Andrey Goncharov
Andrey Goncharov

Andrey Goncharov

Getting a talent visa in the UK for mortals

Andrey Goncharov's photo
Andrey Goncharov
·Mar 21, 2022·

12 min read

Getting a talent visa in the UK for mortals

Subscribe to my newsletter and never miss my upcoming articles

Table of contents

  • Hiya!
  • Types of visas
  • Not every Global Talent is the same
  • Applying for Global Talent
  • Fees, timeline, next steps

Did you always think various "talent" immigration programs imply a Nobel prize? I am going to tell you how a regular software engineer from the middle of nowhere could get a talent visa in the UK based on my personal experience.

In this post we will cover:

  • How a software engineer could get in the UK
  • Key differences between talent and skilled worker programs
  • What documents and evidence you need to provide to get a talent visa

I am not a lawyer and this is not a legal advice. This post is based on my personal experience, that might be different to yours. If in doubts, consider getting a legal advice from a qualified professional.

Hiya!

ℹ️ My name is Andrey G. I am a software engineer from London, UK. Primarily, I am a full-stack web developer (think React, Angular, Node.js), but I also have a keen interest in low-level stuff (hello, C) and finance (love-hate relationship with Pandas).

G. stands for Goncharov. I wanted to save you the pain of reading my Cyrillic last name.

💼 Full-stack (web, blockchain, and even a bit of embedded) at software consultancies (DSR, DataArt) ➡️ Headed front-end development at Hazelcast ➡️ Front-end at Bricks (next-gen spreadsheet web app) ➡️ Full-time maintainer of Flipper at Meta (ex-Facebook).

📝 I write about tech in my small blog.

🎤 Occasionally, I speak at conferences.

🇬🇧 I help people get their Global Talent visas.

🎓 I am currently pursuing a Master's in Computer Science (OMSCS) from Georgia Tech.

❤️ I love math, physics, rational thinking, and figuring out how things work. In my spare time, I enjoy hiking, snowboarding, boxing, and weight lifting.

📫 Stay in touch on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram. Drop me a DM on Matrix - @andrey:goncharov.ai.

🧙 Buy me a coffee to support my endeavours!

Types of visas

There are two potential routes for software engineers:

Check out gov.uk for a complete list of work visas.

Skilled Worker visa is sponsored by an employer. It means you have to find a job before you enter the UK.

Key moments:

  1. You are tied to your employer. If you switch jobs, your new employer will have to sponsor the visa for you.
  2. If you are fired, you will have up to 60 days* (I couldn't verify it on gov.uk though) to find a new job.
  3. You can get your indefinite leave to remain (ILR)(a.k.a. permanent residence) in 5 years.
  4. Citizenship in 6 years.
  5. Limited opportunities to run your own business/take on additional work. Here is another resource with information on the restrictions, but it is not official like gov.uk. There is another official guidance from www.gov.uk. In article "S1.29" it states "If the worker is self-employed, there must be a genuine contract for employment or services between you and the worker". TL;DR - get a lawyer if you want to start a business on a Skilled Worker visa.

Global Talent visa, on the other hand, is unsponsored. It allows you to enter the country and work for whomever you want and start your own business.

Key moments:

  1. You are not tied to your employer. Switch jobs, leave jobs, start a business, downshift in the wilderness for a year - your choice!
  2. You need to win an eligible award or get endorsed by TechNation.
  3. You can get your indefinite leave to remain (ILR)(a.k.a. permanent residence) in 3 years (in some cases it is still 5).
  4. Citizenship in 5 years (in some cases it is still 6).

Global Talent visa is not for those who work in tech only. Check out the whole list of eligible fields and professions on gov.uk.

I am not a rock star academic turning the world of science upside down, so my only choice was to be endorsed by TechNation.

Not every Global Talent is the same

When you apply for TechNation's endorsement, you have to choose if you apply as an Exceptional Promise or an Exceptional Talent. They have almost the same requirements, but for every criteria you have to match you need less significant proof for the Exceptional Promise. The visa gives you the same rights, but you get your ILR in 5 years instead of 3 with Exceptional Promise. As a result, you get your citizenship in 6 years instead of 5.

