The Tech Nation Visa (officially known as the Global Talent visa) enables the brightest and best tech talent from around the world to come and work in the UK’s digital technology sector, contributing their cutting-edge expertise, creativity and innovation to maintaining the UK’s position at the forefront of the global digital economy.
Tech Nation is recognised by the Home Office as an official ‘endorsing body’ for the Global Talent visa, and has the sole responsibility for endorsing applications related to the Digital Technology sector. Receiving endorsement from Tech Nation is required for an applicant to submit a visa application to the Home Office under the Global Talent route.
Who can apply for the Tech Nation Visa?
Commencing in 2014, the Tech Nation Visa route has received over 3500 applications to date, with 65% of applications being submitted by employees, 25% from founders, and 10% identifying as other applicant types, such as researchers. Around half of applicants are already working in the UK tech sector at the time of application and are therefore seeking to ‘switch’ from another visa route into the Global Talent route.
There have been various visa routes eligible for switching into Global Talent, namely Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 5, Startup and Innovator visas. The majority of Tech Nation Visa applicants, some 87%, are switching from the Tier 2 (General) route. As explained below, the current rules were updated in December 2020 and now permit a much wider range of visas to switch to Global Talent, making the options available to applicants already in the UK even more generous.
The Tech Nation Visa is for founders and employees with technical or business backgrounds, including all tech sub sectors like fintech, AI, cyber, and gaming. The visa is valid for up to 5 years, enabling you to work, change employers, or be self-employed, without the need for further authorisation. The Tech Nation Visa can be extended to your immediate family members and after the initial visa period, you can either apply for an extension or permanent settlement in the UK.
The Skilled Worker Route
The main alternative to the Global Talent visa is the Skilled Worker route, the mainstream pathway for foreign tech workers entering the UK, particularly for large technology corporates or scaleup firms that have the internal resources required to manage the hiring process of international talent. As part of post-Brexit changes to the UK immigration system, the Skilled Worker route opened on 1 December 2020 and is applicable to all EU (and EEA/Swiss) citizens starting work in the UK after 1 January 2021 and all non-EU citizens. The Skilled Worker category replaced the Tier 2 (General) category. The Intra-Company Transfer (ICT) category replaced Tier 2 (ICT).
Anyone with a Tier 2 visa can continue to work in the UK as normal for their sponsor. If they require an extension they can submit a Skilled Worker or ICT application, and if they change employer they will need to submit a Skilled Worker application. The Skilled Worker route is less onerous than Tier 2 (General) as the salary and skill thresholds have been reduced and there is no longer any resident labour market test (job advertising) process or monthly quota.
What is the difference between the Global Talent visa and the Skilled Worker visa route?
As far as the applicant is concerned, one of the primary differences between Tier 2/Skilled Worker and Global Talent is the application process, and whether it is primarily handled by the company (Skilled Worker) or the applicant themselves (Global Talent).
The Skilled Worker visa route requires an individual to have been offered a job by a UK based company that already holds a licence to employ international workers through the route – these approved companies are referred to as ‘Licensed Sponsors’ because they ‘sponsor’ the applicant to apply through the Skilled Worker route.
It is the Licensed Sponsor that assumes the majority of the workload and cost associated with bringing a foreign worker into the UK, and as such, an applicant for Skilled Worker simply has to apply for a visa and may have a reasonable expectation of approval. However, once the visa has been obtained, the flexibility for a Skilled Worker visa holder is quite limited, as the visa is tied to the specific role and employer. As such, an individual may not change jobs without applying for another Skilled Worker sponsored role at another company, or take on work outside of their immediate occupation. This lack of flexibility is one of the most common reasons a person who is already in the UK under Tier 2/Skilled Worker may decide to switch to the Global Talent route.
In comparison, the Global Talent route does not require an offer of employment or existing job in the UK, the difference to Skilled Worker is that it is the individual who assumes the cost and application requirements. If a company is offering an applicant a job, they have no role in the Global Talent process other than possibly providing one of the required references. As such, an applicant for Global Talent must demonstrate how their personal achievements and experience meet Tech Nation’s Eligibility Criteria, specifically that they are either an Existing Leader or Emerging Leader within the global tech sector, in addition to convincing Tech Nation how they will contribute to the success of the UK’s tech sector should they be awarded endorsement.
Once successfully endorsed and approved for a visa, Global Talent is extremely flexible, allowing the visa holder to change jobs, take on additional work, pursue side-projects or start a company, all without having to inform the Home Office of these changes in personal circumstances. The only expectation is that the visa holder uses their time in the UK within the digital technology sector (this becomes relevant should the individual wish to apply for permanent residence in the UK at a later date).
