Updated 23 September 2022
The UK’s much hyped flexible new immigration route launches on 22 August 2022. Former Chancellor of the Exchequer and Prime Ministerial hopeful Rishi Sunak has insisted that the Scale-up visa is at the centre of a “plan to make our visa system for international talent the most competitive in the world.”
So what do we know about this new option for fast-growing businesses who need to recruit talent from around the world?
Why has the Scale-up visa being launched?
The UK Government is bringing in a raft of measures as part of its plan to make the UK a global innovation hub by 2035 and for many firms they can’t come soon enough. As Britain’s record amount of job vacancies make headlines, so do the record amount of people in employment, partly fuelled by a record number of work visas – as you would expect following the end of free movement with the EU.
Scale-ups rely heavily on international talent. For 21% of scale-ups surveyed in the Scaleup Institute 2021 annual review, a quarter or more of staff had come from outside the UK, so it’s no surprise that 45% of scale-ups employing staff from overseas insist it would be “very important or vital” to have access to a fast track visa for hiring overseas.
This new route has been set up to facilitate “employers who are in a sustained period of high growth to recruit people to work in the UK in highly skilled roles.”
How can firms qualify to sponsor staff on a Scale-up visa?
To be eligible for a Scale-up sponsor licence an employer will need to show annualised growth in either turnover or staffing of at least 20% for the previous three-year period and that they had a minimum of 10 employees at the start of the period.
The Home Office will use an employer’s PAYE data from the HMRC to determine if they meet these requirements. Potential sponsors should have a minimum of 37 months’ worth of unbroken history with HMRC. If you do not meet the employment growth criteria, the Home Office will check whether you meet the turnover growth criteria. If there are gaps in an applicant’s HMRC records, the check is likely to fail.
They will then be able to apply for a Scale-up sponsor licence and the valid Certificate of Sponsorship that a migrant staff member would need to work for them in the UK on a Scale-up visa.
How long does a Scale-up sponsor licence take?
The process largely depends on the Home Office checking applicants’ HMRC records and requires less documentation than other sponsor licence applications, suggesting it should be expedited much quicker. There is no telling by when, but the Home Office is aiming to be able to process Scale-up applications within five working days – much swifter than the current eight-week target for other sponsor licences.
Who can you sponsor on a visa as a Scale-up Worker?
As with sponsoring employees on other work visa routes, it must be a genuine vacancy that someone you are hiring as a Scale-up Worker would be filling.
What is the skill level for a Scale-up visa?
The vacancy must be for someone at an appropriate skill level – a minimum skill level of RQF Level 6. This is the same as most Global Business Mobility visa requirements, but higher than the RQF Level 3 skill level requirement for the most popular work visa route, that of the Skilled Worker visa.
What jobs can employees on a Scale-up visa fill?
A list of occupations with a qualifying Standard Occupational Classification ( or SOC code) for a Scale-up visa can now be found on the UK Home Office’s Appendix Skilled Occupations list. The more highly skilled RQF Level 6 roles are marked “eligible for GBM and SCU” (Global Business Mobility visa and Scale-up).
What is the salary requirement for a Scale-up visa?
The salary threshold for a Scale-up Worker position is a minimum £33,000 per annum (higher than for those employed on a Skilled Worker visa which is currently at least £25,600). The salary should be the going rate for the sponsored job and at least £10.10 per hour. As with Skilled Worker visas, the minimum salary requirements only include guaranteed basic gross pay, not allowances or other benefits.
What are the financial eligibility requirements for a Scale-up visa?
Unless they have lived in the UK for 12 months, Scale-up Workers will also need to meet the financial requirement: holding funds of at least £1,270 for 28 days or for this requirement being certified by an A-rated sponsor.
What are the English language requirements for a Scale-up visa?
In addition to the financial, earnings and skills thresholds for employees sponsored on a Scale-up visa, they will have an English language requirement of CEFR level B1.
How are Scale-up visas different from other sponsored work visas?
The main difference between the Scale-up visa and other sponsored corporate immigration routes is that it will have sponsored and unsponsored applications. The first sponsored stage will give Scale-up Workers permission to stay in the UK for two years and requires a job offer from a Scale-up sponsor of a minimum of just six months.
In the second unsponsored stage of up to three years, Scale-up Workers no longer require sponsorship, as long as previous UK PAYE earnings were at least £33,000 per annum during at least 50% of their initial permission to stay on a Scale-up visa. Qualifying earnings must have been recorded through PAYE and cannot come from other sources, such as self-employment or overseas income. However, if an applicant was on statutory maternity, paternity, parental or shared parental leave, statutory adoption leave or sick leave during the relevant period, this will all count towards meeting the threshold for the duration of that leave. (Though there is no mention of industrial action in the rules.) As with initial applications and the Skilled Worker category, only gross basic pay will be taken into account.
