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Scale-up Visa Open for High-Growth Companies

High-growth companies that need to employ talented individuals now have a new immigration route open to them.  The Scale-up visa route, which opens today, allows employers that have secured a Scale-up sponsor licence to recruit the highly skilled individuals that they need to enable their business to continue growing. 

If you are an employer considering the Scale-up Worker route as part of your overall recruitment strategy, read on to find answers to some of the most frequently asked questions regarding this new immigration route (and some other options to consider). 

Why Should My Business Consider the Scale-up Visa Route?

In comparison to the Skilled Worker route and the Global Business Mobility Senior or Specialist Worker route, the Scale-up visa offers businesses a more flexible work visa.  

Unlike other sponsored routes, employers sponsoring workers under the Scale-up route need only confirm that an applicant will work for them for at least the initial six months of their visa.  After this period, the immigration status of Scale-up visa holders is not tied to their sponsoring employer.  This means that Scale-up workers can undertake additional or alternative work (including employment, self-employment and voluntary work) without being sponsored.

Scale-up workers also have the flexibility to remain without sponsorship after 2 years based on previous PAYE earnings, settle in the UK after 5 years and be joined or accompanied by a dependent partner and dependent children.

Scale-up sponsors are also not required to pay the Immigration Skills Charge. 

This flexibility should enable UK businesses to compete more effectively for the internationally sought-after and highly skilled workers they need.

Is My Business Eligible for a Scale-up Sponsor Licence? 

The Scale-up visa route is open to existing UK businesses that hold a Scale-up sponsor licence issued by the Home Office.

Businesses will be eligible for a Scale-up sponsor licence if they meet the published definition of a scale-up, which can be verified through checks with HMRC.

Qualifying scale-up businesses must be VAT-registered, and should have:

  • an annual average revenue or employment growth rate over a 3-year period greater than 20%; and
  • a minimum of 10 employees at the start of the 3-year period.

Once your business has been authorised by the Home Office as an A-rated Scale-up sponsor, you will be able to assign a Certificate of Sponsorship.  A Certificate of Sponsorship (‘CoS’) is an electronic certificate which must be assigned for each migrant worker who wishes to apply for a Scale-up visa.

To discuss your Scale-up sponsor licence application with one of our immigration barristers, contact our business immigration team on 0203 617 9173 or complete our enquiry form below.

What Are the Requirements for a Scale-up Visa for an Employee?

In addition to having a valid Certificate of Sponsorship from an A-rated Scale-up sponsor, Scale-up visa applicants must also satisfy skill level, salary, English language and financial requirements. 

Scale-up Visa Skill Level Requirement

The job you offer will need to be a graduate level role (skilled to at least RQF level 6).  

This is higher than the Skilled Worker route, where the role must be skilled to at least RQF level 3 (roughly equivalent to A-levels), but the same as the skill level under the Global Business Mobility Senior or Specialist Worker route.

Eligible occupations are listed in Appendix Skilled Occupations of the Immigration Rules.  

As with other sponsored routes, Scale-up visa applicants will need to satisfy the Home Office that they are being sponsored to fill a genuine vacancy.

Scale-up Visa Salary Requirement

The salary that you intend to pay the Scale-up worker must equal or exceed £33,000 per year (which is higher than the £25,600 per year general salary threshold under the Skilled Worker route), the ‘going rate’ for the job and £10.58 per hour.

The applicable ‘going rate’ for each eligible Scale-up Visa occupation is set out in Appendix Skilled Occupations

The assessment of salary is based on guaranteed basic gross pay (up to 48 hours per week) and cannot include any other pay or benefits.

Scale-up Visa English Language Requirement

The Scale-up visa applicant will need to demonstrate English language ability on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages in all 4 components (reading, writing, speaking and listening) to at least level B1 (intermediate).

Scale-up Visa Financial Requirement

The Scale-up visa applicant will also need to have cash funds of at least £1,270 available, held for at least 28 consecutive days ending not more than 31 days before the date of their Scale-up visa application. This requirement will be met if you, as the sponsoring employer, are willing to certify that you will meet the applicant’s maintenance costs up to the end of their first month of employment.

