Launching on 30 May 2022, the High Potential Individual (“HPI”) visa is one of several new immigration routes to be introduced by the Home Office this year. Designed to attract “the brightest and best” to the UK, the HPI visa appears to form part of the Government’s wider plan to deliver an ‘elite points based system’, as announced in their ‘Build Back Better: Plan for Growth’, to ensure the UK maintains its status as a “leading international hub for emerging and disruptive technologies”.
To be eligible for the HPI visa, applicants will need to show that within the last five years, they have been awarded an overseas degree level academic qualification from an institution on the ‘Global Universities List’. Separate lists have now been published for each of the last five academic years, to enable applicants to determine whether their university qualified at the time they graduated. They include overseas universities that have been ranked in the top 50 on at least two of the following global ranking systems in the relevant year: (i) Times Higher Education World University Rankings; (ii) Quacquerelli Symonds World University Rankings; or (iii) The Academic Ranking of World Universities.
In addition to this, applicants will need to meet the usual English language requirement, and be able to show that they have sufficient funds to maintain themselves while in the UK.
Successful bachelor’s and master’s degree applicants will be granted two years of permission in the UK, while PhD graduates will be granted three years. Before the expiry of their visa, applicants will either need to leave the UK, or have switched onto another visa route.
On the HPI visa, applicants will also be able to bring dependent partners and children under the age of 18.
The HPI route appears to be the global equivalent of the Graduate visa, which was introduced in July 2021 for applicants graduating within the UK, from a Home Office approved higher education provider. Applicants applying for the Graduate visa must apply from within the UK and must be switching from a Student or Tier 4 (General) Student visa. They must also have successfully completed their course by the date of application. The Graduate visa is also not limited to those graduating from universities which are top ranked in the UK.
The HPI visa is being launched alongside a range of new and replacement business visa categories launched under Global Business Mobility. In many ways, the HPI route is a welcome (and seemingly very straightforward) addition to the UK’s current array of visa offerings. But does it go far enough?
With no need for sponsorship, the HPI visa offers applicants the flexibility to work, study or be self-employed in the UK, as they wish. In this respect, the HPI visa sits alongside the Global Talent and Graduate visas as a rare route allowing applicants the flexibility to do as they please for up to two (or three) years.
Regrettably, however, as with many of the new visa categories launched in the last 12 months (including the Graduate visa and those routes included under Global Business Mobility), the HPI visa is not a route that leads to settlement. This means that any time spent on this visa cannot be used to count towards the qualifying period for indefinite leave to remain, and will ultimately add further costs to what is already a very expensive journey for individuals looking to settle in the UK.
On review of the list of eligible universities for 2021-2022, what is clear is that there is a heavy bias towards Western institutions - thereby indirectly affording advantage to nationals of these countries. By way of illustration, of the 37 universities that appear on this list, 24 of these are based in the US, Canada or Australia, with many of the rest being based in Europe.
Further, the number of potential applicants under the HPI route will likely be significantly reduced by the requirement to have graduated within the last five years. Under the UK’s previous MBA visa scheme (which we long for the reintroduction of), the simple fact of having graduated from one of the top 50 MBA schools (in either the UK or abroad) was considered a significant enough achievement to enable applicants to qualify for a visa, and potentially settlement in the future – provided the educational establishment was on the Home Office list of approved institutions at the time the MBA was awarded. (And provided the other eligibility requirements were met).
Surely, closing off the HPI route after five years somewhat undermines the Home Office’s aim to attract the brightest and the best – because surely, a qualification from one of the top 50 universities in the world must remain of value, regardless of when it was awarded? Especially since it could be expected that, over time, graduates from the approved universities will have gone on to acquire valuable industry experience.
It is also expected that many candidates who will qualify for an HPI visa are likely to have other UK visa options (for example, under the Global Talent, Skilled Worker or Innovator visa routes – the latter being due for reform in Autumn this year). This therefore raises the question of whether this visa does indeed even meet a particular need in terms of UK immigration.
Of course, it remains to be seen whether the HPI route will invite an influx of applications from the world’s best and brightest. While this is certainly a welcome addition to the current list of UK visa categories, what is clear is that there is definitely room for improvement.