Things you need to consider before switching
If you are already in the UK and wish to ‘switch’ immigration category from within the UK, it is necessary to check the Immigration Rules to see if this is possible. Otherwise, you will need to leave the UK and apply for permission to enter.
The current rules from 1 December 2020 are much more flexible on who can switch into the Global Talent route.
Those who have a visa in the following categories cannot switch from within the UK into Global Talent:
- Short-term Student
- Parent of a Child Student
- Seasonal Worker
- Domestic worker in a private household
- Outside the Immigration Rules
When switching from Tier 2 or Skilled Worker to the Global Talent route, it is important to bear in mind the conditions attached to your current visa. For example, supplementary employment is permitted, but only in so far as it is in the same profession as the sponsored role, is for no more than 20 hours per week, is outside the normal working hours of the sponsored role and the individual should make their sponsor aware of the supplementary employment.
Another consideration when switching immigration category is eligibility for indefinite leave to remain (ILR). If it is not possible to switch immigration category and instead necessary to leave the UK and apply for permission to enter, it may break the continuity of leave for ILR purposes. When someone with a Global Talent visa applies for ILR, they can combine time spent in the Tier 2 (General) and/or Skilled Worker categories. Tier 2 (ICT) and ICT visas do not lead to ILR and so any time on such a visa cannot be combined with time spent on a Global Talent visa.
Megha’s switching story
We spoke to Megha Chaturvedi about her experience switching from the Tier 2 visa to the Global Talent Visa.
“I’m Megha, one of the founders of a London based travel company, Journee. We send people on exciting trips made for them, and they find out where they are going at the airport!
We want to make experiencing different cultures easier and more exciting than ever before. We soft-launched Journee in 2019. By mid-2020, we had raised a small pre-seed funding round and acquired about 150 early explorers.
I was working out of the UK on my husband’s dependent visa (he was on an ICT Tier 2 visa). I wanted to continue working with my co-founders out of our London HQ and focus on growing the business here. Being one of the best-connected travel hubs in the world and home to phenomenal tech talent, London was an ideal choice for Journee.
My residence permit would have expired in November 2020, so earlier this year, I transitioned to a Global Talent Visa. My experience could not have been better. The process is well run, fast, efficient and merit-based. It also does a great job of making the applicant feel in control.
The criteria to get a Global Talent Visa can seem daunting. This is particularly true for those who aren’t very confident or struggle with impostor syndrome. Overcoming inhibitions and asking for recommendation letters was the most challenging bit for me. For anyone in a similar situation, my only advice would be to clamp down on self-doubt – approach it with the mindset of a project you are passionate about and don’t be shy about reaching out to your network for recommendation letters. Leaders value talent and will generally be happy to help those who have delivered impact as an employee/peer”.
As of January 2021, over 1700 of the best and brightest tech talent from across the world have been endorsed to live and work in the UK via the Tech Nation Visa. Out of the 1700 visa recipients, a group has formed: the Tech Nation Visa Alumni Network, providing a ‘Home from Home’ to support fellow alumni both personally and professionally to thrive across the UK. As featured in the 2020 Visa Report, hundreds of our alumni are now contributing to the tech sector as founders or with established tech scaleups.
How does the new immigration system impact Visas?
Whilst EU citizens who were resident in the UK by 11pm on 31 December 2020 can apply to the EU Settlement Scheme before 30 June 2021, those who were not, need to apply for prior permission to work in the UK and start a business. Post-Brexit we expect to see an increase in Global Talent applications, especially from Europe.
Many UK employers are now applying for a sponsor licence if they do not already have one. Since 1 January 2021, a licence is required to recruit non-EU and EU citizens. Due to the pandemic, there has not been the surge in sponsor licence applications that many expected. However, the number of licence applications is rapidly increasing.
The Immigration Rules for Global Talent applications changed on 1 December 2020. The main change is in relation to the eligibility criteria – whether the applicant is applying on the basis of exceptional ‘talent’ or ‘promise’, a single mandatory criterion and two of four optional criteria have to be met. The Continuous Learning criterion has been removed. As mentioned above, the switching rules have also been significantly relaxed.
Starting the process
The Tech Nation Visa is in essence the UK’s primary tech visa, and is one of the most flexible and highly-prized visas available for the best international tech talent wanting to contribute to the UK’s world-leading technology sector.
If you require support with your application or immigration status, or perhaps you are a company interested in becoming a Licensed Sponsor for Skilled Worker, consider requesting a referral with Kingsley Napley LLP.
Katie Newbury (she/her)