Exceptional talent at work – exploring the scope of the Tech Nation Visa

Naomi Hanrahan-Soar, January 13, 2020 3 min read

This is a guest post from Lewis Silkin, a Tech Nation Visa partner.

The UK’s Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa allows people who are operating at the forefront of their sector, from all over the world, to live, work and build businesses in the UK, and was last year described by Wired Magazine as “one of the most generous in the world for extraordinary individuals”.

One of the key attractions of the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa for many applicants is the freedom it would give them to contribute to the digital technology landscape without being tied to an employer. Tech talent often crave flexibility, and this visa grants the opportunity for individuals with exceptional talent to reach their full potential.

Tech Nation provides endorsement to applicants from the digital technology sector who have shown that they are a recognised or emerging leader in the field. Once endorsed by Tech Nation, applicants can submit a Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa application to the Home Office. 

But how far does that right go? Are there any restrictions? Here, we answer some of the frequently asked questions about exactly what the Tech Nation Visa can mean for you or your potential employees.

Working in the UK

Individuals with permission to be in the UK under the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa route can work on a contractual or employed basis for an employer of their choice. They are also allowed to earn money in a self-employed capacity and set up a business without further approval from the Home Office.

Just the tech sector?

Tech Nation Visa holders are actually not restricted to the digital technology industry. That being said, maintaining an expertise in the field would be necessary for anyone with the intention to eventually extend their visa or apply for settlement, and you could run the risk of curtailment if the Home Offices alleges that you are no longer compliant with the spirit of the route. Tech Nation can decide to inform the Home Office that it no longer wishes to endorse an applicant, and its continued support is vital for a successful extension or settlement application. 

What about unemployment?

Migrants who obtain leave in this category can also remain in UK for extended periods of unemployment without risking curtailment of their visa. 

Building an immigration-compliant business

Many Exceptional Talent migrants will want to set up and build a business in the UK. When and if a business hires its first employee, it is vital to bear the UK’s strict right to work check requirements firmly in mind before employment starts.

All incoming employees will need to present a document confirming their identity and right to work in the UK – such as a British passport or valid BRP card – before their first day of work starts. Failure to comply with right to work checks can result in serious penalties for the business; repercussions range from civil penalties to the imposition of unlimited fines and custodial sentences on directors where illegal working is discovered. 

What about contractors or flexible workers?

The move away from traditional working patterns and the blurred lines between types of employment that this has yielded can give rise to confusion surrounding right to work check requirements. Tech Nation Visa holders often start or work for dynamic companies which may not conform to a customary employment structure. HR teams may therefore not think that their gig economy workers or self-employed contractors need to be subject to a check prior to the start of employment. However, the UK Government guidance recommends that best practice is to conduct right to work checks on all categories of workers and employees to safeguard against penalties where a worker’s status blurs into employment.

Hiring talent overseas

The visa holder may also wish to hire talent from overseas should their business grow and require specialist skills. In this case, the company will need to obtain a Tier 2 Sponsor Licence to recruit the talent that they need. Tier 2 Sponsors can then issue Certificates of Sponsorship to new hires from outside of the EEA and Switzerland for up to five years at a time.

Obtaining a Tier 2 Sponsor Licence can be a lengthy process, and once acquired, maintaining compliance with the duties outlined in the Sponsor Guidance is crucial. Compliance demands a resilient and efficient Human Resources capacity, as well as consistent monitoring of and adaptation to the Guidance. Failure to comply can lead to a sponsor’s licence being downgraded or revoked. 

Alternatively of course, you could hire someone who is themselves a holder of a Tier 1 visa, as these people are free to work in any capacity, without company sponsorship.

For further information on Tier 1 Exceptional Talent and Promise visas, right to work checks and sponsor licence applications, please do not hesitate to get in touch with a member of Lewis Silkin’s immigration team.

Find out more and apply for the Tech Nation Visa >

Talent & Skills, Tech Nation Visa