With the upcoming introduction of the High Potential Individual visa, top global university graduates will soon be able to come to the UK under a brand new, unsponsored route. This visa will help top talent from around the world who demonstrate high potential to live and work in the UK, and realise their ambitions, and for UK employers to benefit from this pool of talent.

Below we look at what the High Potential Individual visa route allows and who is eligible, with detailed guidance on the High Potential Individual visa application process — including cost, processing times and the length of leave likely to be granted if successful. We also examine the rules relating to visa extensions, and whether or not this route will provide a path to settlement in the UK.


What is the UK’s High Potential Individual visa?

Open to applicants on 11 May 2022, the High Potential Individual visa is a new unsponsored immigration route aimed at the academically elite. In the wake of both Brexit and the pandemic, the UK Government hopes to attract top talent to the UK, ensuring that the economy benefits from the best and brightest, and the UK continues to represent a leading global hub for innovation.

The High Potential Individual visa will allow recent top global graduates to come to the UK to work, or even look for work. The route will still be open to overseas graduates with a UK job offer, but it will also be available to those who have no current job offer in the UK and who simply wish to search for work, or undertake self-employment or voluntary work.


What are the High Potential Individual visa requirements?

The rules and requirements for a High Potential Individual visa will be set out under a brand new appendix to the UK’s Immigration Rules. Under ‘Appendix High Potential Individual’, applicants will not be required to provide evidence of a job offer, although there are a number of strict eligibility requirements that must still be satisfied to qualify under this route.

First, to be granted entry clearance or leave to remain as a high potential individual, the applicant must not previously have been granted permission under this route, or as a Graduate or under the Student Doctorate Extension Scheme. Equally, if applying to switch into this route from within the UK, they must not have permission as either a Visitor, a Short-term student, a Parent of a Child Student, a Seasonal Worker, a Domestic Worker in a Private Household or outside the UK’s Immigration Rules.

All High Potential visa applicants must also be at least 18 and satisfy an educational requirement, an English language requirement and, where applicable, a financial requirement.


Educational requirement

To be eligible for a High Potential Individual visa, the applicant must have been awarded an overseas bachelor’s or postgraduate degree qualification in the last 5 years from a top global university. This is a university that appears in the Home Office Global Universities List.

To be compiled annually, this list will contain eligible overseas institutions that can be found in the list of the best 50 universities in two out of three ranking systems: the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, the Quacquarelli Symonds World University Rankings and the Academic Ranking of World Universities. The awarding institution must appear on the Global Universities List in respect of the date when the graduate was awarded their degree.


English language requirment

To be eligible for a High Potential Individual visa, the applicant must have the ability to understand and communicate in English to a certain level on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) scale. This means being able to read, write, speak and listen to at least Level B1 (intermediate). However, there are a number of ways in which a High Potential visa applicant can satisfy the English language requirement.

If an applicant is a national of a majority English-speaking country, they will not be required to do more than prove their identity and nationality to satisfy the language requirement. Equally, if an applicant has been awarded a degree taught in English — or obtained an English GCSE, A Level or Scottish National Qualification level 4 or 5 while at school in the UK — subject to proof of the relevant qualification obtained, they will again satisfy this requirement.

In all other cases, unless an applicant can show that they have already met the English language requirement in any previous application for entry clearance or permission to stay, for example, if they are switching to a High Potential from within the UK, they will need to pass a Secure English Language Test (SELT). A SELT must be taken with an approved test provider. For applicants outside of the UK, a SELT must be taken with either Pearson, PSI Services (UK) Ltd, IELTS SELT Consortium or LanguageCert. For applicants within the UK, the test must be taken with Pearson, Trinity College London, IELTS SELT Consortium or LanguageCert.


Financial requirement

To be eligible for a High Potential Individual visa, an applicant must be able to show that they can support themselves on their arrival in the UK without relying on public funds. This means being able to show cash funds of at least £1,270 at the date of application.

The HHigh Potential Individual visa applicant must be able to show that they have held those funds in their account for 28 days or more, ending no more than 31 days before the date of their application. If the applicant is already in the UK and is applying to switch into this route, they will not need to show funds if they have been in the UK for at least 12 months.


What is the High Potential Individual visa application process?

The application process for a High Potential Individual visa will be similar to other work routes. The applicant will need to submit an online application, pay the relevant fee and provide a number of supporting documents. The applicant may also need to attend an appointment to provide their biometric information, including a photo of their face and scan of their fingerprints.

