In July, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport published its UK Digital Strategy, which sets out how the government plans to make the UK ‘the best place in the world to start and grow a technology business’.

The Strategy acknowledges the benefits that talent from overseas can bring to businesses, particularly in the tech sector, and outlines how the government is enabling the ‘best and brightest’ international talent to work in the UK through the Home Office suite of work visas, including the new Scale-up Visa route due to open on 22 August 2022.    

This new route should enable UK businesses to compete for the internationally sought-after and highly skilled workers they need, and help maintain the UK’s status as a leading international hub for emerging technologies.

Although the Scale-up route is not limited to tech companies, it is anticipated that businesses in this field will be some of the most frequent users given the abundance of fast-growing businesses in the sector.

How the Scale-up Visa works

The Visa offers a more flexible work visa in that, unlike other sponsored routes, the Scale-up route will only require individuals to be sponsored for the initial six months on the route.

The Visa offers both a Sponsored Application route and an Unsponsored Application route – the Unsponsored Application route is only available to applicants who have previously been granted permission to enter or remain as a Scale-up Worker; whereas to qualify via a sponsored application, a business will need to have applied for and obtained a sponsorship licence.

 To qualify for such a licence, and be able to apply for the Scale-up Visa for a prospective employee, an employer will need to demonstrate that they have had

  • an annualised growth of at last 20% for the previous three years period in terms of turnover or staffing. 
  • a minimum of 10 employees at the start of the three year period.
  • the salary for the post for which the applicant is to be sponsored must be equal to or exceed £33,0000 per annum – once the route opens, the Home Office will publish a list of going rates for eligible Scale-up Visa occupations.

Advantages of the Scale-up Visa

Whilst the Scale-up route intends to provide an opportunity for highly skilled individuals to join growing eligible businesses, it does retain some similarity with the Skilled Worker visa.

It remains to be seen whether the new route will be a beneficial alternative to the Skilled Worker route – but there are advantages, including:

  • The holder of a Scale-up Visa is only required to work for the initial sponsor for six months. Thereafter they will not be tied to their UK sponsor and will be free to work for another employer in an unsponsored role.
  • Employers are not obliged to apply for a sponsorship licence provided they meet the UK Scale-up sponsor requirements: therefore have the flexibility to recruit quickly and at a reduced cost.
  • The Scale-up Visa is extendable: a holder can change jobs & employers, allowing more flexibility
  • The Scale-up route will not require payment of the Immigration Skills Charge (which can amount to up to £1000 per year per employee) – thus representing a significant saving.
  • Applicants can apply for Indefinite leave to remain (permanent residence) based on five years spent in the UK under this route – something they are unable to do if here under the Global Business Mobility routes.  The main applicant as well as their family members will be eligible for ILR.

Given that foreign talent represents more than 40% of those employed in the UK fintech industry, for example, the Home Office have introduced this route to try to avoid a significant shortage in human capital within the tech sector generally.

It should therefore be substantially easier for companies to attract and retain high-skilled, globally mobile talent for qualifying businesses, and to avoid such businesses relocating to other locations where it may be easier to source that talent – something that is to be welcomed in the current climate.  


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