The UK government has introduced a new visa route for global talent to enter the UK. Called the Scale-up visa, it offers high-growth businesses a quick and cost-effective way to recruit overseas talent. But as you might expect, it comes with very specific criteria that need to be met, says Mariam Khaliq, Partner and Head of Immigration at Bishop & Sewell.
The Scale-up visa was introduced in August 2022 and is designed to help high-growth businesses attract global talent and better compete on the international stage.
To qualify as a scale-up sponsor, a business must have achieved average growth in turnover or number of employees of 20% a year and had at least 10 employees three years prior to the application.
This will, quite deliberately, exclude many businesses from this visa route and stands it apart from the Skilled Worker visa route. But for those that do qualify and obtain a scale-up visa sponsor licence they will benefit from reduced fees with no Immigration Skills Charge (currently £5,000 per applicant) if the worker stays with the same business for five years, a fast-track application process, light-touch compliance regime, and greater flexibility in the roles staff can work in.
For an individual to qualify for sponsorship, the vacancy must be at RQF level 6, be paid a salary of £33,000 or more, and be paid through PAYE. Individuals must reach the same English language requirements as the Skilled Worker route.
The UK job role with the scale up business must be at RQF level 6 (graduate level) or above, the same as for intra-company transfers through Global Business Mobility (GBM) category, but above the Skilled Worker visa requirement, which has a minimum RQF level 3 standard for UK jobs.
The Scale-up visa is unusual in that a sponsored individual need only work for the scale-up sponsor for a six-month period. After that time, they are free to work for any business they wish irrespective of whether or not that business holds a scale-up sponsor licence. Businesses that gain a Scale-up sponsor licence and find a suitable employee may find they choose to move on after just a few short months.
During the initial six months of sponsorship, the worker must be employed in the specific graduate level job that are sponsored to do on their Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS). However, they can also do other work for the same employer or even for different businesses, including self-employment.
After that initial six-month period, sponsorship with the scale up business ends automatically. Scale-up workers can then work without restriction in the UK, including self-employment. They can continue working for the same employer or join a different employer, without needing to apply for a new visa.
Although self-employment is permitted as the worker’s main job after the initial six-months of sponsorship, only PAYE earnings will count when assessing future unsponsored extension or settlement applications. So someone working solely as a self-employed contractor would then not be eligible for settlement in the Scale-up route.
The Scale-up route is an immigration category which leads to settlement subject to the applicant meeting certain requirements. The applicant needs five years of continuous residence in the UK – either solely in the Scale-up route or in combination with other qualifying visa categories.
Unlike, the Skilled Worker route, Scale-up workers do not need a sponsor to support their settlement application. Instead, at the settlement application date, the applicant must be in PAYE employment in the UK with an annual basic salary of least £33,000 and must have had monthly PAYE earnings in the UK equivalent to at least £33,000 per year for 24 months of the three years immediately before the settlement application.
The flexibility of the Scale-up visa is a useful addition to the existing visa routes open to UK businesses. It is not, however, without its risks and businesses as well as individuals are advised to explore all visa routes before deciding on an approach.
Scale-up Visa snapshot
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The above is accurate as at 21 October 2022. The information above may be subject to change.
The content of this note should not be considered legal advice and each matter should be considered on a case-by-case basis.