Tier 1 Visas — A Layperson’s Guide

by Damien Lane

Just back from an event about Visas. Good speakers, and entertaining panel discussion and thanks to Tech City UK for organizing it. A common observation from attendees was that the qualification criteria were not always clear, so in an attempt to shed light on the rules, I thought I’d précis the takeaways from this morning’s event as I heard them. Any errors are of course, mine.

These Tier 1 Visas are for folks outside the EEA / Switzerland. They are attached to the individual, rather than a sponsoring entity, so are more attractive to the individual as they offer more certainty.

Tier 1 (Investor)

If you have (and want to invest) £2m or more in the UK tech scene.

Two observations here. If you qualify and are still reading this, you should invest in Episode 1’s next fund. No…seriously. And why would anyone who fit this bill want to live in a country where it is dark by 3pm for half the year? I kid, I kid.

There’s a cost (£1,500) to apply, or £10.5k for a super premium process, but I guess if you fit the criteria, I don’t suppose that will put you off! Definitely one for the few, not the many.

Gets you 3 years and 4 months (you can apply to extend this for 2 years)

Tier 1 (Entrepreneur)

One I wasn’t aware of, but if you have access to £50k of investment and want to set up a business in the UK. You should get a decision within 3 weeks. This seems fabulous, I’d be interested to hear about experiences of this process.

Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent)

There are up to 200 of these issued annually for digital technology, so when they say Exceptional, they really DO mean exceptional. There are two sub-tiers within this category of visa — actually exceptional or showing exceptional promise.

There is a two-stage application process — first you seek an endorsement from Tech City UK, then once that endorsement is cleared, you apply to the Home Office.

Keys are to be impressive (exceptionally impressive is even better) and to be clear about what you want to do and what contribution you can make to the UK tech scene. And weight is certainly given to those who can demonstrate a commitment to contributing to the ecosystem in the regions, rather than the talent magnet that is London.

The super impressive Tom Yoritaka spoke at the event about his own experience as a successful applicant, and it seemed to take about 3 months from starting the process to getting a visa. Tom spoke about getting referees (you have to supply two) who really know you and who can support your application in a relevant way.

I’ve been involved in reviewing applications and the bar really is high. I would definitely agree with Tom that referees should be from diverse backgrounds (ie not both work at the company currently employing you), but I would add that you should get references from people who are likely to impress the Home Office and Tech City UK — the more senior the referees are, and the better known the companies they work for, the better. And if you have more than two, include the additional ones in your pack of additional evidence to support the application. A sparkling reference from a recognised leader is better than a certificate showing completion of an online course in Supply Chain Management. #realworldexample

Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur)

Another new one on me (it’s good to learn something new every day). If you are a graduate with a credible business idea and are endorsed by DIT as part of its Sirius programme or an authorized Higher Education Establishment — a list that looks to me like it includes every credible University in the UK (and some others!).

The Elephant in the room was Brexit, of course, but as I can forecast everything except for the future, I’ll leave idle speculation for others. The important thing to note is that Tech City UK is committed to getting more of the sorts of people described above to come to the UK and work in and start new technology led businesses. If that commitment continues, then while there is no room for complacency, the future remains bright for the UK digital sector.

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