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Scale-up visas: how employers can hire international talent

16 March 2022

Hailed as “the biggest visa improvement in a generation,” by the Coalition for a Digital Economy, Chancellor Rishi Sunak used his last Budget speech to herald a “plan to make our visa system for international talent the most competitive in the world” with the new Scale-up visa at the centre of the Government’s UK Innovation Strategy.

This week, the Home Office has detailed how the new Scale-up visa will work, so employers can get an idea if it will live up to the hype when launched this summer, making it easier to bring the world’s top talent to Britain’s flourishing scale-up sector.

The substantial new 202 page Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules presented to Parliament on 15 March 2022 implements the next stage of hotly anticipated changes to the UK’s post-Brexit immigration system. New work routes include the Government’s flagship Scale-up visa, Global Business Mobility and High Potential Individual.

The latest immigration statistics released this month show skilled work, which accounts for 63% of work-related visas granted, saw the largest growth in visa numbers between 2021 and 2019 – an increase of 37,551 or 33%. The 239,987 work-related visas granted in 2021 is a 110% increase on pandemic-blighted 2020 and 25% higher than in 2019. With no more free movement with the EU, there has been and increasing need for quick and easy ways for employers to tap up talent from around the world.  So is the Scale-up visa just the sort of post-Brexit immigration development we need?

Flexibility for applicants and employers

With applications open from 22 August 2022, the Scale-up route is intended to facilitate UK Scale-up sponsors in recruiting talented individuals with the skillset to enable the Scale-up businesses to continue growing. Dependent partners and children will be able to join applicants on a five-year route to settlement in the UK.

Scale-up visas are intended to complement the other sponsored work immigration routes like Skilled Worker and the new Global Business Mobility routes. Unlike these others though, the Scale-up visa has no Immigration Skills Charge.

To qualify as a Scale-up, a sponsor would 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.

Much of the flexibility of this new route is that unlike other immigration 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.

Scale-up visas will have sponsored and unsponsored stages

The Scale-up visa involves two stages. 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 up to at least six months. Sponsorship, skill level, salary, as well as English language and a financial are all requirements similar to other sponsored routes.