UK launches Scale-up visa to make it easier for fast-growing firms to hire skilled staff

Ross Kennedy, Vanessa Ganguin Immigration Law

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The latest in the UK Government’s points-based post-Brexit immigration routes has launched, promising to help high-growth tech, financial services and small businesses recruit the talent they need to keep growing.

The new Scale-up visa is initially sponsored by eligible scale-ups, but it is a fast-track, flexible way to hire highly-skilled staff from around the world.

Scale-up sponsor licences and Certificates of Sponsorship for staff will be cheaper than similar sponsored work immigration routes and there is no Immigration Skills Charge to pay.

Launching the visa, immigration minister Kevin Foster said: “we’re enabling businesses to focus on their growth and innovation by giving them more freedom to bring in the diverse skills and experience they need, making them more attractive on an international stage… we are ensuring the UK remains a global hub for emerging technologies and innovation.”

Scale-up businesses of all sizes add over £1 trillion a year and three million jobs to the UK economy. This new immigration route won’t provide a solution for every hire, but hopefully it will redress the skilled labour shortages many firms currently face.

The Scale-up visa offers flexibility

Unlike other sponsored visas, the Scale-up visa will involve an initial two years’ permission to stay, of which employers need only have the responsibility of sponsoring workers for the first six months. Scale-up workers who have arrived in the UK on this route are permitted to do other work, including self-employment. They can switch to different sponsored roles in the same company in the first six months, then after at least six months work for their sponsor, they may move jobs without a further visa application.

After the initial application, Scale-up Workers will be able to renew their visa for three years at a time, but with none of the cost or admin of having to be sponsored as long as previous UK PAYE earnings of at least £33,000 per annum have been recorded in at least half the two-year duration of their initial Scale-up visa. Alternatively, they can switch to another worker visa.

After five years on this route they may if eligible apply for settlement in the UK. Eligible dependent family members may join Scale-up workers too.

Which businesses may qualify for the Scale-up visa?

A Scale-up visa sponsor must show annualised growth in either turnover or staff of at least 20% for the previous three-year period, with a minimum of 10 employees at the start of the period.

Applications for a sponsor licence will be based on a firm’s PAYE and VAT tax records with HMRC which the Home Office would access securely to determine if they qualify as a Scale-up for the purposes of this immigration route.

Applications do not require supporting documentation unless the sponsor is subject to a regulatory body or requires inspections to practice – for example, a nursing home, school or a firm of solicitors like ours. If so, the Home Office will need to check that an applicant is registered and see their last inspection report if appropriate.

Who will qualify as a Scale-up Worker?

Qualifying scale-ups will be able to use this new visa to bring in staff on a minimum skill level of RQF Level 6. This is higher than the skill level required for a Skilled Worker visa. Roles include scientists, programmers, software developers, economists and financial advisers and the Home Office has now published the full list of qualifying occupations.

The position should pay a minimum of £10.10 per hour and £33,000 per annum (higher than the £25,600 for a Skilled Worker visa). The salary should be the going rate for the sponsored role.

There is an English language requirement of CEFR level B1. There is a financial requirement for Scale-up workers and dependants joining them to show a small amount of savings too. Scale-up workers can apply for a visa from abroad or switch from many types of UK visas if already in the country.

For more details on this and other UK business immigration routes and to find out more about whether you or your firm may be eligible to apply, you can find our full explainer of the new visa here