Summing up, here is a table highlighting key factors for different visas:

Skilled WorkerGlobal Talent (Exceptional Promise)Global Talent (Exceptional Talent)
Can be employedYesYesYes
Can start a businessKind ofYesYes
Sponsored by an employerYesYesYes
ILR5 years5 years3 years
Citizenship6 years6 years5 years

I was already in the UK on a Skilled Worker visa when I decided to apply for a Global Talent one. I do not have any plans to leave my current job any time soon, so I do not care too much about depending on my employer. If I pursued the Exceptional Promise route, the only benefit for me would be a chance to start a side business. While it is a good enough reason on its own, less time to ILR looked too sweet to give up. I decided to bet on the Exceptional Talent.

Tip for Skilled Workers: years spent on your Skilled Worker visa count (allegedly) towards an ILR if you switch to a Global Talent. If you have 3 years on your Skilled Worker visa and you switch to an Exceptional Talent, you should be eligible for an ILR right away.

Applying for Global Talent

Here is what you will need to apply:

  1. Pick criteria you match
  2. 3 recommendation letters from different people in different organizations
  3. 10 documents with evidence supporting your chosen criteria
  4. CV
  5. Personal statement

Read and choose carefully which criteria you have to meet. When you fill in your application, you will have to select which criteria TechNation should assess. You cannot submit a bunch of documents and expect them to figure it out. You will have to pick certain criteria and for each one list your evidence. Luckily, the evidence documents could be re-used for other criteria.

Mandatory criteria is the same for all applicants - "show that they have been recognised as a leading talent in the digital technology sector". As to the optional criteria, you have to pick 2 out of 4:

  1. "a proven track record for innovation as a founder or senior executive of a product-led digital technology company or as an employee working on a new digital field or concept"
  2. "proof of recognition for work beyond the applicant’s occupation that contributes to the advancement of the field"
  3. "they have made significant technical, commercial or entrepreneurial contributions to the field as a founder, senior executive, board member or employee of a product-led digital technology company"
  4. "they have demonstrated exceptional ability in the field by academic contributions through research published or endorsed by an expert"

I have never started a business yet, so criteria #1 was off the table. Sadly, I did not excel in the academic world as well. It eliminated criteria #4. It left me with criteria #2 and #3, which, I believe, is the most popular route among software engineers.

Double-check the criteria on TechNation's website! This post is written on March 19, 2022. I have no idea or control of whether the list is going to change any time soon.

Recommendation letters

Your 3 recommendation letters should come from senior members of 3 different organizations. Try to get someone as high in the food chain as possible who is still in some way familiar with your work.

In my case it were:

  1. My skip-level manager at Facebook
  2. CEO at Bricks (by the way, they are hiring)
  3. My skip-level technical manager at Hazelcast

For each recommendation letter, I asked them to follow this structure:

  1. Introduction of themselves
  2. Introduction of the company
  3. Overview of our relationship: what role I played in the company, which projects I was involved in, how they know me and my work
  4. List of my specific contributions with their impact on the project/company
  5. A section on how I could benefit the UK tech scene
  6. End with their name, title, company. Sign the letter. Add their email, phone number, and LinkedIn profile. Date the letter.
  7. Attach a screenshot from their LinkedIn or attach their CV.

Senior managers are short on time and they usually have lots of people reporting to them. When you ask for recommendations, remind them about your work. Do not forget that TechNation wants your letters on a branded company paper.

Evidence

You can upload up to 10 3-page PDF documents supporting your application. Here is my list:

