How I got my UK TechNation Exceptional Talent Visa

And how you can get it too!

It all started last year, back when I just got my Tier 5 — Temporary Working visa. That visa was valid for 1 year. At first, I thought that I could extend it for at least another year when it was expired, but it turned out that I can’t. And i learned that the hard way. Well, kind of. So, while getting that visa was great, I had to find another kind of visa if I want to keep staying in the UK in order to continue my startup and life journey here.

Luckily, since 2015 the UK Government has come out with a special type visa which targeted exceptional talent in the fields of science, humanities, engineering, medicine, digital technology or the arts. That visa is called Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa.

Yes, I know. This visa might sound a little bit intimidating, because it is very hard to convince ourselves that we are indeed an exceptionally talented people. So my very first advice is to just be confident in yourselves and get as many advice as you can get from people around you. And you could also contact TechCity yourself before you apply for their recommendation to see whether it is likely or not that they will endorse you.

However, if you do not believe that you quite meet the criteria, but somehow you are able to demonstrate that you have the potential and the necessary technical and/or business skills, then you will still be able to apply as an Exceptional Promise candidate. You just need to specify that you are applying for Exceptional Promise on the application form, and explain it in your personal statement that you have what it takes to become a leader in your field in the future.


Why Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa?

This visa is different from most of the visa offered by the UK government. It is a very powerful visa and below are among the benefits for you to consider for this exciting visa opportunity:

  • Staggered application fees
  • No employer sponsor needed to apply
  • No funding requirement
  • Limited work restrictions
  • Attainable extension requirements

For more see: https://goo.gl/cJH2Cd

Eligibility & Criteria

In order to enter the UK through the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) route you must:

  • Be established as a world leader in the field of digital technology
  • Demonstrate the potential to become a world leader in the field of digital technology
  • Be an internationally recognised skilled professional in this field; and /or have the necessary business and technical skills to grow and scale-up technology companies.

Please see below examples of the types of technical and business skills and roles that this visa route is designed for:

For more details see the pdf below:

TechNationVisa-ApplicationGuidelines_2016.pdf

The Application Process

There’s a 2-stage application process to get this visa:

Stage 1: Application for Endorsement

Firstly, you must get the endorsement as a leader or an emerging leader in your particular field from the designated body in the UK. Then, once you have been endorsed, you can apply for the visa. And as for me which involved in a digital technology field, I had to get the endorsement from Tech City UK via the Home Office.

“There are limited places available under this visa category, with 500 places released on both 6 April and 1 October each year.”

Getting the endorsement is the hardest part of this whole visa application and the reason why you must put your heart and soul into this. As you may have noticed, this visa is called the Exceptional Talent visa. Meaning you must prove that yourself is “exceptional” enough in order for you to get the endorsement. And in order to do this, you must submit proves that you meet criteria that have been set by Tech City UK (or any other body if your field is different):

Mandatory Criteria

An applicant must fulfill one of the following:

  • Have a proven track record of innovation in the digital technology sector as a director, founder or employee of a digital technology sector company
  • Proof of recognition for work outside your immediate occupation that has contributed to the advancement of the sector.

Qualifying Criteria

An applicant must then also satisfy at least two of the following:

  • Have made significant technical, commercial, or entrepreneurial contributions in the digital technology sector as either a director, founder, or employee of a digital technology company
  • Have been recognised as a world leading talent in the digital technology sector
  • Have undergone continuous learning / mastery of new digital skills (commercial or technical) throughout your career
  • Have demonstrated exceptional ability in the field by making academic contributions through research

For each of the criteria above, you must submit valid evidence to show that you have satisfied it. When I was preparing my application, I decided to accumulate as many evidence as I could for the above criteria, and then picked the 10 best ones to be submitted. Why only 10? It’s because that’s the limit set by the Home Office and Tech City UK.

As to my actual application details, I submitted 4 evidence for the mandatory criteria (Have a proven track record of innovation in the digital technology sector) and 2 evidence for each of the qualifying criteria except for the last one (Have demonstrated exceptional ability in the field by making academic contributions through research). This includes:

  • Letters from colleagues, friends, and partnership companies who confirming my essential contributions
  • My Github commits, repos and details on my works for my startup and other’s that I have previously working with
  • 2 recognition letters of the technologically related awards that I have received
  • My Github commits, repos and details of my side projects that I have done showing my continuous learning / mastery of new digital skills
My application for endorsement

Along with the evidence for the above criteria, I must also submit:

  • Main TechNation Visa Application Document
  • Curriculum Vitae
  • Personal Statement (maximum 7000 characters in length)
  • Two letters of recommendation from two different senior members of different established organisations in the digital technology sector

And the personal statement is actually the most important piece of this whole application as this is the glue that ties all of the other stuff that you have put together. You must show how you have contributed / will contribute to the UK tech ecosystem and how would you continue doing so if they granted you the visa. So, you must really take your time in writing this and do as many revision as you could until you absolutely sure that it is perfect.

