UK’s fast-track visa route for award-winners is ‘discriminatory’, warns immigration charity

The streamlined visa route allows recipients of prestigious awards across the arts, entertainment and sciences to more easily live and work in the UK.

The Home Secretary has said the new visa route will attract the "best and brightest" to the UK.

The UK’s new “fast-track” visa route being introduced for winners of prestigious awards is “discriminatory”, an immigration charity has said.

The new streamlined immigration route, available to recipients of awards including Oscars and Nobel Prizes, discriminates against working-class migrants attempting to work and live in the UK, The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) said.

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The new move, announced on Wednesday by the Home Office, streamlines the existing Global Talent visa route to more easily allow those with certain awards to live and work in the UK.

As of May 5, anyone with an award featured on the Home Office’s approved list will no longer have to apply for a visa using one of six endorsed bodies, but instead make a single visa application.

The qualifying prizes span the arts, entertainment, sciences, engineering and digital technology. They include Nobel Prize Winners, Brit Award winners, and Tony winners.

Awards from across fashion, dance, architecture and the social sciences will also be included.

Application fees will cost recipients £608 plus an Immigration Health Surcharge at a rate of £624 per year.

While Home Secretary Priti Patel has heralded the scheme as a means of attracting the “best and the brightest” people to the UK, the JCWI has criticised the move as exemplifying the unfairness of the points-based immigration system.

“This 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”, said Campaigns Director, Minnie Rahman.

“Many of the migrants deemed 'low-skilled' by this government were the same people that kept us going during the pandemic.

“Migrant carers, cleaners, delivery drivers and shop workers are expected to shell out thousands of pounds on visa fees for a decade, and would be barred from moving to the UK under the government's new immigration rules”, she added.

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The JCWI urged the creation of an “immigration system that values all migrants equally, instead of creating distinctions based on wealth or status.”

A Home Office spokesperson responded to the allegation, saying: “Our new points-based immigration system has been designed to attract people based on the skills and talent they have, not where they’ve come from.

“Employers should look to our hardworking domestic workforce already in the UK as we build back from the pandemic and end their reliance on cheap foreign labour.

“We are hugely grateful for the vital contributions migrant workers have made during the pandemic, which is why we introduced a range of unprecedented measures. These include a Health and Care Visa to provide fast track entry, free visa extensions for frontline health workers and exemptions to the Immigration Health Surcharge.

“Every penny raised from visa fees is reinvested to run vital immigration services, which protect the integrity of our borders. All our fees are kept under review and we offer several fee waivers.”

The government says the list of qualifying prizes for the scheme will be kept under review now that it has officially come into force.