- Background Story
- Impostor Syndrome
- Benefits of Switching
- The Process
- The Timeline
- Application Example
Let’s get the logistics out of the way:
- This is not an official guide, for official guidance check gov.uk and Tech Nation guide
- This is just my personal experience so take it with a grain of salt
- Exceptional Talent (Tier 1) visa got renamed to Global Talent visa in Feb. 2020, but they are essentially the same visa. I personally like the Exceptional Talent naming as it feels more prestigious 😇
You can safely skip this section 🥱 if you are here for the meat 🍖
In Jan 2019, a year before I actually applied to the visa, I took a step back to think about where I want to live and what I want to do moving forward. At that point in time, I have been in the UK for 1.5 years. I have just moved to London a few months earlier to work for Amazon Alexa as a software engineer whereas previously I was working for Amazon Dynamic Advertising in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Back then I reached the conclusion that I want to work independently to answer a few questions in my mind, gain more freedom, which I really missed by working as employee and just to explore. Equally important, I needed to maximize my ability to travel back and forth between wherever I am living and Cairo to see my family. The issue was that being on a Tier 2 as well as working for Amazon constrain me from registering a business or working as self-employed or travel as I please.
I started exploring the potential of moving to different countries and cities that would allow me to work independently, but that’s not the topic of this essay. Eventually, I reached the conclusion that the UK/London was probably the best country/city, which fits my personal living preferences (warm weather, travel time to Cairo, opportunities, liveliness, among other criteria) as well as the ability to work independently if I switch to another visa.
In the beginning, I quickly discarded the Tier 1 Exceptional visa because the official requirements on the UK gov. website made me realize that I needed to be, ahem, “exceptional”, which I didn’t think I am at the time (or now to be honest 😅). Unique, yes, but exceptional, I don’t think so. This left me with only one option, which was the Startup visa. In order to get that visa, you need to be endorsed and although I tried contacting a couple of the endorsement bodies, they either didn’t reply back, haven’t started accepting applications (since it was a new visa at that time), and so on and so forth.
Since I couldn’t progress on the Startup visa, I started digging again and try to understand if I can by any chance fit the Tier 1 Exceptional visa requirements. My viewpoint shifted from “I can’t apply to this visa” to “I can potentially get endorsed” happened when I was reading the Tech Nation very detailed guide on how to apply. In there, they listed the kind of example evidences that I can present in my application. Going through these, I realized I can present many of these evidences.
The most important idea I want to leave you with is don’t assume that you can’t apply, validate it (i.e. read the requirements, talk to other people who applied, look at previous applications, etc.), which I believe is an important lesson in life in general. As I said, if you have a quick look at the gov.uk website, you can easily reach the conclusion that the Tier 1 visa is not for you, but if you start digging a little deeper, you may realize that you can do it.
“Don’t assume, validate” - Ahmad Baracat
Benefits of Switching
To me, the main benefits of switching from tier 2 General visa to tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa are:
- Not needing sponsorship, which makes it easier to switch companies
- Freedom to apply to companies and startups that don’t offer sponsorship
- Freedom to start your own businesses in the UK or be self-employed
- Freedom to leave your company, stay in the UK or travel outside and be able to come back
- Application preparation
- Gather evidences: If you are a software engineer, these might include open source contributions, side-projects, invitations to speak at Conferences, articles written, etc.
- Write your personal statement
- Ask for reference letters
- Stage 1: you are essentially uploading your prepared application to a portal (to be assessed by Tech Nation if you are applying within the digital technology field)
- Stage 2: you are applying for the visa and filling immigration related questions such as criminal convictions, being deported from countries, etc. as well as choosing a biometric appointment
- Biometric appointment
- Receive your new Biometric Residence Permit (BRP)
Even though, your timeline may vary, I wanted to share mine to give you an idea of how it might look like:
- Few days of side-work to prepare the application
- 28th Dec 2019: Apply to stage 1
- 20th Jan 2020: Receive Tech Nation endorsement
- 23rd Jan 2020: Apply to stage 2 + Visa Appointment
- 29th Jan 2020: Stage 2 successful
- 31st Jan 2020: Receive BRP
- £456: Stage 1 (if you don’t get endorsed you only lose this unless you applied to both stages together)
- £1200: Health Surcharge (I applied for 3 years 3 x £400)
- £171: Stage 2
- £112: Visa Appointment
If you think £2K is a lot to switch visa, let me just remind you that you are essentially buying benefits of switching, which to me justifies the investment.
- If you decide to apply, don’t wait, requirements may change and may get harder. For example, when I was reading the guidelines back in June 2019, I only needed 2 reference letters to apply. When I was applying in Dec. 2020, I got surprised that they increased it to 3 😅.
- When asking for reference letters, make sure you make it so easy for referee to write it:
- Remind them of what you did and what they should write about
- Provide them with a template that they can easily fill
- If you don’t have the referee resume, link to their LinkedIn on the reference letter instead. For example, one of my referee, being a professor, got very busy and it was hard to get them to reply to my emails.