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Tier 1 Exceptional Talent: Latest figures from Tech Nation and the Royal Academy of Engineering

In response to a recent Freedom of Information Request the Home Office has provided revealing data about the numbers of successful and unsuccessful applications for Tier 1 Exceptional Promise endorsements from two of the five Designated Competent Bodies. Applicants for Tier 1 Exceptional Promise and Tier 1 Exceptional Talent must be endorsed by a Designated Competent Body as a recognised leader or an emerging leader in their specialist field. The Home Office release outlined that since 6 April 2014 only 166 applications for an endorsement made to The Royal Academy of Engineering had been approved and 87 rejected and 1085 applications made to Tech Nation had been approved and 762 rejected.

The five Designated Competent Bodies are The Royal Society, for science and medicine, The Royal Academy of Engineering, for engineering, The British Academy, for humanities, Tech Nation, for digital technology and the Arts Council England, for arts and culture. The Royal Academy of Engineering has 150 endorsements available per year while Tech Nation has 200 endorsements available per year. From 2017, an additional pot of 1000 endorsements per year was made available for a Designated Competent Body to draw upon should their allocation be used up. The Home Office’s data reveals that less than 20% of the Royal Academy of Engineering’s available endorsements had been issued in response to applications for an endorsement under Tier 1 Exceptional Promise and that all the endorsements allocated to Tech Nation had been used.

The Exceptional Talent and Exceptional Promise route is an underused route. It can provide a valuable alternative to Tier 2 (Sponsored Workers), particularly for emerging and senior academic researchers. This route enables academics to secure entry clearance and leave to remain for up to 5 years and 4 months. Unlike Tier 2, they are not sponsored by a particular institution giving them greater autonomy. For university or research and development employers, Tier 1 visa holders can be employed without the need to satisfy the onerous and ongoing duties of Tier 2 sponsorship. There is no minimum salary threshold and no requirement to assess the availability of a suitable candidate from the resident labour market.

Applicants must satisfy the criteria listed in Appendix L of the Immigration Rules and the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) policy guidance. The Royal Society, The Royal Academy of Engineering and The British Academy have jointly produced guidance for applicants and a series of FAQs specifically for the Research and Innovation Talent category of the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa route.

An image which represents innovation and technology in law

To secure an endorsement for a Research and Innovation Talent Tier 1 visa an applicant must hold a specific peer-reviewed UK Research and Innovation research fellowship or have been appointed to an eligible senior academic or research position at a UK Higher Education Institution and be named on the accelerated list published by The Royal Society, The Royal Academy of Engineering or The British Academy, or meet the mandatory requirements for Exceptional Talent or Exceptional Promise (below).

For Exceptional Talent, a successful applicant must

  • Be an active researcher in their field;
  • Have a PhD;
  • Provide a letter of personal recommendation from an eminent person who is familiar with their work and qualified to assess their claim to be a leader in their field; and
  • Either be a member of their national academy, have been awarded a prestigious internationally recognised prize or provide a written recommendation from a reputable UK organisation concerned with research in their field.

For Exceptional Promise, a successful application must

  • Be an active researcher in their field;
  • Have a PhD;
  • Provide a letter of personal recommendation from an eminent person who is familiar with their work and qualified to assess their claim to have potential to become a leader in their field;
  • Be at an early stage of their career; and
  • Have been awarded a prestigious UK based Research Fellowship or International Fellowship.

Once an endorsement is secured, an applicant can go on to make their application for entry clearance or leave to remain. An applicant can qualify for indefinite leave to remain after completing a 3 year qualifying period under Tier 1 Exceptional Talent or a 5 year qualifying period under Tier 1 Exceptional Promise.

In an announcement in August 2019, the Prime Minister indicated that he proposes to expand the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent route to make it more accessible to applicants wishing to enter or remain in the UK to work in the science and research sector, with the Home Office announcing that:

“This initiative will ensure that those with specialist skills in STEM subjects can come to the UK and make an important contribution to our leading science and research sector, significantly enhancing the intellectual and knowledge base of the UK.

The Home Office, together with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the scientific community, will do all we can to facilitate access for this specialist and skilled cohort of individuals to come and work, study and live in the UK.”

The Home Office proposes to remove the requirement for those endorsed as Exceptional Promise to have been awarded a prestigious Research Fellowship, give access to those who have received European research funding and remove the cap on numbers.

We are seeing increased interest in the route amongst our university clients. If you require more information about the route please contact the business immigration team at Freeths.


The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the present time and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.

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