  1. Conference program committee membership
    1. I was a program committee member at 3 conferences. I listed conferences with screenshots of me on the websites, links to their websites, their short descriptions, and links to the articles in the press about the conferences.
  2. Speaking at conferences
    1. I attached a complete list of conferences and talks I did with links and dates. For the most significant ones, I wrote a separate section with "highlights". There I included the screenshots of my talks being in their programs, links to their websites, their short descriptions, and links to the articles in the press about the conferences.
  3. Open-source contributions
    1. I listed my open-source libraries with GitHub links, mentioned number of stars, and number of downloads on NPM (with links). As I do not have that many libraries, I also linked my most impactful commits to other open-source projects, and even some issues where I thought I added some value.
  4. Publications
    1. I do not have true academic experience, so no cross-checked articles in major science publications for me. Instead, I listed my technical blog posts. For each post I included a number of views supporting it by either a screenshot or a publicly available link.
  5. Mentorship and community building
    1. I mentioned I used to teach a course at my local university. I included links, screenshots, and a contact reference from DSR Corporation who could confirm it if needed.
    2. I added that I mentored engineers back at DSR Corporation and Hazelcast. As proof, I included contact references from both DSR Corporation and Hazelcast who could confirm it if needed.
    3. I included how I founded BeerJS Voronezh and organized several meetups. It might be a stretch, but I consider it an example of "indirect" mentorship. Like before, I added links, photos, and contact references.
    4. I also listed my non-technical blog posts which are either about career advancement, education, or immigration. Yet again, included links and screenshots. For instance, if I had to do it all over again, I would add this blog post here.
  6. Contracts with Hazelcast and Brick
    1. I added screenshots from the contracts with my salary.
    2. I also quoted a post from a respected local agency with their data on the mean salary in the industry in the region. I explicitly highlighted by how much my salary at Bricks and Hazelcast exceeded the average.
  7. Contract with Facebook
    1. Same as with Hazelcast and Bricks. I decided to make it a different document because I started working there after I moved to the UK, so the reference point (average salary) changed.
  8. Hazelcast Design System
    1. It is a design system we created at Hazelcast. I included screenshots, links, and an overview of how I contributed to its technical design, what impact it had on the company. Luckily, it is open-source and available on GitHub.
  9. Flipper JavaScript SDK
    1. It is an SDK for a new platform for Flipper. I linked the same stuff as for the "Hazelcast Design System". This time I also had a blog post in Flipper blog to add. The blog post explained how it was a major milestone for the team. I added a few quotes from the blg post.
  10. Management and peer recognition
    1. Honestly, I am not sure if it even counts, but over the years I collected quite a few LinkedIn recommendations. I just left a link to them on my LinkedIn page, and attached screenshots of some recommendations I wanted to give more spotlight.

For every document, I added a small paragraph on the first page setting the context, so the TechNation representatives know what they are looking at. For every screenshot and link, I also did the same. Help the people on the other side of the process help you.

TechNation's website clearly states what they want to see for the mandatory criteria, optional criteria #2 and #3. Here is how I mapped it to my list of evidence:

  1. Mandatory criteria
    1. Conference program committee membership
    2. Speaking at conferences
    3. Open-source contributions
    4. Contract with Facebook
    5. Contracts with Hazelcast and Bricks
    6. Publications
    7. Management and peer recognition
  2. Optional criteria #2 (recognised for my work outside of my immediate occupation that contributed to the advancement of the sector)
    1. Open-source contributions
    2. Hazelcast Design System
    3. Speaking at conferences
    4. Mentorship and community building
    5. Publications
    6. Management and peer recognition
  3. Optional criteria #3 (made a significant technical, commercial or entrepreneurial contributions to the field as a founder, senior executive, board member or employee of a product-led digital technology company)
    1. Contract with Facebook
    2. Contracts with Hazelcast and Bricks
    3. Hazelcast Design System
    4. Flipper JavaScript SDK
    5. Open-source contributions
    6. Management and peer recognition

As you can see, criteria intersect and re-use the same evidence. I did not find any official guidelines about it, but it worked for me.

Personal statement

You do not have to upload it. Instead, at one of the steps, they will give you a form to fill in. I drafted my statement in Google Doc in advance and copy-pasted it in the form.

Here is the structure that I used:

  1. Introduction (a shorter and more formal version of what I have on GH)
  2. Biography and my journey to tech
  3. Career
  4. My plans on what to do when I get the visa. Why I want to switch from Skilled Worker to Global Talent
  5. My Napoleonic plans to write a book one day
  6. Where I plan to live. They do not need your address here, just a city.
  7. Why I want to come specifically to the UK. What I love about the UK.
  8. How I could contribute to the UK tech scene

Fees, timeline, next steps

The application for endorsement is going to cost you £456. On top of that, you will have to pay £152 for the visa, and £624 per year for the healthcare surcharge. If you apply for Exceptional Talent, it means 3 years to your ILR or £1872 total for the healthcare surcharge (at least, that's the way I read it). The final sum should be £2480.

TechNation offers a fast track option to get your endorsement sooner. I was not in a rush and did not try it. I submitted my application on February 21, 2022. Home Office got back to me on March 16, 2022. It took me 3.5 weeks to get my endorsement. Now I am in the process of going through the second stage where I prepare and send my visa application. Hopefully, it is just a little bureaucracy and formality.

Many thanks to Vitali Zaidman who went through the process himself earlier and gave me crucial pointers and advice.

Check out my new guide on the Global Talent visa with concrete document examples on Gumroad!

P.S. Let's stay in touch! Twitter, LinkedIn, newsletter, RSS, Instagram, Instagram - pick your poison. Feel free to drop me a DM with any questions.

Did you find this article valuable?

Support Andrey Goncharov by becoming a sponsor. Any amount is appreciated!

Learn more about Hashnode Sponsors
 
Share this