For his first concrete change to the UK immigration system, the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has announced that the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) category will be replaced by the "Global Talent" route from 20 February 2020.

Although full details of how this new category will operate in practice will not be announced until a new set of immigration rules is published on 30 January 2020, it appears it will retain virtually all the elements of the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) route.

Some key points to note

  • UK Research and Innovation will be added to the list of bodies that can endorse individuals under the category. This body will focus on applicants from the scientific and research community.
  • Under Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent), it is possible for the initial endorsement to be fast tracked: it looks like, under this new scheme, this expedited processing is going to become the norm rather than the exception.
  • The cap which currently applies to the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) route will be removed (although it is worth noting that the current limit has never been reached).
  • The UK government plans that successful applicants under the Global Talent route will be able to benefit from an accelerated path to settlement. This is already possible under Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent), where those granted immigration permission under the "exceptional talent" limb of the scheme may qualify for indefinite leave to remain (ILR) after three years, whereas those under the "exceptional promise" limb may qualify for ILR after five years.

Consequently, this new Global Talent route appears simply to be an expansion of the current Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) category. This is welcome, and the changes are certainly more than cosmetic.

But is it a missed opportunity? For example, the UK government could have looked to broaden the scheme to cover individuals working in a wider variety of sectors; it could have made a feature of the new category, focusing more on the economic benefit that individuals could potentially bring to the UK rather than simply on their past achievements. This may be addressed in the proposals for a new UK immigration system which will be set out in the report by the Migration Advisory Committee, the body that advises the UK government on immigration policy: this is due to be published later this week.