The Scale-up visa route allows high-growth businesses to sponsor workers in the UK for highly skilled roles. This route offers fast-growing organisations an easier and more business-friendly way to recruit highly talented migrants.

This article provides an overview and guidance on the Scale-up visa route for UK businesses and overseas workers.

What is the Scale-up route?

The Scale-up visa route is designed for a UK business with a valid Scale-up Sponsor Licence to recruit bright and talented migrant workers to enable the business to continue to grow.

What business qualifies for the Scale-up Sponsor Licence?

To meet the requirements for the Scale-up Licence, a UK business will need to demonstrate that they have:

  • an annualised growth of at least 20% for the previous 3-year period based on either employment (staff count) or turnover; and
  • had a minimum of 10 employees at the start of the relevant 3-year period.

Unlike other sponsor routes, a business applying for the Scale-up Licence is not normally required to submit supporting documents as the Home Office will directly check PAYE information and VAT returns submitted to HMRC to assess whether the requirements are met. This provides an easier and more streamlined route for businesses to recruit highly skilled migrant workers.

How long is the Scale-up Licence valid for?

The Scale-up sponsor licence is valid for 4 years. Importantly, unlike other work-sponsored routes, a business cannot renew the Scale-up licence beyond 4 years.

If your business requires skilled overseas workers after this period (or if you do not qualify for this route) you can apply to be licenced on another route, such as the Skilled Worker Sponsor route.

What happens after Scale-up Licence is granted?

Once the licence is granted, a Certificate of Sponsorship can be assigned to the migrant worker. The migrant worker will then need to make a Scale-up visa application.

Who can be sponsored on the Scale-up visa?

The worker must have a job offer for at least 6 months from a qualifying Scale-up sponsor in an occupation skilled to at least RQF 6 with a salary that is equal to or exceeds: £33,000 per year, £10.10 per hour and the full ‘going rate’ for the occupation code.

What are the requirements for the Scale-up visa?

To qualify for the Scale-up visa, the key requirements are that the applicant:

  • must be aged at least 18 or over on the date of application;
  • must have a valid Certificate of Sponsorship, issued by a licensed Scale-up Sponsor;
  • must be sponsored for a role that meets the genuineness requirement;
  • must prove they have English language skills at level B1 or above on the Common European Framework of Reference for languages in all 4 components (speaking, listening, reading and writing);
  • must meet the financial requirement; and
  • if they were previously an officially sponsored student, has the consent of that sponsor to make the application.

If the applicant makes a successful application as a sponsored Scale-up Worker, they will initially be granted a Scale-up visa for 2 years.

What happens after the initial 6 months of employment?

Although the visa will be granted for 2 years initially, businesses will only sponsor the worker for the first 6 months of their visa. Following this period, the employee can continue to work for the business without being sponsored or can leave their employment.

What happens at the end of the 2-year Scale-up visa?

At the end of the 2-year grant of permission, the worker can make an unsponsored application and be granted permission on the route for a further 3 years.

What is the unsponsored route and who can apply?

In order to qualify for the unsponsored route, the applicant must already have permission as a Scale-up Worker and PAYE earning in the UK equivalent to at least £33,000 per year.

What are the key advantages of this route?

Advantages to UK businesses

  • A business is only required to sponsor the worker for 6 months.
  • The worker can continue working for the business after 6 months without being sponsored, reducing sponsorship reporting obligations.
  • Businesses will not be required to notify the Home Office when the Scale-up migrant leaves employment after the initial 6 months.
  • There is no Immigration Skills Charge for this route.
  • Businesses may not be required to submit supporting documents, saving admin time and costs.
  • Home Office fees are significantly less in comparison with the Skilled Worker route.

Advantage to employees

  • A Scale-up worker can change job or employer after 6 months without requiring a new sponsorship, provided they continue to meet the requirements of the Scale-up route.
  • The Scale-up worker can be accompanied or joined by their partner and/or children.
  • A Scale-up worker can study under this visa route (subject to Academic Technology Approval Scheme requirements).
  • The worker can take on additional work, including becoming self-employed or doing voluntary work.
  • At the end of the 2-year permission, the worker can make an unsponsored application and be granted permission on this route for a further 3 years.
  • There is no limit on the number of times a person can be granted on the Scale-up route.
  • After 5 years of continuous residence in the UK on this route (or in combination with another eligible route, or eligible routes), A Scale-up Worker and eligible dependants can apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain.

For more information about the Scale-up visa route, contact our Corporate Immigration team for expert and customised immigration advice on +44020 3588 3500.

Saracens Solicitors’ immigration team has been advising businesses on all aspects of UK immigration law for over 16 years. We work directly with businesses in the UK and overseas to provide tailored and strategic advice that ensures that the immigration requirements are met. We have established a market-leading reputation for delivering exceptional client services.