The process of this Stage 1 will take around 3 months, but if you are qualified for the Fast Track option like me, you could get your application processed in only 18 working days.

In order for your application to be eligible for the fast-tracked, you must meet one of the following options:

  • Empowering the North (working in the North of the UK)
  • Bridging the gap (in possession of skills deemed as a shortage)
  • Relocating teams (teams wanting to move over together)

I submitted my application on 5th May 2017 and get the result on 19th May 2017, which is only 13 days!

It was amazingly fast. But one thing you must make sure before applying for this stage is your current visa expiration date. It is because, your application for this visa at this stage won’t extend your visa validity. Meaning, if your current visa is expired or nearly expired, you have to leave the UK first and apply for the visa from your own country. I didn’t know this until the very last minute before I submitting my application, and it was quite unlucky for me that my visa was going to expire in 2 days! So I had to go back first to my own country and apply from there.

Stage 2: Application for the Visa

This is the easy part because the visa is generally accepted smoothly as the endorsement is a “pre-approval”, and will only be denied for reasons like failing to disclose any criminal convictions, having been deported from countries before, or you filled in incorrect legal information or something.

The process is fairly simple. You just need to go to visa4uk website and fill in the required details. The questions are all pretty standard and you could definitely finish them quickly. After making the online payment of £1238 via the website, You should able to choose the date of your visa appointment in which you can submit your final application. Depends on your situation, you might just need to make payment and send your application via post if you are already in the UK. For me, I need to go to the visa application centre in my country in order to submit mine.

If everything goes smoothly, you should be getting your visa within 3 weeks time from the date that you submitted your application for the Stage 2. Unfortunately for me, by the time I submitted my application, UK just experienced it’s 2nd terror attacks of the year. So, my visa application was delayed nearly 1 and a half month. I sent my application on 31 May 2017 and got the result on 31 July 2017.

Tips

Here are a few tips from me if you would like to apply for this visa:

1.Prepare your application as early as possible
There are so many things that you need to submit and it will involve a lot of people, not just you. Especially the part where you need to reach to people and ask for their recommendation letters, proof of your contributions and all. So please be aware that this could possibly take a very long time. So the earlier you start, the better!

2.Make sure you have saved enough money
The cost of applying for this visa is unfortunately very expensive, especially if you are thinking about applying it for 5 years. Thus, make sure you have saved enough money along the way while preparing for your visa. Here is the breakdown of the cost of this visa:

Stage 1: Endorsement = £292

Stage 2: 
 Visa application = £293
 Healthcare Surcharge = (5 years x £200 = £1,000)

Total: £1584

3.Expand your network and experience as much as possible
I can’t stress enough on how important is this. As the name suggests, this visa is meant for people that are exceptionally talented and conceive as a leader or potential leader in their field. Thus, other than having all your technical proves, you will also need a great number of people to help backup your claim that you really are what you say you are. Be active, get involved with events, conferences, competitions etc. Be involved with the UK tech community and contribute in any way possible, as this will be a great help in your application. And if you are a developer, the more projects that you have, the better. And it is better if most of the projects that you have worked on are open source, because the people who will assess you could simply look for them on your Github. It will also help a lot if each of your projects could show how you master a particular skill or set of skills, so you could easily show your continuous learning. Thus, make sure to constantly updating your Github and put all your projects there.

Conclusion

Before I end this post, I would like to thank all the people who were involved and have helped me getting this visa whether directly or indirectly. Because without all your help, it would be harder and perhaps impossible for me to have received this.

And for those of you out there that are thinking about applying for this visa, just go for it! I know that this whole application process is a lot to take, but once you get started, you will find that it will just get easier. Just make sure to take your time, do a lot of research, and read about the process of the application again and again. And go talk to lots of people that can help and guide you in preparing your application. And if you would like to talk to me or ask me questions regarding this visa, leave a comment below or contact me directly on Twitter or Facebook.

Goodluck! :)

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