In respect of any documentation in support, this can either be uploaded online or scanned at any appointment. The documentation required for a High Potential visa can vary depending on the applicant’s circumstances but will include:

  • a valid passport or travel document showing the applicant’s identity and nationality
  • documentary evidence from Ecctis that the applicant’s oversees degree-level academic qualification either meets or exceeds the recognised standard of a UK bachelor’s or postgraduate degree, with confirmation of the date of their award
  • where applicable, proof of their English language ability
  • where applicable, proof of funds
  • a valid TB test certificate, if from a listed country.


The cost of applying for a High Potential Individual visa will be £715. There will also be an annual healthcare surcharge set at £624. Having paid these fees and completed the application process, including attending any appointment and providing all documentation in support, a decision should be made within 3 weeks for an application made outside the UK and 8 weeks for an application made to switch into this route from inside the UK.


How long does the High Potential Individual visa last?

If successfully granted a High Potential Individual visa, the applicant will be permitted to work or look for work in the UK for a period of either 2 or 3 years, determined by the level of their overseas degree qualification. For PHD or other doctoral graduates, they will be granted leave for 3 years. For graduates relying on an overseas qualification equivalent to either a UK Bachelor’s or Master’s degree, entry clearance or leave to remain will be granted for 2 years.

Under the High Potential Individual visa route, an applicant will not be able to extend their leave beyond their 2- or 3-year stay. However, prior to expiry of their leave, provided they meet the relevant requirements, they may be able to switch into a different immigration route. This means that in order to settle permanently in the UK, the applicant would need to switch into a visa route that provides a path to settlement — although time spent under the High Potential visa route will not count as part of the continuous qualifying period for indefinite leave to remain.


What are the High Potential Individual visa requirements for dependants?

High Potential Individual visa-holders may be joined or accompanied by a partner and dependent children. This could include a spouse or even an unmarried partner, provided the couple can show that their relationship was similar to a marriage or civil partnership. It also includes children of either the primary visa-holder, or of their partner or spouse, aged under 18.


What are the High Potential Individual visa conditions of stay?

As an unsponsored route, the High Potential Individual visa-holder will be free to work full-time in any capacity that they see fit, apart from as a professional sportsperson or sports coach. There are no requirements of a job offer prior to applying, which means that they can go on to secure employment at any skill level. The purpose behind this new route is to attract top innovative talent to help re-build the UK economy — but as a flexible route, it will be at the discretion of the visa-holder as to how they spend their time in the UK.

However, in order to be eligible to make a permanent home in the UK, the visa-holder will need to satisfy the eligibility requirements of a different route and be granted a new period of leave under an immigration category which leads to UK settlement. For example, to apply for leave to remain as a Skilled Worker, the applicant would need the offer of a qualifying job from a UK licensed sponsor that meets the minimum skill and salary requirements under this route. Employers should therefore be aware that in order to retain top talent within their organisation, they will need to be in a position to sponsor their worker in an eligible job role.

For family members of a High Potential Individual visa-holder, they will be granted leave for the same period as the primary visa-holder. This means that, unless they are also eligible to apply under a different route, they will be required to leave the UK on expiry of their visa. It’s therefore important that applicants and their dependants fully understand the limits of this route and explore all available immigration options prior to applying. Top global graduates may prefer to bypass the route in favour of one that leads directly to settlement, or will seek to switch into a settlement route as soon as they become eligible.


What other visa options are available to overseas workers?

High potential individuals that don’t have a degree-level qualification from a top global university, or even ones that do, could also consider the following visa options:

  • The Skilled Worker visa: for those with an eligible job offer from a UK licensed sponsor
  • The Start-Up visa: for individuals who are new entrepreneurs and want to establish an innovative business in the UK for the first time
  • The Innovator visa: for more experienced entrepreneurs wanting to start a UK business
  • The Scale-Up visa: opening 22 August 2022, this is for talented individuals sponsored by a UK scale-up company, who have the skills needed to facilitate growth in that business
  • The Graduate visa: for international students who have graduated in the UK from a degree-level or other qualifying course and would like to stay on to look for work.


High Potential Individual visa FAQs

What is the high potential individual visa?

The high potential individual (HPI) visa is an unsponsored work visa aimed at the academically elite, where recent graduates from top global universities will be able to come to the UK to work or look for work.

What is a PBS visa in UK immigration?

A PBS visa is a type of visa under the UK’s points-based immigration system, where an applicant must be awarded a minimum number of points to be eligible. This could include, for example, points for an eligible job role.

What is the difference between the high potential individual visa and the global talent route?

A high potential individual visa is for graduates from top global universities wanting to work in any type of job in the UK, whereas the global talent route is for leaders or potential leaders to work in certain fields.


Legal disclaimer

The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.


As editor of Xpats.io, Gill is passionate about helping individuals and organisations overseas explore and pursue opportunities in the UK. She is a content specialist in the fields of immigration, law and business.