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Vanessa Ganguin writes for Business Leader

Hiring global talent is streamlined with the new Scale-up visa – who will it help?

Business Leader

12 September 2022

A new work visa has been launched to help the UK scale-up sector hire talent from around the world with greater ease and flexibility.

High-growth UK firms need only sponsor highly skilled workers for just six months on the new Scale-up visa. For many scale-ups I work with, this will offer a cheaper, more flexible addition to immigration options for hiring the staff such as engineers, architects or programmers they need to keep growing.

Or as Migration minister Kevin Foster said: “By supporting our high-growth tech, financial services and small businesses, we are ensuring the UK remains a global hub for emerging technologies and innovation while enhancing productivity across the economy.”

Why has the Government launched this new work immigration route?

As Kevin Foster alluded to, the government has floated a raft of measures to make the UK a global innovation hub by 2035. When it comes to immigration reforms, the Scale-up visa can’t come soon enough. Record job vacancies have been grabbing headlines all year. A record amount of people in employment has also been swelled by a record number of work visas – as you would expect following the end of free movement with the EU.

Britain’s high-growth firms 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 abroad, so it’s no surprise that 45% of scale-ups employing migrants insisted it would be “very important or vital” to have access to a fast track visa for hiring overseas.

Irene Graham OBE, CEO of the ScaleUp Institute welcomed the launch of the Scale-up visa: “Scaleups add over £1 trillion a year and more than three million jobs to the UK economy, and are present in every community, hiring people from at home and abroad, as they drive growth into their local areas and beyond,” she said.

“The visa should help with the skills demands. We look forward to continuing to work with the government as this service evolves to ensure it fully addresses scaling business needs and works effectively.”

What is special about the new Scale-up visa?

The main difference between the Scale-up visa and other sponsored skilled work visas is that while the first stage of a Scale-up visa requires an employer to sponsor a Scale-up Worker for just six months, it allows them to stay in the UK for two years.

Though they should work for their sponsor for at least six months, they can also carry out other work at the same time and also after their sponsored role ends, including self-employment.

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, then 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.

After their initial two-year period, Scale-up Workers will be able to renew their visa for three years at a time, but without the bureaucratic burdens of having to be sponsored by an employer. After five years, they will be able to apply for settlement, along with dependent families who are allowed to join migrants on every stage of the Scale-up visa.

In the second unsponsored stage of their visa, Scale-up Workers no longer require sponsorship so long as previous UK PAYE earnings were at least £33,000 a year during at least 50% of their initial permission to stay on a Scale-up visa. These qualifying earnings must have been recorded through PAYE and cannot come from other sources, such as self-employment or overseas income.

Billed as a more flexible, fast-track immigration route with less admin, 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 requires no Immigration Skills Charge – hundreds of pounds payable for every year and for staff member sponsored. The Scale-up sponsor licence application is cheaper too and requires less documents than other similar work visa categories.

According to the Home Office guidance issued, however, a firm can only hold a Scale-up sponsor licence for up to four years.

Photograph (c) David Mark

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