Understanding scale-up visas for fast growing businesses

As part of the UK’s Innovation Strategy the Government has promised a number of new visa routes in 2022 to attract top global talent to the UK. One of these new visa routes is the so-called ‘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 new visa route, which will be launching in Spring 2022, will allow 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.

What counts as a Scale-Up Business?

This has not yet been fully confirmed. However, current indications are that a ‘Scale-Up business’ is a business that:

  • has expanded at 20% or more per year in either revenue or employee count over the past 3 years;
  • is still growing; and
  • has at least 10 employees at the start of the 3 year period.

What other requirements are there for this visa category?

Details about this visa route remain scant and the qualifying criteria has not yet been published. However, what we do know is that the individual you wish to hire under the Scale-Up route will need to show competency of the English language (this can be demonstrated by them having a degree taught in English or by taking an approved English language test) and have a job offer for a skilled position within a Scale-Up business with a salary of at least £33,000.

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 who successfully obtain a Scale-Up visa will be able to extend the visa to a maximum period of five years and the visa will count towards achieving permanent settlement in the UK after five years’ residence.

What system is currently in place to recruit workers from overseas and how will the Scale-Up visa be different?

UK businesses are already able to recruit talent and source specialist skills from overseas by sponsoring 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 to be eligible for the Scale-Up visa, the job offer held by the worker does not have to come from a UK employer who has been pre-approved by the Home Office as a Licenced Sponsor of migrant workers; sponsorship is not needed under the Scale-Up route, just a skilled job offer.

Another key difference between the two visas is that the minimum salary requirement for the Scale-Up visa is higher at £33,000 compared to the Skilled Worker Visa where for many roles the minimum salary is £25,600.

Despite the higher minimum salary requirement, the Scale-Up visa route is still likely to be preferable to the Skilled Worker sponsorship route for eligible businesses, as this “fast-track” route will not require the time, expense and responsibility of obtaining a Sponsor Licence.  

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

What if my business needs to hire an overseas worker before the Scale-Up visa is introduced or if my business does not quite meet the test for a ‘Scale-Up’?

If you are struggling to fill skills gaps with UK settled workers, you may still be able to employ a migrant worker. The Skilled Worker visa route is currently open and replaced Tier 2 visas in January 2021.

Under the Skilled Worker route, your business will first need to obtain a Sponsor Licence from the Home Office. A Sponsor Licence grants permission to a UK employer to sponsor EU and non-EEA skilled workers. Once the Sponsor Licence is in place, the worker would need to apply for a Skilled Worker visa as part of which they will need to meet a points based test which is based on them meeting specific requirements such as skill and salary level, English language ability and having a qualifying job offer from a UK sponsor.

We will be keeping an eye out for more detailed guidance on what the Scale-Up visa will entail, likely to be released in early spring 2022, so check back here for updates.

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, please contact Kirsty Cooke or Laura Wonnacott.

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