Global Talent Visa criteria should be relaxed to protect arts sector

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A City law firm has called for the criteria for the issuing of Global Talent Visas to be relaxed to help safeguard the arts sector as the UK comes out of lockdown, warning that the sector could miss out on a generation of new talent if no action is taken.

This could have broader implications outside of the industry, warned Bates Wells, because the arts sector before the pandemic was contributing more than £10bn a year to the economy. It is a major draw for both domestic and international tourists and in attracting high net worth individuals to live in the UK.

Bates Wells partner Chetal Patel told Personnel Today that many suitable applicants had struggled to meet requirements under the current Global Talent Visa process. For example, the Arts Council required applicants to provide examples of work from at least two countries.

But travel restrictions over the past year had made it almost impossible for some to gain this experience. And with restrictions likely to continue on a global basis for many months to come it is unlikely applicants would be able to provide such examples long after the UK is out of lockdown.

Global Talent Visas, which replaced Exceptional Talent visas in February 2020, are open to international applicants who excel in the sciences, the humanities, engineering, the arts, and technology.

Patel said: “Coronavirus restrictions have caused applications for Global Talent Visas to plummet [just 218 were issued in 2020], with the arts sector hardest hit. However, there has been a small increase in applications for Global Talent Visas on the tech route, because Brexit has caused EU citizens to apply for visas and tech industries have grown during the pandemic, playing a crucial role in the government’s response.

“Generally, the strict criteria in place for these visas has made it difficult for talent to come to the UK and there’s a growing concern that this may continue, particularly for those of Exceptional Promise, even after restrictions are eased. If those artists go to New York, Paris or Berlin rather than London then we blunt the UK’s reputation as one the world’s most culturally active cities in the world. That matters for many reasons, not least that the active arts sector in the UK does help attract corporate HQs and high-fliers to the UK.”

She added that lengthy application processes were a further hindrance to attracting talent to the UK.

Patel said the Home Office should consider waiving the requirement for applicants to show proof of work from two countries given circumstances during the pandemic. “Clients we have advised have had shows cancelled because of coronavirus so obtaining this evidence is going to be extremely difficult for many,” she added.

However, Bates Wells recognised that the Home Office was relaxing certain rules from 5 May in a bid to attract and retain talent. For example, those wishing to apply under the Global Talent route will no longer require an endorsement if they’ve ‘reached the pinnacle of their careers’ and been recognised for a prestigious prize such as a Nobel Prize of Golden Globe.

If those artists go to New York, Paris or Berlin rather than London then we blunt the UK’s reputation as one the world’s most culturally active cities in the world” – Chetal Patel, partner, Bates Wells

“This will eliminate the need for an endorsement so those lucky people can skip straight to the visa application stage,” said Patel. “This is great for those that meet this threshold but there will be many who don’t. How can we continue to attract those people?”

The life sciences academic sector had also been hard hit by the pandemic and Brexit, Patel said. Many life science and other academic sectors that are experiencing skills shortages have lobbied the government for visa changes and some of these concerns have been incorporated into the upcoming changes to the immigration rules under the new graduate route effective from 1 July 2021.

“We also know that the government has the ability to pull levers to deal with skills shortages by way of our current shortage occupation list for skilled workers, so it will be interesting to see if there is change on this front,” said Patel.

Employers in the life sciences academic sector are balancing the need for attracting and retaining key talent by acquiring a sponsor licence and in some cases, supporting individuals in securing a Global Talent visa.

Bates Wells said it had recently advised an artificial intelligence organisation that was sponsoring a senior researcher. During her sponsorship she’d secured the relevant experience to then apply for an endorsement from UK Research and Innovation. Her subsequent stage 2 Global Talent approval meant that her employer no longer needed to sponsor her and she was able to work more flexibly under her Global Talent visa.

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