Understanding scale-up visas for fast growing businesses

read time: 4 mins

As part of the UK’s Innovation Strategy the Government launched new visa routes in 2022 to attract top global talent to the UK. One of those visa routes is the ‘Scale-Up visa’.

What is the Scale-Up visa and when will it be introduced?  

The Scale-Up visa is a type of worker visa under the UK’s points-based immigration system. It is aimed at attracting highly skilled people to work in the UK for high growth companies.

This visa route allows companies experiencing rapid growth (i.e. in the scale-up phase) to hire the best skilled labour from around the world via a simplified visa application process. Uniquely, the rules allow

Scale-Up visa holders to leave their sponsored role after 6 months and switch to an unsponsored role.
In order to be eligible for a UK Scale-Up visa, one of the most important requirements is that applicants must have a job offer and a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) issued by a Home Office approved Sponsor who holds a Sponsor Licence to sponsor workers in the Scale-Up category.

What counts as a Scale-Up Business?

A business can register with the Home Office as a Scale-Up Sponsor via either the ‘standard pathway’ or the ‘endorsing body pathway’.

Under the standard pathway, the Home Office will assess the business’ employment growth and/or turnover growth, based on information submitted to HMRC. The business will need to have had an annualised growth of at least 20% for the previous 3-year period in terms of turnover or staffing and had a minimum of 10 employees at the start of this 3-year period.

The endorsing body pathway is for organisations that are unable to qualify under the standard pathway because their HMRC history is not long enough, but can demonstrate clear potential/ability to do so in the next 4 years. Under the endorsing body pathway, an approved endorsing body will confirm the business’ eligibility to apply for a Scale-Up Sponsor Licence.

The current list of endorsing bodies can be found here

What other requirements are there for this visa category?

Applicants must meet the following Scale-Up visa UK eligibility requirements:

  • have a job offer from an approved Scale-Up business lasting a period of at least 6 months
  • have a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) from their employer
  • have a job on the list of eligible occupations
  • meet the minimum salary requirements: £36,300 per year or the ‘going rate’ for the type of work
  • meet the English language requirements
  • have sufficient funds to support themselves

One of the unique features of the Scale-Up visa is that after the initial 6 month period in the UK, it is possible for the individual to switch to a different job or employer without sponsorship.

How long will an employee be able to remain on a Scale-Up visa and can it lead to them permanently remaining in the UK?

Individuals granted a Scale-Up visa on the Sponsored Application route will be granted entry clearance or permission to stay for a period of 2 years.  At the end of the 2-year grant of permission, they can make an unsponsored application for a period of a further 3 years.

After 5 years, provided they meet the eligibility requirements, Scale-Up visa holders can apply to settle permanently in the UK.

What other options are in place to recruit workers from overseas?

UK businesses can also source specialist skills by sponsoring non-settled workers on a Skilled Worker visa.

Whilst the Scale-Up visa and the Skilled Worker visa are both a form of work visa under the points-based immigration system which require the worker to have a skilled job offer and competency of the English language, there are some key differences between the two.

The biggest difference is that under the Scale-Up visa route, the individual only needs to be sponsored for a minimum period of 6 months (although you can sponsor them for longer). This has pros and cons – it means your new recruit will not be tied into your business by virtue of their visa unlike on the Skilled Worker route (where they have to be sponsored for the duration of their employment), but it does mean lower sponsorship fees.

Another key difference between the two visas is that the minimum salary requirement for the Scale-Up visa is lower at £36,300 compared to the Skilled Worker Visa where for many roles the minimum salary is £38,700.

There is arguably more flexibility with the Scale-Up visa route and it can be the less expensive option overall for scale-up businesses. However, if your business is more interested in the long-term recruitment of individuals, wider options of roles in which you can sponsor overseas workers, and a lower skill level  requirement, the Skilled Worker route may be more appropriate. 

See our separate Q&A on Skilled Worker visas and Sponsor Licenses for further information on these.

Our team of specialist Immigration and Employment solicitors are ready to help guide you through the process of engaging overseas talent.  We work closely with organisations to understand their requirements and advise on the best route to bringing individuals into the UK.

For more information on this article, please contact Kirsty Cooke or Laura Wonnacott.

Scaling businesses can also find helpful resources, templates, guides and FAQs on our Business Scale-up Hub.

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