New exceptional talent route launched – but will it be enough?

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BY RUTH GROVE-White

The coalition government’s new exceptional talent route will provide 1000 visas to the ‘brightest and the best’ in sciences, engineering, humanities and the arts – but how far will it build confidence that the UK is still open to international talent?

Who said government immigration policy was all sticks and no carrots? Today the coalition government launches its ‘exceptional talent’ route in the hope of attracting the ‘brightest and the best’ to come here. But in the midst of restrictive immigration reforms this small allocation of Tier 1 visas, heavy with new bureaucratic procedures, looks unlikely to build much public confidence that the UK is really committed to bringing international skills here.

According to the government announcement, the new Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) route will make 1000 visas per year available to those showing particular skills in science, engineering, humanities and the arts. Four ‘endorsing bodies’ have been identified to disburse the visas alongside the UKBA – the Royal Society, the Royal Academy of Engineering, the British Academy and the Arts Council. These bodies will review applications relevant to their sector to ensure that the applicants meet the criteria of having ‘exceptional talent’.
So is this route going to boost the UK’s credentials as being open to international talent in the way that the government intends? There is certainly a need for the government to do a little damage limitation in terms of its reputation around skilled migration policy. Over the past year major reforms to Tiers 1 and 2 have attracted a volley of complaints from employers across the private and public sectors – including those areas targeted by the new Exceptional Talent route. The UK’s continued need to attract skills from overseas has been well-documented by research from both the Work Foundation, New Economics Foundation and is clearly acknowledged by the government. But concerns echoed at a recent APPG on Migration meeting are that, far from working to attract the ‘brightest and the best’, coalition government immigration policy has been slamming the door in their faces.

And unfortunately there is little reason to believe that today’s policy announcement will prove otherwise. Of course an allocation of visas for the most skilled should be welcomed. But what price will this route levy in return? The application process looks to introduce yet more burdens on those trying to get hold of an Exceptional Talent visa, with an application route not recommended for the faint-hearted or those in a hurry to come here. This complex system will require UKBA to get the approval of endorsing bodies for individual applicants, as well as to manage a waiting list which you can bet will be as long as your arm.

But the major problem is likely to be the small numbers of visas involved – just 1000 over the course of a year with parceled-out allocations made to each of the four main sectors included in this route. Will the 200 visas available for those with exceptional talent really be enough for the engineering field, or the 300 visas for the entire UK arts sector, over the course of an entire year? Unfortunately the raft of restrictive immigration policies introduced by the government over recent months and years are likely to undermine the positive message which is being sent out by the introduction of this new route.

The government will argue that the new Exceptional Talent route is better than nothing. And that is certainly true. But how far it succeds in building the confidence of those who have had reason to feel things are moving in the wrong direction remains to be seen.

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