingdom, as well as for UK employers looking to recruit from the international talent market.
With this in mind, the UK government has recently announced new immigration measures to reduce the red tape, and for attracting, retaining and developing top talent from abroad. Below we look at what these changes may mean for UK employers in recruiting overseas applicants.
What is the UK Office for Talent?
The UK Office for Talent is part of a wider government initiative announced on 1 July 2020 aimed at encouraging leading global talent, including scientists, researchers, innovators and entrepreneurs, to come and work or study in the UK.
The new office forms part of a package of proposed measures described as the “Research and Development Roadmap” with a view to aiding the UK’s economic recovery in the post-Brexit and post-coronavirus environment – and in a bid by the UK government to cement Britain as a world-leading science superpower.
The Office for Talent will be tasked with removing any unnecessary red tape, hopefully making the immigration system much simpler, easier and quicker for global science, research and innovation talent at all levels wanting to move to the UK – from both established experts to students at the start of their careers.
It is said that the new office will begin work immediately from inside No.10, with delivery teams across government departments, to review the effectiveness of the current immigration rules and provide improved customer service. The office will also help those coming to the UK “better understand the opportunities on offer and break down any barriers they might face”.
What changes are pledged in the R&D roadmap?
The R&D roadmap includes a multi-million-pound government investment for upgrading the UK’s scientific infrastructure through a “World Class Labs” funding scheme helping, amongst other things, to develop new medicines, tackle climate change, strengthen national security and improve public services.
It is proposed that a proportion of the £300 million that will be made available will go to make up for any cuts that some research areas have faced in recent years. The plan also includes the implementation of an “Innovation Expert Group” to review how the UK government supports research, from the initial idea stage right through to product development.
However, the government’s primary focus is understood to be on turning new ideas into revolutionary technologies. In short, the aim is to use developments in science and research to raise economic productivity, bring new and innovative products and services to market, and create high value jobs to benefit the UK economy.
How will these changes help UK employers?
In addition to home-grown talent, it is hoped that the proposed measures will help to attract talent from around the world, meaning that the available pool of highly talented workers, both experienced and graduate, should significantly increase for UK employers in the pursuit of economic recovery and growth.
If effective, the Office for Talent will help to facilitate the immigration process for bringing these individuals from overseas, making it much easier for top global science, research and innovation talent to live and work in the UK.
Further, the time that foreign graduates can stay after completion of their studies is to be extended under a new graduate route. This means that international students who complete a degree in the UK from summer 2021 will be able to work, or look for work, in the UK at any skill level for up to 2 years, or if they have completed a PhD, up to three years.
How will these changes affect visa applicants?
For overseas visa applicants, the proposals are likely to make a significant difference to how easy it is to come to and stay in the UK.
Employers are advised to consider the impact of the changes – and of the wider UK immigration reforms – on recruitment planning and strategies, particularly where hiring skilled workers under Tier 2 of the UK points-based system, and when hiring non-resident EU nationals from 1 January 2021.
For example, to apply for a Tier 2 skilled worker visa, an applicant would need to have the offer of a skilled job by a UK licensed sponsor, whilst a Tier 1 investor would need access to at least £2 million in investment funds.
However, it is the Global Talent visa route that will most likely become the primary focus for change via the new UK Office for Talent.
The Global Talent visa was launched in February 2020, to replace the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa, providing a route for talented and promising individuals to come and work in the UK. It is designed for those with exceptional talent or promise, currently in the fields of science and medicine, engineering, humanities, digital technology, as well as arts and culture.
Alongside the R&D roadmap, the government has already announced plans to expand the eligibility criteria for this visa to allow highly skilled scientists and researchers from across the globe to come to the UK without needing a job offer. The global talent scheme will also be opened up to EU citizens to allow those with exceptional talent or promise to come to the UK post-Brexit.
The government has already promised to continue with reform of this route, building on the changes introduced earlier this year for exceptionally talented individuals, by looking at the uptake of different routes by established talent and those on the cusp of success, and reviewing restrictions and costs.
Under the existing rules an applicant must be endorsed as either a recognised leader showing exceptional talent, or as an emerging leader showing exceptional promise. This is a two-stage process involving an application for endorsement, as well as an application for the visa itself.
Number 10’s announcement about the new Office for Talent clearly aligns to the government’s wider objective of streamlining and improving public sector departments. Under these changes, it’s clear the Home Office is becoming subject to greater scrutiny from central government, as work visa rules and operations are to be reviewed.
With UK immigration reform imminent, and other initiatives in progress, such as the review into the simplification of the immigration rules, employers of foreign nationals in the UK are dealing with challenges on multiple fronts: satisfying current talent needs while remaining compliant under the existing rules, while also preparing for the system overhaul from 2021.
As of yet, it is unclear exactly how the promised new and proactive approach to attracting and retaining top global science, research and innovation talent to the UK will translate into practice, but it will remain vital for progressive UK employers to keep abreast of any changes made by the Office for Talent.
In this way, when the opportunity presents, you will be able to better harness the skills of global scientists, researchers, engineers, technicians, innovators and investors for your business, introducing new innovations and technologies to help create a sustainable and successful economic future.
Do you have a question about the Office for Talent?
DavidsonMorris are specialist UK immigration lawyers, working with employers to meet their talent needs through global mobility, immigration services and compliance. If you have a question about the new Office for Talent, or have a specific query about a UK visa, speak to our experts.
Last updated: 2 July 2020