New UK Visa Route Dedicated to International Fashion Designers

Fashion Agency London uk fashion visa

Brexit has created a lot of uncertainty in the fashion industry in the UK and outside the UK. Will the British industry be able to keep without the major workforce and talent poll coming from Europe and overseas? It seems there’s some good news for talented designers looking to start or continue their design career in the United Kingdom.

Until now, the ‘arts’ category in the UK’s Exceptional Talent Visa, which allows emerging and recognised leaders in specific areas to work in the UK permanently, has been firmly off-limits to fashion professionals. However, in a recent announcement, government officials stated that the category will now be widened to encompass exceptionally talented fashion designers.

With this summer’s London Fashion Week around the corner, the timing of this ‘UK fashion visa’ opportunity is perfect for international designers who may be scoping out the UK for their next professional base.

London Fashion Week’s February 2017 show saw 50% of designers behind brands featured on the line-up born outside the UK, representing 42 brands in total.

And with the UK’s fashion industry now worth £26 billion, as well as 800,000 jobs to the British economy, the UK is a highly desirable place to be for talents such as those who are looking to continue making their mark on the world of fashion.

Exceptional Talent Route

The Tier 1 Exceptional Talent Visa, also often referred to as the Highly-Skilled Work Visa, is a type of immigration route solely reserved for individuals who show either exceptional talent or promise in a specific field.

Until this announcement, the exceptional talent arts route was reserved for dance, music, theatre and visual arts professionals, with fashion not fitting the definition of a conventional art form. However, the category is now officially open to fashion designers who display the expected level of talent or promise.

With only 2,000 spots available for this entrance route each year, competition is understandably high when it comes to applications. 

In order to meet the requirements for this entry route, applicants must:

  • Be a ‘recognised’ or ‘emerging’ leader in the field of fashion
  • Be endorsed to this effect by an official body: arts candidates are currently required to receive an endorsement from Arts Council England. As a fashion applicant, this endorsement will come from the British Fashion Council

This work visa differs from all others in that it does not restrict its holder to one job role or employer. Instead, Tier 1 visa holders can enter the UK without an official job offer and take on voluntary, paid, permanent or temporary work in whichever way they see fit. To add to this, they can also choose to work for themselves, are granted free movement outside of the UK and are exempt from meeting English language requirements.

This is highly desirable in comparison to other, more restrictive, types of work visa – which require individuals to have a job offer, contract and sponsoring employer set up for the entire duration of their stay in the UK.

Both the exceptional talent and exceptional promise categories of this visa type let holders stay in the UK for a period of five years and, as previously mentioned, allow the freedom to pick and switch jobs without restrictions. Alongside this, holders also have the option to apply for permanent settlement once they have been in the UK for five years with an exceptional promise visa, and three years with an exceptional promise visa. If they choose, they can also use their time spent in the UK as qualifying time to apply for British citizenship.


This is not only good news for fashion professionals looking to take their talents to the UK, but also for the UK’s fashion industry as a whole.

A quick glance through the history of the industry reveals just how much it has been shaped by immigration; with brands like Givenchy, Missguided and Selfridges all born from migrant talent. Alongside this, migrants currently make up 11% of the creative sector’s labour pool – with brands like Jigsaw reporting a workforce compiled almost entirely of overseas talent.

What’s more, the decision to further encourage overseas talent into the British fashion industry is hugely important. This is partly because the industry was and is built by immigrants, but also because supporting diversity allows for new ideas to be sparked, exchanged and combined, and for creativity to flourish.

This article has been written by Luna Williams, a political correspondent at the Immigration Advice Service.