The scale-up visa allows foreign nationals to come to the UK to work in an eligible job for a fast-growing UK business for at least six months.

The Government has recently launched a new scale-up worker visa to attract the world’s top talent to the UK, stating that it will give employers “greater flexibility to hire, often in-demand, talent they need so they can go to the next level, while boosting the UK’s high-skilled pool".

The scale-up visa allows foreign nationals to come to the UK to work in an eligible job for a fast-growing UK business (a ‘scale-up business’) for at least six months. Scale-up visa holders can then stay in their role or extend the visa. They can also leave their sponsored role after six months and switch to an unsponsored role, which cannot be done on a skilled worker visa.

In similarity with the skilled worker visa, applicants will have to meet criteria, e.g., skill level, English language requirement and financial requirement. Dependent partners and children can apply.

After the initial two-year visa period, a scale-up worker can apply for an extension (as an unsponsored scale-up worker), which can be granted permission for a further three years at a time. After five years continuous qualifying residence, eligible workers can apply for indefinite leave to remain in the UK.

What are the criteria?

A scale-up business must be fast growing and, in the three years prior to being approved by the Home Office, must have:

  • grown by 20% in each year in either employment or total sales
  • had at least 10 employees at the start of the three-year period.

Scale-up worker visa applicants must:

  • have a job that is eligible for this visa
  • be working for a UK scale-up business that has been approved by the Home Office
  • meet the salary requirements
  • be working in their sponsored job for at least six months.

What are the benefits?

  • The scale-up visa is mainly a “fast-track" immigration route that does not require the same time, cost, and responsibility as sponsoring under the skilled worker routes
  • The scale-up visa permits holders to leave their sponsored role after six months and switch to an unsponsored role
  • There is no immigration skills surcharge for the scale-up visa, making it cheaper than the skilled worker visa
  • Scale-up visa holders do not need to update their visa if they start a different, eligible job with the same employer.

What are the drawbacks?

  • For an employer, there is specific criteria (mentioned above) that must be met to apply for a scale-up sponsor licence. The skilled worker visa does not have any such criteria for sponsors.
  • The salary threshold for the scale-up worker visa is £33,000 compared to that of the skilled worker visa, which is £25,600.
  • Migrants have increased flexibility to change employer under this route, which may raise some concerns regarding employee retention.

Can my business apply?

Businesses that qualify can apply for a scale-up licence - a new sponsor licence or by adding scale-up to the scope of an existing sponsor licence. Note that it will only be granted for four years, with no option to renew.

To determine if you meet the requirements, the Home Office will use PAYE data from HMRC. Applicants should have a minimum of 37 months’ worth of unbroken history with HMRC. If you do not meet the employment growth criteria, the Home Office will check whether you meet the turnover growth criteria. If there are gaps in HMRC records, the check is likely to fail.

How can we help you?

We have a team of experienced immigration solicitors, who can help and advise you on obtaining the right sponsor licence, maintaining your sponsor licence at the highest rating, managing your sponsor licence, and complying with your ongoing sponsor duties and responsibilities.

The new Scale-up and High Potential Individual Visa routes

The Government has announced details of the new Scale-up and High Potential Individual (HPI) Visa routes which will be welcomed by UK businesses as providing more options to recruit overseas talent at a reduced cost when compared to the Skilled Worker route.

The Scale-up Visa

The aim of the Scale-up route is to make it easier and quicker for companies experiencing rapid growth to hire high-skilled labour from around the world and to ensure that growth companies do not move to a different country to find the skills they require. It will launch on 22 August 2022.

What do employers need to demonstrate?

To demonstrate they are a scale-up, employers will need to show a growth rate over 20% for either annual average revenue or employment over a 3-year period. Businesses should also have started the 3-year period with at least 10 employees.

How does the Scale-up Visa work?

The Scale-up Visa involves two stages:

Stage 1 is a sponsored stage which will provide Scale-up workers with permission to work in the UK for two-years and will require a job offer from a Scale-up sponsor of up to at least six-months. At this stage there are skill level, salary, English language and sufficient finance requirements similar to other sponsored routes. The job must be at a minimum of RQF Level 6 (degree level) and the salary must be at least £33,000 or the going rate for the job.

Stage 2 is unique to this immigration route as it is unsponsored and lasts up to three years. A Scale-up worker does not require sponsorship during this period provided that their previous UK PAYE earnings meet the minimum salary levels outlined at stage 1 during at least 50% of their initial permission to stay as a Scale-up worker.

What are the benefits of the Scale-up route?

  • For Scale-up workers, this route provides flexibility because, although they need to work for a sponsor for at least 6-months, they can also carry out other work at the same time and after their sponsored role ends, including self-employment.
  • Unlike other immigration routes, sponsoring employers recruiting a stage 1 Scale-up worker need only confirm that an applicant is expected to work for them for at least the first 6-months of their visa.
  • Sponsoring employers will not be required to pay the immigration skills charge when sponsoring a Scale-up worker at stage 1 and the shorter period of sponsorship will significantly reduce costs.
  • Employers can recruit a stage 2 Scale-up worker who has been living and working in the UK for at least 6-months without the cost or administrative burden of sponsorship.

What are the drawbacks of the Scale-up route?

  • The skill and salary requirements are set at a higher level than the current Skilled Worker route.
  • Scale-up workers will need to be careful to ensure that they accrue enough earnings under a PAYE scheme during stage 1 to score sufficient points to be able to move to stage 2 of the Scale-up Visa process.
  • The drawback for employers is that, unlike in other sponsored routes, a Scale-up worker at stage 2 is not restricted to working for a Home Office licenced sponsor and can work for any employer or become self-employed. Employers who incur the costs and effort of sponsoring a Scale-up worker may wish to consider how they can incentivise them to stay with their organisation as a result.

The High Potential Individual (HPI) Visa

The HPI visa enables overseas graduates without a job offer but with an overseas degree-level academic qualification recently gained from a top university to come to the UK to work or look for work. The new HPI visa route will officially launch on 30 May 2022.

Which individuals will qualify for the route?

Applicants must have attended a university from the Home Office’s Global University List. Released annually, the list will contain educational establishments outside the UK that appear on in the top 50 on at least two of the following world rankings:

  • Times Higher Education World University Rankings
  • Quacquarelli Symonds World University Rankings
  • The Academic Ranking of World Universities

To be eligible, an individual must:

  • Have either a bachelors or post-graduate degree from qualifying top overseas university (which meets, or exceeds, the recognised standard of a UK bachelors or post-graduate degree) awarded in the 5 years immediately before the date of application.
  • Meet the English language and financial requirements.

What are the benefits of the HPI visa

  • There are no minimum salary or skills requirements and applicants do not require a job offer or sponsorship to qualify for a HPI visa. This is appealing for UK businesses who will be able to recruit highly skilled graduate workers without incurring the cost and administrative burden of sponsorship.
  • From 30 May 2022, before incurring the cost of sponsorship, recruiters should check which overseas university the candidate attended and the dates of study in case the individual is eligible for a HPI visa.

What are the drawbacks of the HPI visa?

  • A HPI visa will be granted for a period of 2-years or 3-years for PhD graduates. This is not a route to settlement and the UK government has said that those granted a HPI visa “will be permitted to move into other long-term employment routes.” Overseas graduates with a view to settling in the UK are likely to seek sponsored employment rather than applying for a HPI visa.