UK Government announces new visa route for architects

Loft Conversions

This week we have a guest article from Olivia Bridge who is a content writer covering immigration news on behalf of the UK’s leading Immigration Advice Service in London and Manchester | @IASimmigration

As Article 50 lunges nearer to its deadline at a mere stones-throw three months away, the UK’s culture and art circles are becoming increasingly anxious over the future of architecture and the UK’s (literal) landscape once cross-collaboration with expertise from Channel has diluted.


Architecture relies heavily on migrants

Similar to many UK businesses, the architecture sector relies heavily on creative brains recruited from the EU and beyond. Although the leading lobby for architecture, The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), finds every one in five current architects to be EEA born, a survey conducted by Dezeen Magazine discovered up to 33% of workers in many London firms were EEA citizens while other London based practices reported staff numbers recruited from overseas rose to as high as 80%. 


Brexit damaging the sector

However, the 2016 EU referendum brought waves of uncertainty for the industry with the latest warning of a ‘no deal Brexit’ threatening to void EU qualifications from recognition –

including recognised European architects – and to halt two-thirds of ongoing, large scale projects. As a result, around 60% of EU workers considered leaving the industry and the UK entirely.


In a bid to prevent such catastrophic shortfalls, 1,000 leading architects signed and wrote a letter addressed to Theresa May, highlighting the necessity of EU expertise in the triumphs of British architecture.

Turning point for the future of architecture

The rallying concerns of architects and RIBA alike have paid off: just this month the UK government has allowed overseas architects to apply for a Tier 1 Exceptional Talent Visa. A visa which, prior to now, was only open to workers in the fields of digital technology, science, engineering, humanities and the arts. Fashion designers were only added to the scheme this July and architects are able to apply as early as 10 January 2019.


Fear that architects would fail to fit the bill for a Tier 2 Work Visa – which has high salary requirements and an annual cap of 20,700 –  has finally been lifted with the revised Tier 1 scheme, granting successful applicants up to five years in the UK. The news comes as a great sigh of relief for the industry as not only are international migrants eligible to apply, but EU citizens will be open to this route as soon as the UK leaves the EU and the proposed immigration rules outlined in the White Paper apply.


Celebrating the motion, RIBA said: “This follows a year of work with partners in government to secure a new route for highly-skilled architects to come to the UK – a significant opportunity for the UK to attract the best and brightest international talent in architecture.”


The benefits of a Tier 1 Exceptional Talent Visa


Despite its seemingly mountainous paperwork, the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent Visa opens bounteous opportunities for architects aspiring to seek a lucrative career in the UK. The favourable aspect of this visa route is that it offers few limitations or restrictions.


One of the key benefits to a Tier 1 Visa for architects is that they will not need to secure a job in the UK first or require an employer to sponsor their visa. This means that architects will not depend on an employer to secure their placement in the UK, allowing them to change jobs, freelance, be self-employed, start a business or even volunteer without informing the Government. Unlike many other visa types, applicants can bring their family (‘dependents’) with them, travel to and from the UK frequently and even renew or switch their visas onto a different Tier 1, Tier 2 or Tier 5 category. By extending or switching, applicants will be granted a further five year stay in the UK which paves the way to permanent settlement such as Indefinite Leave to Remain or even being able to apply for British Citizenship.

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How to apply for a Tier 1 Exceptional Talent or Promise


The prevailing problem with this, however, is that only 2,000 Tier 1 Visas are allocated every year with only 250 being reserved for workers that come under the arts and culture umbrella. Competition is therefore increasingly high: applicants must first be successfully assessed by RIBA before they receive endorsement by Arts Council England (ACE). Only once these two prerequisites are passed can applicants apply for the visa itself.


The criteria to be submitted and assed by RIBA and ACE include:

  • At least two examples of recent evidence (in the last five years) that demonstrate significant international media recognition either online or in print from at least one other country other than the applicants’ country of residence
  • Proof that the applicant has either won or made a significant and direct contribution to winning at least one international award for excellence


Arts Council England list examples of awards that RIBA recognise and endorse.


The best aspect of this visa is its flexibility. While talent and merit are essential in fulfilling Tier 1 Visa requirements, unbeknown to most, the Exceptional Talent route is also open to those who have not yet reached reputable worldly status or have shelves crowded with awards. Hopeful architects who can demonstrate that they have the capability to become (or already are) an emerging leader may be granted a visa under ‘Exceptional Promise’ rules.


The ‘Promise’ route is significantly more lenient than the criteria to be met for Exceptional Talent. Architects demonstrating Exceptional Promise can submit evidence of media recognition from within their own country of residence and could be eligible if they have been nominated or shortlisted for a RIBA approved award. 


Undoubtedly, by opening this visa type to non-UK architects, the UK’s loosened foothold as a core for innovative architecture will be strengthened once more. By continuing to recruit from overseas, the UK will thrive at the forefront of the world stage and our eclectic skylines and major infrastructure projects will continue to grow and inspire.


Olivia Bridge has written this article on behalf of IAS, the UK’s leading advice service for Immigration Lawyers London| @IASimmigration

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