The scale-up visa route is now open. It's a new visa route, which opened 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; and
  • 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 scale-ups 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 three-year period in terms of turnover or employees; and
  • had a minimum of ten employees at the start of this three-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 five-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 two years. Individuals can also bring certain dependants with them to the UK.

Those with scale-Up visas must work in the qualifying role they are sponsored to do for their sponsor for a minimum of six months. After this initial six-month period, they can 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 three years.

This means that employers could incur the costs and effort of sponsoring someone who may then leave their organisation within six 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 five years of residence, 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 three-year period immediately prior to their application for settlement, as well as meeting the standard settlement requirements including five years’ continuous residence.

What are the benefits?

While only certain UK scale-ups 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 six 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.

More information

You can find out more information about this visa route on the UK Government's scale up visa guidance page.

Also, if you would like to find out more information on this new visa route, or have any other immigration law queries, please contact Elaine McIlroy or Erin McLafferty.