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Government Authorised Exchange: one visa, 40 options
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The Government Authorised Exchange (GAE) category of the Immigration Rules is one of the least known of all the UK’s visa options. It can be found in Appendix Temporary Work – Government Authorised Exchange to the immigration rules.
The temporary work routes offer visas for temporary workers. According to the original immigration rules at the time the route was first published, temporary workers’ time in the UK should “help to satisfy cultural, charitable, religious or international objectives including volunteering and job shadowing, and for meeting seasonal employment needs”. You can read more about the seasonal workers here, creative workers here, and the international agreement route here.
So what is the GAE route?
The sponsor guidance explains that the GAE route is for:
“individuals coming to the UK through approved schemes that aim to share knowledge, experience and best practice.
But the GAE route is only for roles that are “supernumerary”:
“It is not the purpose of the scheme to facilitate the supply of labour — participants must not fill vacancies and must be supernumerary (that is, over and above any normal staffing requirements).”
An internship is a good example of the kind of thing the GAE route was established for.
The route is different to skilled worker and student visa routes because, in general, an overarching sponsor is needed. Under the skilled worker or student route, the employer or education provider sponsors the individual directly.
Under the GAE route, those offering or seeking work experience, internship opportunities and other supernumerary work options engage with a third party sponsor instead. This is typically a government agency or umbrella body for a particular profession. The third party assigns the certificate of sponsorship as long as it is satisfied that all of the conditions for doing so are met. The visa applicant then uses this certificate to get their visa from the Home Office.
The list of overarching sponsors is contained in Appendix Government Authorised Exchange schemes of the immigration rules. When the route first launched there were around 60 schemes. This has now been reduced to around 40 schemes. Examples include:
- Bar Council
- BAE Systems Training, Intern and Graduate Programme
- British Council Tech Trainees business internships
- British National Space Centre Satellite KHTT Programme
- BUNAC Blue Card Internships
- Chatham House Fellowship
- The Ofgem International Staff Exchange Scheme
- GTI intern scheme
- Law Society GAE scheme for migrant lawyers
- Serious Fraud Office
- UK Research and Innovation – Science, Research and Academia
One of the few exceptions to third party sponsors relates to UK universities. They are able to sponsor researchers under the GAE route in certain scenarios. This includes academics, researchers, scientists, research engineers and other skilled research technology specialists who will be hosted at the sponsoring higher education institution in a supernumerary role.
Requirements for the visa
In order to be authorised by the Home Office to be a GAE sponsor, the provider of each scheme must explain how it will meet the objectives of the route. They must also set out specific requirements that must be met before they will sponsor a candidate and issue a certificate of sponsorship.
For example, the Law Society (which represents solicitors in England and Wales) says its scheme is for:
“Sharing knowledge, experience and best practice with practitioners from around the world through work experience, secondment and internship programmes is essential to business development.
Law firms seeking to participate in the scheme must:
1. Be regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority
2. Operate an exchange programme that meets the requirements of the Temporary Work – Government Authorised Exchange scheme by running suitably robust programmes for secondments, internships or work experience and record-keeping.
3. Hold a current UKVI sponsor licence with an A rating.
4. Enter into a contract with the Law Society undertaking to fulfil the sponsor obligations defined within the PBS.
Some of the other scheme providers work directly with individuals, as opposed to employers.
How long does the visa last and what are the requirements?
Those who obtain a certificate of sponsorship can apply to enter or stay in the UK for up to:
- 12 months, for work experience;
- 24 months, where they will be doing research, training or an Overseas Government Language Programme.
Applications can be made from inside the UK where the applicant last had permission on the GAE route or was a university student.
Permission will be granted for the length of the role plus 14 additional days, or if it is an extension application a period of 14 days plus the difference between the maximum amount of time the individual is allowed to stay on this route, and the amount of time they have already spent on the route so far.
Once a certificate of sponsorship had been assigned, all the applicant has to do is apply for a visa. This will be issued as long as:
- there are no general grounds of refusal;
- they meet the maintenance requirement (meaning that either the sponsor ‘certifies maintenance’ or the individual must demonstrate that they have held £1,270 savings for at least 28 days) as specified in Appendix Finance;
- they pass a tuberculosis test (required from certain countries); and
- the Entry Clearance Officer is satisfied that they genuinely intend to perform the activity on the certificate of sponsorship.
Family members can also join the applicant provided they meet the relevant requirements.
There is no English language requirement for temporary work visas (unless this is a specific condition of the GAE scheme operator) has attracted many to the route, enabling them to practice and develop their language skills in the UK, often before making an in-country application to switch to a more permanent work route.
In my experience, the previous Tier 5 route was underused. The route can often offer solutions when others are out of reach. But where the route itself might not need an individual to meet certain requirements (English language or education level for example), individual schemes and sponsors may have their own criteria for approving and assigning a certificate of sponsorship.
When EU citizens began to fall under the UK’s domestic immigration rules post-Brexit, we saw the Government Authorised Exchange route play a more central role in bringing interns into the UK for short-term work placements, often before being offered positions on graduate schemes. We saw some scheme providers struggle in 2022 to keep up with assigning certificate of sponsorships in time for internships to start due to the high volume of applicants. As schemes have renewed their processes, it is hoped that many applying for summer internships in 2023 will not see the same level of delays.
This post has now been updated to reflect the most recent immigration rule changes, since its original publication as ‘Government Authorised Exchange: one visa, 60 options in 2019.