To discuss a Scale-up Visa application for a prospective employee, contact our business immigration barristers on 0203 617 9173 or complete our enquiry form below.

What Are the Processing Times for a Scale-up Sponsor Licence Application / Scale-up Visa Application?

Sponsor licence applications typically take up to 8 weeks to be decided by the Home Office. There is a priority service which costs £500.00, and will return a decision within 10 working days.

Scale-up visa applications are normally decided within 3 weeks for those outside the UK, or within 8 weeks for those inside the UK.

What Are the Requirements for a Scale-up Worker to Extend Their Stay in the UK?

Sponsored Scale-up workers are granted entry clearance or permission to stay for a period of 2 years initially.  Before their leave expires they will be able to apply to extend their stay on the Scale-up route for a further 3 years.

Uniquely, Scale-up workers can extend their stay without needing to be sponsored. Instead, they are required to demonstrate PAYE earnings in the UK equivalent to at least £33,000 per year during at least 50% of their most recent grant of permission as a Scale-up Worker.

The Home Office will consider guaranteed basic gross pay, recorded through UK-based PAYE.  Other sources of income (including earnings from self-employment and earnings from outside the UK) will not be considered. 

However, if the Scale-up worker was absent from work in a job with PAYE earnings of at least £33,000 per year due to statutory maternity leave, paternity leave, parental leave, shared parental leave, statutory adoption leave or sick leave then these periods of absence will be treated as periods during which they were paid the equivalent of at least £33,000 per year.

There is also an English language requirement, but since the required level of proficiency is the same as for an initial sponsored Scale-up visa application, this requirement is likely to be automatically met.

What Are the Requirements for a Scale-up Worker to Settle in the UK?

In order to qualify for indefinite leave to remain as a Scale-up Worker, your employee will need to satisfy UK Visas and Immigration that they have spent a continuous period of 5 years in the UK with permission in any of the following routes (alone or in combination): Scale-up, Skilled Worker, Global Talent, Innovator, T2 Minister of Religion, International Sportsperson, Representative of an Overseas Business or as a Tier 1 Migrant, other than as a Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur).

They will also need to be in employment in the UK on the date of application with a salary paid through PAYE of at least £33,000 per year and have had monthly PAYE earnings in the UK equivalent to at least £33,000 per year during at least 24 months of the last 3 years immediately before the date of application.

The Home Office will consider guaranteed basic gross pay, recorded through UK-based PAYE.  Other sources of income (including earnings from self-employment and earnings from outside the UK) will not be considered. 

Scale–up visa applicants applying for indefinite leave to remain also need to pass the Knowledge of Life in the UK test (unless an exemption applies).

What Other Immigration Routes Should A Business Consider?

The Scale-up route is only one of several UK business immigration routes. Employers seeking to recruit global talent to work in the UK and businesses looking to set-up or expand in the UK may wish to consider a range of alternative business immigration routes:

  • Innovator visa – For individuals and founding teams setting up and running an innovative business in the UK.  Applicants must have an approved business idea that is ‘different to anything on the market’ and endorsed by an endorsing body;
  • Start-up visa – For those setting up an innovative business for the first time.  The business must be a new idea and applicants must be endorsed by a UK Higher Education Institution or business organisation;
  • Skilled worker visa – For employers to recruit people to work in the UK in a specific job. A Skilled Worker must have a job offer in an eligible skilled occupation from a Home Office-approved sponsor;
  • Global talent visa – An unsponsored route for talented and promising applicants within the fields of science, engineering, medicine, humanities, digital technology and arts and culture (including film and television, fashion design and architecture);
  • Global Business Mobility visa – A sponsored route for overseas businesses to temporarily send employees to the UK for a specific corporate purpose that could not be done by a resident worker.  There are 5 routes available on the Global Business Mobility route;
  • High Potential Individual visa – An unsponsored route for high potential international graduates of top global universities. Eligible applicants will have a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, or PhD, awarded by an institution on the Home Office Global Universities List.

Contact our Immigration Barristers 

For expert advice and assistance regarding an application for a Scale-up sponsor licence, an application for a Scale-up visa for a worker or an application under an alternative business immigration route, contact our immigration barristers in London on 0203 617 9173 or complete our enquiry form below.


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