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Making an Application for Exceptional Talent/Promise to the Arts Council

The Exceptional Talent and Exceptional Promise categories are some of the most flexible immigration categories that a person can enter to work in the UK. Home Office guidance states that ‘We recognise that such talented individuals should have few restrictions on their economic activity once here. If you qualify, the route allows you to work and change employers, or to be self-employed, without the need for further authorisation or to be sponsored for employment in a specific post.’

In order to benefit from this flexibility, there is a significant barrier to entry. The category title itself demands that a person is ‘exceptional’ but this is loosely defined and a concept muddied by the dual categories of talent and promise. This article looks specifically at the Arts Council, who should consider this category and how to make an application.

Endorsing Bodies

There are five endorsing bodies, of which The Arts Council is by far the most popular. Following a Freedom of Information request, we found that in 2015 and 2016 there were a total of 214 applications made to the Arts Council. In comparison, the least popular endorsing body is the Royal Academy of Engineering, which received only 30 applications in the same time period. The Arts Council is limited to awarding endorsements to only 250 people each year (this is calculated as 125 endorsements per 6 month period). It is clear that there is currently no risk of the limit being reached.

Of the 214 applications made, only 39 of these were for exceptional talent, while the other 175 were for exceptional promise. Around 56% of those applying for exceptional talent endorsement were successful, while those applying for exceptional promise, nearly 70% received the endorsement. Getting the endorsement does not guarantee that an applicant will be granted a visa (of the statistics available only about 82% are then granted a visa).

The Arts Council

The Arts Council can endorse applications from individuals with talent in dance, music, theatre, visual arts, literature, museums, galleries and combined arts. For individuals working in film, television, animation, post-production and visual effects there is no option to apply for exceptional promise, individuals in these fields must meet the criteria for exceptional talent.

The main difference between Talent and Promise is that applicants who apply on the basis of exceptional talent are expected to have already made a significant contribution as a leader in their field, while those applying for exceptional promise do not need to have yet made a significant contribution to their field but must be at an early stage in their careers and have already shown that they have the potential to make a significant contribution and become world leaders in their field. It then becomes about showing that you are ahead of your peers who are at a similar stage in their careers, or showing that you have a made a contribution which is disproportionate to the amount of experience that you have. Showing that potential to be a world leader is something that will vary depending on what experience you have and will require input from your referees.

Apply For An Endorsement

In order to make the application, you will need to have three referees. The Immigration Rules specify who should be used as a referee and set out the criteria which should be commented upon. The letters are really important and should be written by someone who knows the industry well and can specifically explain how an applicant is going to contribute to the UK and why, in their experience, they can see that an applicant is or will be a world leader. Anyone contemplating making an application in this category should spend some time to ensure that they pick the right referees and explain to those individuals what will be required from their letter – to make sure that the referee is happy to write it. This is not a standard reference that can be re-used.

After selecting the referees the next stage is to choose the supporting documents. Applicants are limited to ten documents so these need to be selected carefully. An individual who is likely to meet the criteria is bound to have more than 10 documents available to them, so it will be a case of selecting the 10 best examples of work, reviews or awards that demonstrate that the criteria have been met.

The endorsement can take up to six weeks, and the visa application can take up to a further month after this. Anyone planning to make this application for a specific part, show or event will need to bear these timescales in mind.

People considering this category may also be interested in sponsored work in Tier 2, Tier 5 (Creative and Sporting), or starting their own business as a Tier 1 (Entrepreneur).

Contact Our Immigration Barristers

For an assessment of your prospects of qualifying for an endorsement, contact our exceptionally talented immigration barristers on 0203 617 9173 or


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