New fast-track visa system benefits international award winners

Excludes migrant workers in vital jobs like the NHS. Wrong Priorities!


London, UK – 3 June 2021


Guest post by Aaron Gates-Lincoln of the Immigration Advice Service


A new fast-track visa process for winners of a select number of coveted international awards wishing to enter the UK has recently been announced by the Home Office. However, the plans are not without criticisms, as calls of discrimination and unfairness have been aimed at the ‘points based’ immigration and visa reform.

The new plans have been announced in part to attract the “best and brightest” talent from around the world, especially after the damage that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused to the UK’s entertainment industry. Amongst the coveted awards are select categories from the Oscars, Grammys, Brits, Baftas, Golden Globes, the Nobel Prize and more. The full list can be found on the Home Office website, and has been said to be in constant review.

The fast-track visas allow such artists enter the UK to live or work with relative ease, giving them ‘leave to remain status as they are deemed as ‘highly skilled’ under the new point-based immigration reforms. Previously, the visa process for such individuals was known as the ‘Global Talent Route’. Through this, artists and producers had to receive an endorsement from one of six regulatory bodies. However, with the new visa, this element has been removed.

The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, speaking about the new visa, has said that such recipients have “reached the pinnacle of their career” and have “so much to offer the UK”. She added: “this is exactly what our new point-based immigration system was designed for – attracting the best and brightest based on the skills and talent they have, not where they’ve come from”. Importantly, she has stated that “at the heart of our new plan for immigration is a simple principle – fairness”.

This announcement cannot be disputed as a clear win for the entertainment industry, which has suffered great damage during the pandemic. The new visa will attract production companies, artists and creatives to the UK more than ever before for performances, filming, press tours and teaching opportunities that will aid the recuperation of the arts.

However, attention must be drawn to the discriminatory nature of such a fast-track process. The comments made by Priti Patel are dangerous and reinforce negative stereotypes that a migrant’s worth is determined solely by skill levels or “talent”. As Patel has correctly stated, these individuals are at the pinnacle of their careers. She fails to acknowledge the role that nepotism, white privilege and wealth have played for many of the coveted award winners in giving them access routes and the opportunity to hone their talents and utilise them to reach the positions they have.

Most migrants are not so lucky. They do not share the same experiences and opportunities, often due to class, ethnic and cultural discrimination. This limits their education and employment opportunities. They don’t have the same possibilities to develop and use their talents and thereby take advantage of the new fast-track visa process. The bulk of migrants face long and difficult pathways to simply achieve ‘leave to remain status’, never mind the decade long process of receiving citizenship.

When Priti Patel speaks of “fairness”, she does speak for equality for all. In the framing of the entertainment industry and their losses of the past 18 months, it seems fair to offer them this reward. Without broadening that framing to all migrants, and it becomes clear that such a reward becomes discriminatory, unjust and reserved for the elite.

These views are shared by UK migrant charity, JCWI, who have stated that the new visa “discriminates against working-class migrants”. Campaigns Director for the charity, Minnie Rahman, argues that the “new ‘award winners’ visa route exemplifies that the so-called ‘points-based system’ is no more than a two-tier immigration system designed to discriminate against the working class. Many of the migrants deemed ‘low-skilled’ by this government were the same people that kept us going during the pandemic”.

Recently, the narratives linking migrant worth and skill level have been significantly broken down by the clear necessity of migrant workers during the COVID-19 pandemic: such as NHS workers, supermarket employees and transport staff. The new immigration reforms will not help fill the vital jobs and services that rely on migrant labour. As a result, the JCWI has called on the government to create an “immigration system that values all migrants equally, instead of creating distinctions based on wealth or status”.

It is not inherently wrong for fast-track visas to be granted to the entertainment industry. However, to frame them with the motive of “fairness” is cruel to migrants that have had their dreams destroyed, put on hold and stalled due to a hostile immigration system that is designed to make difficult entry to the UK and security of residence in the UK. This government must be pressured to change the points-based immigration system to ensure that all migrants within the UK are protected and given the opportunities to access and utilise their talents, regardless of their wealth, class, race or privilege of opportunity.