Road to Global Talent Visa

Photo by Matt Duncan on Unsplash

In May 2021, I was endorsed by Tech Nation as an Exceptional Talent and received Talent Visa from the UK government.

I want to document my year-long journey in hopes that it will help others with a similar background.

This will be a long one.

Talent Visa is intended for people with exceptional achievements in their field. It provides you with permission to stay and work in the UK, and offers a path to settlement after a number of years.

For Software Engineering, Tech Nation is the official body that evaluates your achievements.

There are two types of endorsements available from Tech Nation: Exceptional Talent and Exceptional Promise.

The latter is for people who are less than five years in the IT industry, and for that reason, has a different set of requirements.

Since by the time of my application, I was a software engineer for more than 15 years, the only option available for me was Exceptional Talent.

If you’re looking to apply for a Global Talent Visa as Exceptional Talent, there are three categories of documents you’ll need to present:

  • Personal letter
  • Supporting evidence
  • Recommendation letters

Let’s look in detail at each one of those.

Personal letter

The easiest by far is the personal motivation letter.

In one or two pages, you need to describe:

  • Why exactly you would like to work in the UK, and not in some other country
  • How the UK would benefit from your presence

The first half of the letter should be relatively straightforward. The UK is the home of some of the best tech companies in the world: Facebook, Amazon, Google all have engineering presence there. If that wasn’t enough, there is also a plethora of scale-ups and startups. If that wasn’t enough, some of the top Computer Science universities in the world are also based in the UK.

The second part of the letter should mainly focus on facts from your supporting evidence documents. We’ll talk about them more in the next section.

Supporting evidence

You need to provide up to 10 documents, each up to 3 pages at most, supporting your claims.

Here you need to focus on two aspects: how measurable it is and how easy it is to validate your claims.

Following are some ideas for you of how to present it:

A book:

Provide its title and short description, mention ISBN, number of copies sold, and average rating, if available.

You can also add a screenshot of some of the top reviews.

Video tutorial or course:

If it’s a free course, mention how many likes and views it has.

If it’s a paid course, mention the number of students and the average rating.

Author of Open Source project or a library:

Alongside the link to it, mention things like GitHub Stars and Forks or the number of downloads.

Contributor to an Open Source project:

Add a screenshot of your merged Pull Request, showing that you’re the author.

Conference talks:

Mention the name of the conference, date, and number of attendees, if known.

If you have a video recording of you speaking — brilliant.

If you don’t — speakers usually have badges with their names on them. Attach a photo of your badge. Or add a screenshot of the conference agenda with your name on it.

StackOverflow:

If you have a high rating on StackOverflow (10K+), add a screenshot of your profile with your full name and rating.

Blog articles:

Provide a link, number of views, number of likes/claps.

Patents:

Mention date of issue, issuer and number and a link to Google Patents

Focus only on your technological achievements. The number of followers on Twitter or connections on LinkedIn doesn’t count. Neither do screenshots of your LinkedIn profile.

Recommendation letters

The most challenging requirement of all is to provide three letters, printed on headed paper (company letterhead), signed by C-Level executives from 3 different companies. Companies must be different. You cannot provide two letters from your CTO and CEO, for example.

This one was really difficult to achieve for me.

For example, I’ve worked at SAP for four years and have met the CTO in person exactly once. Pretty sure some have never met him. After all, it’s a 100K people company.

Some other CTOs or CEOs I’ve worked with may have moved on, and I’ve lost contact with them entirely.

If you’re struggling to find enough C-Level people that know you personally, do not despair, though.

You may replace one of them with another well-known IT person, as long as they know and can recommend you personally. This may be an author of a popular book about programming, or an author of a well-known library, for example. Still, not an easy task, though.

Once you have identified three persons to recommend you, it’s time to write the letters.

If the company is unable to provide you with a company letterhead (some smaller to mid-sized companies don’t have them), ask them to put the company logo and details on a PDF document. Under any circumstances, do not put the logo yourself unless permitted by the company executive.

The letter should be addressed to Tech Nation, and it should start with stating that the goal of the letter is specifically for endorsement under the Global Talent category. General recommendation letters won’t be accepted.

Then should come about five paragraphs.

In an attempt to cheer myself up a bit, I called them:

  1. Who I am (CTO), and why I’m awesome
  2. How I know Alexey (your name here), and why he’s awesome
  3. What I know Alexey has achieved
  4. Why staying in the UK will assist Alexey in achieving even more

The letter should also include contact details of the endorsing person: preferably work email and work phone number.

It must be signed and dated.

In addition, you should attach a CV of each endorsing person to the letter.

This may prove difficult because most CTOs don’t exactly need to keep their CV up-to-date.

But exporting their LinkedIn profile and getting their approval to attach it may help you there.

Should you take a solicitor?

I’ve started a process with a solicitor, but eventually, we had to part ways.

There are benefits of using their services: a good solicitor may provide you with templates for recommendation letters, suggestions on how to present and measure your evidence, as well as do proofreading of all of your documents.

But there are a couple of nuances to take into account.

Solicitors like to succeed. This means that if your case doesn’t seem strong enough to begin with, they may not take it. One agency plainly refused to help me when I said I don’t know three CTOs/CEOs personally. But if your case is so strong, do you really need a solicitor?

Even the best solicitors are not tech people. They may know what GitHub is, but they still don’t know how to write down your evidence. Which means that this part of work falls on your shoulders.

Solicitors are expensive. One hour of document review costs around 300GBP. Phone consultation is anywhere between 150 to 300GBP.

Total costs

Your visa application is divided into two steps. They are literally called Step 1 and Step 2.

Step 1 costs 450GBP.

After paying, you’ll be able to submit your documents.

If you get successfully endorsed by Tech Nation, you’ll need to pay at least 3000GBP for Step 2 of your application.

The basic application fee is around 170GBP. If you need a decision in a week, you may add 500GBP, or 800GBP for getting a next day decision.

This step also requires you to pay NHS surcharges. NHS stands for National Health Service and is not related to a technical process in any way. This is just something anyone entering the UK needs to pay.

NHS surcharges are around 625GBP per year.

Now here’s the tricky part. During the application process, you get to choose the length of your visa.

Since the process itself is so long and arduous, you’d want to go for a maximum of 5 years.

This means you’ll have to pay NHS surcharges for five years in advance.

You’ll have to reserve a lump of more than 3K GBP just for that.

And that’s not all. For the visa itself, you’ll also need to provide your biometric information, which, at least in the UK, costs around 140GBP.

So, the total expenses you should plan for are at least 4K GBP. If you plan to take a solicitor, this may grow up to 6K easily.

Timeline

I’ve started collecting the required documents in June 2020 and completed collecting them in March 2021.

From there, it took me two weeks to upload all the required documents for Tech Nation.

You have just two weeks to do it. Otherwise, you’ll have to start again. So make absolutely sure you have all the documents you need, especially the recommendation letters before you apply.

It took me another two weeks to receive the endorsement, completing Step 1.

Once you get the endorsement, you have three months to apply for Step 2. Otherwise, your effort is wasted.

From there, I had to wait until I could submit all the biometric information, which took another month.

The whole process took me 11 months in total.

Most of that time was chasing after people. You’re asked to provide letters from the best people in the field, but they are naturally also the busiest.

Summary

Global Talent Visa is a long, difficult and expensive journey, which requires arduous and careful preparation.

In my opinion, it’s still totally worth it, as it may open so many doors for you and your family in the UK.

Solutions Architect @Depop, author of “Hands-on Design Patterns with Kotlin” book and “Web Development with Kotlin” course