This is the final blog post regarding the new visa routes being introduced by the Home Office so make sure to read the previous ones so that you don’t miss out on any crucial information.
The final route coming into effect from the 22nd of August is the Scale-Up route. It will enable scale-up businesses to sponsor skilled workers for six months, while giving those workers flexibility to change employer after that period and to settle in the UK after five years’ residence. It is intended to be a ‘fast-track’ route, however further details are awaited on how this will be achieved operationally.
To be recognised as a sponsor under this route, a scale-up business will need to show annualised turnover or staffing growth of at least 20% for the last three years before their application. They also must have had at least ten employees at the start of the three-year period. The Home Office is also considering allowing other criteria for recognition in the future.
A sponsored application is required initially, and for individuals who are making a further application under the route where they have not been employed as a Scale-Up worker by a sponsor for at least six months. An applicant making a sponsored application must have a valid certificate of sponsorship from an A-rated sponsor. They must also have a genuine offer of employment for at least six months, in an occupation skilled to graduate level and listed in Appendix Skilled Occupations as approved under the Scale-Up route.
An applicant can also make an unsponsored application if they have completed at least six months employment with their sponsor in a previous permission on the Scale-up route. If the applicant is applying for entry clearance, their permission on the route must have expired less than six months before the date of application. In an unsponsored application, an applicant must show monthly PAYE basic salary earnings in the UK equivalent to at least £33,000 per year during at least 50 percent of their permission on the Scale-Up route.
Like the High-Potential Individual route I discussed in the previous post, it will be possible for applications to be made either from abroad or from within the UK, provided the applicant is not in the UK as a visitor with other limited (mostly short-term) immigration statuses. Immigration permission will be granted for two years to those who made a sponsored application, and for three years to those who made an unsponsored one. Sponsored Scale-Up migrants must be employed in their sponsored job for the first six months of their permission. Otherwise, they are allowed to be employed or self-employed in any capacity other than as a professional sportsperson or sports coach.
Settlement will be possible under the Scale-Up route once an applicant has spent at least five continuous years in the UK on the route or in combination other routes. At the time of the settlement application, an applicant must be in employment with a PAYE salary of at least £33,000 per year. They must also demonstrate monthly PAYE earnings in the UK equivalent to at least £33,000 per year during at least 24 months of the three years immediately before the date of application. An applicant for settlement must also pass the usual Knowledge of Life in the UK requirement.
Eligible scale-up businesses will need to assess whether becoming a sponsor under this route offers significant enough benefits in comparison to holding a Skilled Worker sponsor licence. On the plus side, no Immigration Skills Charge will be payable under the route. Also, if enough scale-up businesses opt to become sponsors, this will introduce a comparatively mobile cohort of skilled workers into the UK economy, who are likely to be able to command salaries substantially above the basic salary requirement. On the minus side, the skill and salary thresholds under the Scale-up route are higher than for Skilled Worker, and sponsored applicants are only incentivised from an immigration perspective to remain with the sponsor for six months.
Non-sponsoring employers can employ Scale-Up workers at any skill or salary level. However, the worker’s ability to extend their immigration permission may be affected if they are not paid monthly, and do not earn the equivalent of £33,000 under PAYE per year in aggregate, as required. Employers may need to consider formulating a policy on what enquiries they consider it appropriate to make to a Scale-Up worker about their ongoing eligibility under the route. In requiring a minimum level of PAYE earnings, the Home Office may be seeking to minimise the risk that participants in the route will become employed in unskilled occupations and that their earnings may be fraudulently reported. These things were a problem under the previous Tier 1 (General) category and contributed to its discontinuation. The extent to which entrepreneurial migrants will seek to set up and be employed by their own businesses remains to be seen.
Tahir Shahab Khan
Managing Director of Law Lane Solicitors