Introduced on the 22 August 2022, the new scale-up immigration route has been designed to assist fast-growing UK businesses seeking to attract top talent from abroad. The new route is envisioned as a flexible "fast-track" for sponsors and highly skilled migrants alike.
Put simply, a scale-up business is a fast-growing company. To be eligible to sponsor a worker under this route, a business must have had an annualised growth of at least 20%, in either employment or total sales, in the immediate three year period prior to the business being approved by the Home Office to sponsor scale-up workers. The business must also have had at least 10 employees at the beginning of this three year period. The Home Office will access the company’s PAYE and VAT return information submitted to HMRC to assess whether the company meets this definition.
To sponsor workers using this route, businesses will need to hold a scale-up sponsor licence. Businesses who already hold a Skilled Worker or Global Business Mobility: Senior or Specialist Worker sponsor licence will need to add a scale-up limb to their licence.
A scale-up sponsor licence is granted for four years and cannot be renewed or extended.
Applications under the scale-up route may be made from inside and outside of the UK, depending on the individual’s circumstances and their current immigration status. Permission is initially granted for a two year period, of which only six months must be sponsored by the individual’s employer.
In order for the individual to apply as a sponsored scale-up worker, the employer must first assign a Certificate of Sponsorship to the individual. Applicants must have a confirmed job offer from an approved scale-up business for a period of at least six months. The business must be an A-rated sponsor, and the role must be both a graduate skill level (RQF Level 6) role and be on the list of eligible occupations. The salary paid to the sponsored worker must be the highest of £33,000 per year, £10.10 an hour, or the particular "going rate" for the relevant role.
Under this immigration category, workers are entitled to study, bring certain dependants, and take on additional work such as self-employment or voluntary work. After six months, they may also leave their sponsored job without informing the Home Office and remain in the UK. They may not, however, apply for public funds or work as professional sportsperson.
Those who already have permission as a scale-up worker may then apply to extend their stay for a further three years. This can be unsponsored, on the condition that the worker has completed the required six month employment with their initial sponsor.
In order to apply for an extension, an unsponsored scale-up worker must have PAYE earnings in the UK that are equivalent to at least £33,000 per year. Importantly, self-employed income, overseas income, or savings cannot be used to satisfy this requirement. While a yearly average will not be accepted in lieu of sufficient monthly earnings, there are some periods, such as parental leave and sick leave when the Scale up worker is treated as having met the earnings test.
The standard requirements, such as those concerning English language, financial maintenance, TB screening, and payment of the Immigration Health Surcharge remain applicable to the scale-up route.
The scale-up route also offers a path to settlement. Under this route, migrants are entitled to consolidate their time spent in the UK on other eligible work visas (most notably the Skilled Worker visa) to meet the five year residency requirement.
While the scale-up route does have some advantages for sponsors, most notably no Immigration Skills Surcharge and reduced sponsored worker administration after the first six months, the fact that migrants have increased flexibility to change employer under this route has raised some significant concerns regarding employee retention.
Sponsors will also have to remain vigilant when it comes to an unsponsored scale-up worker’s salary, as a scale-up worker’s ability to extend their immigration permission and carry on working for their employer under this route will be impacted if the salary requirements are not met.
Further, given skill and salary thresholds are higher than those for the Skilled Worker visa, it is yet to be seen whether becoming a sponsor under this route will offer substantial enough benefits to justify its complex requirements and limited applicability.