On 15 March 2022, the UK Government announced details of the new High Potential Individual and Scale-up visa routes, including when they are expected to open. These routes will be welcome news for UK businesses, who will have more options to recruit and retain overseas talent to work for their organisations.

What is the High Potential Individual ('HPI') visa?

On 30 May 2022, the HPI visa route will open to individuals who have graduated from a qualifying top overseas university within the last 5 years. A list of qualifying universities will be published in due course and reviewed annually. To qualify a non-UK university must appear on at least two of the following University rankings:

  • Times Higher Education World University Rankings;
  • Quacquarelli Symonds World University Rankings;
  • The Academic Ranking of World Universities.

This route will not be sponsored and there will be no minimum salary or skills requirements so the person can work in any role. Employers may utilise this route to employ qualifying overseas graduates in the UK as an alternative to the Skilled Worker route. In some cases, this may be a more flexible option for employers.

Which individuals will qualify for the route?

To qualify for the route, individuals must:

  • have either a bachelors or post graduate degree from qualifying top overseas university (which meets, or exceeds, the recognised standard of a UK bachelors or post-graduate degree) awarded in the 5 years immediately before the application date.
  • meet English language and financial/maintenance requirements.

How long does the visa last?

Like the Graduate Route visa, HPI visas will be granted for most individuals for a period of 2 years, or 3 years for those with a PhD. This is not a route to settlement in the UK, but individuals can bring certain dependants with them and switch from the HPI visa from inside the UK to other more permanent visa routes if they qualify.

What are the benefits for employers?

As there are no minimum salary or skills requirements for roles that those with a HPI visa can do, employers may utilise this to employ qualifying overseas graduates in the UK as an alternative to the Skilled Worker route.

What is the Scale-up visa?

The scale-up route will open on 22 August 2022 to allow certain individuals with job offers from qualifying UK scale-ups to qualify for an alternative, fast-track visa.

Which individuals will qualify for the route?

To qualify, individuals must:

  • have a job offer which is skilled to graduate level or above (which is higher than the Skilled Worker skill level) from an authorised UK scale-up company
  • be paid £33,000 per year or the going rate for the job, whichever is higher
  • meet English language and financial/maintenance requirements.

What do employers need to do to utilise the route?

This is a sponsored route and qualifying UK start-up's will need to apply for a sponsor licence in advance. Qualifying scale-ups must:

  • have an annualised growth of at least 20% for the previous 3-year period in terms of turnover or employees; and
  • had a minimum of 10 employees at the start of this 3-year period.

Once this has been completed, a certificate of sponsorship will then need to be issued to those they wish to sponsor.

There will be no immigration skills charge payable - a considerable cost saving compared with the Skilled Worker route (where such costs can run to £5,000 for a 5-year visa).

How long does the visa last?

Qualifying individuals will be granted a visa to work in the UK for an initial period of 2 years. Individuals can also bring certain dependants with them to the UK.

Those with Scale-Up visa will be required to work in the qualifying role they are sponsored to do for their sponsor for a minimum of 6 months. After this initial six-month period, they are able to work for any employer in the UK at any skill or salary level. However, to extend their permission to stay individuals must have PAYE earnings of at least £33,000 per year for at least 50% of their time in the route. Extensions will be granted for 3 years.

This means that employers could incur the costs and effort of sponsoring someone who may then leave their organisation within 6 months. Employers may wish to consider how to incentivise recruits to stay within them as a result.

Can employees settle in the UK under the Scale-up route?

After 5 years of residence in the UK, it may be possible for the individual to settle in the UK. However, to do so, individuals will need to have PAYE earnings of at least £33,000 in 24 months of the 3-year period immediately prior to their application for settlement, as well as meeting the standard settlement requirements including 5 years’ continuous residence.

What are the benefits?

While only certain UK Scale-up's will be eligible to issue certificates of sponsorship to bring qualifying individuals to the UK under this route, it will be possible for any UK employer to employ someone with a Scale-up visa after they have been with their sponsor for 6 months. In practice, it is likely that those with this visa will want to continue working in roles which attract a salary of at least £33,000 per year to ensure that their ability to extend and remain in the UK in the longer term is secure.

Global Business Mobility visa

You can also read our blog on the new Global Business Mobility visa here.

More information

We are waiting for further policy information on these new routes, however for now, further details on the changes to the rules can be found in the Statement of Changes and Explanatory Memorandum.

For more information on any of the issues discussed in this blog, please contact Elaine McIlroy or Erin McLafferty.