So for example, if applying for the unsponsored stage after two years under the Scale-up visa, a migrant would show that they had sufficient PAYE earnings for at least 12 months during those initial two years. This is in addition to a Scale-up Worker’s English language and finance requirements, which at this stage are likely to be met automatically.
At the end of the initial two-year period, a Scale-up Worker would apply for an extension of permission (as an unsponsored Scale-up Worker). If successful, they will be granted permission for a further three years. There is no limit on the number of times a person can be granted on the Scale-up route.
How long will employers have to sponsor Scale-up Workers for?
Employers will only need be sponsoring a Scale-up Worker for the first six months of their employment. (Unless a scale-up stops sponsoring them for any reason before that period ends). At the end of the six-month period of sponsorship, sponsors need not do anything – their sponsorship responsibility for that worker will automatically end at this point.
The Scale-up Worker can continue working for their employer in the same or different employment, or they can change employer, without needing to make a new application for permission, provided they continue to meet the requirements detailed above.
What are the employer benefits of a Scale-up visa?
The Scale-up visa is intended to make it easier for eligible UK Scale-up sponsors to recruit talent with the skills to help them to continue scaling up. Announced as a fast-track immigration route, the Scale-up visa complements other work immigration routes such as the Skilled Worker visa and the new Global Business Mobility routes.
Unlike some of these other business immigration routes though, the Scale-up visa has no Immigration Skills Charge – which is payable on every year a staff member is sponsored. The sponsor licence application is cheaper than many of the other categories too.
This new work visa also provides flexibility – attractive for both employers and talent coming to the UK, as for instance, unlike other sponsored work visa routes, a sponsoring employer need only confirm that an applicant is expected to work for them for at least the first six months of their visa.
While removing a skills charge and the short period of sponsorship responsibilities will help reduce costs and admin for firms, it will also be interesting to see how streamlined the process of applying for a sponsor licence will be, as well as the administrative burdens of maintaining a licence.
What are the benefits of a Scale-up visa for applicants?
For migrants, the attractiveness of the Scale-up visa is that although they need to work for a sponsor for at least six months, they can also carry out other work at the same time and after their sponsored role ends, including self-employment.
However, it is important to note that only PAYE income will count towards the qualifying earnings for their next application.
Unique to this flexible five-year immigration route to settlement, Scale-up Workers will be able to switch to different sponsored roles in the first six months, and after at least six months in sponsored work, Scale-up Workers will be free to move jobs without a further visa application. They will be able to undertake any work (including self-employment and voluntary work) except for work as a professional sportsperson or coach.
Can people in the UK on another visa switch to a Scale-up visa?
People in the UK on another immigration route can change to the Scale-up route if they meet all the relevant immigration requirements and were not last granted permission:
- as a Visitor
- as a Short-term student
- as a Parent of a Child Student
- as a Seasonal Worker
- as a Domestic Worker in a Private Household
- outside the Immigration Rules
If a worker you wish to sponsor is in the UK on any of the above routes, they will need to leave the UK and apply for entry clearance as a Scale-up Worker.
How will the Scale-up visa be a route to settlement in the UK?
After five years continuous qualifying residence, Scale-up Workers can apply for indefinite leave to remain in the UK. The continuous residence period can also include time spent in the Skilled Worker, Global Talent, Innovator, T2 Minister of Religion, International Sportsperson, Representative of an Overseas Business or Tier 1 categories (excluding Graduate Entrepreneur).
To be eligible for settlement, the applicant would have to be in employment in the UK on the date of application with a PAYE salary paid of at least £33,000 per year. They would also need to demonstrate monthly PAYE earnings in the UK equivalent to at least £33,000 per year during at least 24 months of the three years immediately before the date of application.
If someone on a Start-up visa is in the unsponsored stage of their visa, they can apply for settlement as long as they meet the earning and residence requirements detailed above and any other applicable requirements, such as passing the Life in the UK test.
Can family join people on the Scale-up visa and settle too?
Dependent partners and dependent children are able to apply to accompany or join migrants on a Scale-up visa.
Relationship, age and care requirements apply as in similar categories such as Skilled Worker, as does the financial requirement where the dependent applying has not been living in the UK for at least 12 months (£285 for a dependent partner, £315 for the first dependent child and £200 for each additional dependent child).
The sponsor of a Scale-up Worker can only certify the financial requirement for dependants if the date of application is at least one month before the end of the minimum six months that the Scale-up Worker must work for the sponsor.
Dependants will be granted the same amount of permission to stay as the Scale-up Worker, or for three years if the Scale-up Worker has been (or is being) granted settlement.
To qualify for settlement, dependent partners must complete a continuous period of five years in the UK with permission as a partner of the Scale-up Worker (or former Scale-up Worker, if applicable).
Dependent children can apply for settlement if both parents have been /are being granted settlement or sole responsibility rules apply.
More information on the other UK work visa options can be found here.
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