The scale up visa is an immigration route launched in 2022 for qualifying UK businesses, with the potential for growth, to help them easily recruit skilled overseas workers.
In this guide, we explain the rules and requirements under this new route, from the eligibility criteria to how this visa will benefit both UK businesses and talented individuals.
What is the UK scale up visa?
The scale up visa is a new points-based route for migrant workers who have been recruited by a UK scale up sponsor, and who have the skills necessary to enable the sponsor’s business to continue growing. This visa is designed to allow those with a suitable job offer at the required skill level from a recognised UK scale up to qualify for a fast-track visa.
Successful applicants in the scale up route will be permitted to work full-time at any skill level, although the applicant must be employed in the job for which they’re being sponsored for the first 6 months of their grant of leave. Study is also permitted under this route, subject to the ATAS condition — this is a requirement to obtain an Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) certificate before studying certain sensitive subjects at postgraduate level.
A scale up visa-holder will be able to bring dependent family members to the UK, as in other work routes, including a dependent partner and dependent children. The primary visa-holder and any qualifying family members will also be able to eventually apply for indefinite leave to remain in the UK, provided they meet the eligibility requirements for settlement.
Benefits of the UK scale up route
There are a number of benefits associated with the new scale up visa, designed to entice skilled overseas workers to the UK. This includes the fact that successful applicants in the scale up route will have a significant degree of flexibility having worked for their UK sponsor for a period of 6 months. This means that their immigration status won’t be indefinitely tied to their original employer, although they’ll need to satisfy the UK earnings in the most recent permission requirement to stay on in the UK after expiry of their initial grant of leave.
The scale up visa essentially involves two stages. The first 2-year stage requires a suitable job offer from an eligible scale up sponsor in the UK, with an appropriate skill and salary level, and the applicant will need to meet an English language and financial requirement, similar to other sponsored routes. The second 3-year stage allows existing scale up visa-holders the flexibility to remain without sponsorship, based on previous UK PAYE earnings, with an attractive 5-year path to settlement in the UK for eligible applicants.
The scale up route allows dependent family members to accompany or join the primary visa-holder and, provided they meet all the eligibility requirements, the whole family can apply to permanently settle in the UK after a period of 5 years.
Equally, there are benefits for the UK sponsor, despite the possibility that a new recruit has the freedom to leave their employment after just 6 months. Scale up companies will be able to apply for approval through a fast-track verification process, provided they can demonstrate an annual average revenue or employment growth rate over a 3-year period greater than 20%, together with a minimum of 10 employees at the start of this period. The short period of sponsorship and lack of an immigration skills charge will also make it much easier and cheaper for growing firms to recruit and maintain top talent from around the world.
The scale up visa will require a high skill job offer from a UK employer with a minimum salary of £33,000. This is higher than the minimum salary requirement of £25,600 to be eligible for the skilled worker visa, although £33,000 will be a lower salary threshold than that required by many of the skilled worker occupations likely to be employed by scale ups. For example, to come to the UK under the skilled worker route, IT analysts must be paid the going rate of £36,600, unless they’ve other tradeable points to make up for being paid less.
Scale up visa eligibility requirements
Applicants on this route must be aged 18 or over on the date of application. They must also have a genuine, high-skilled sponsored job offer from an authorised UK scale up business at the required salary level. The job must be skilled to RQF 6 and equivalent (graduate level). This means that the applicant must be sponsored for a job in an occupation code listed in Appendix Skilled Occupations under the UK’s Immigration Rules that’s identified as eligible for the new scale up route. The applicant must also be paid at least £33,000 per year or the ‘going rate’ for the occupation code in question, whichever is the higher.
The English language and financial requirements will apply under the scale up route, as in other work routes under the UK’s points-based system. This means that, unless an exemption applies, the applicant must be able to prove their English language ability in reading, writing, speaking and listening to at least CEFR level B1 (the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages). The applicant must show that they meet the English language requirement as set out in Appendix English Language under the Immigration Rules.
Under the financial requirement, unless the applicant is applying for permission to stay and has been lawfully in the UK for 12 months or longer on the date of application, they must either show funds of at least £1,270, or have their UK sponsor certify that they’ll maintain and accommodate their recruit up to the end of the first month of their employment. Where applicable, the applicant must show that they’ve held the required funds for a 28-day period and must show funds as specified in Appendix Finance of the Rules.
Overall, the applicant must be awarded a total of 70 points to be eligible for a scale up visa first time round, including 50 points for sponsorship, and a job offer at an appropriate skill and salary level, plus 10 points each for both the English language and financial requirements.
In addition to the eligibility requirements, the standard suitability requirements will apply under the scale up route. This means that criminality, misconduct and breaches of immigration law will disqualify an applicant from being granted leave, except if periods of overstaying can be disregarded. Police registration will also be required for certain nationals.
Applying for a scale up visa
An application for a scale up visa can be made from both inside and outside the UK. In either case, an application must be made online, providing a number of documents in support and paying the relevant fee and an immigration health surcharge per year of stay. The applicant may also need to attend an appointment to provide any required biometrics.
In support of their application, the applicant must provide a passport or other travel document which satisfactorily establishes their identity and nationality. The applicant may also need, for example, documentary proof of their English language ability and the financial requirement, and a valid tuberculosis medical certificate if from a listed country.
If an application is made for permission to stay from inside the UK, where the applicant is switching from a different immigration route, they must not have, or have last been granted, permission as either a visitor, a short term student, a parent of a child student, a seasonal worker, as a private domestic worker or outside the Immigration Rules.
How long does the scale up visa last?
Entry clearance, or permission to stay when switching from a different immigration route from inside the UK, will initially be granted under the scale up route for a period of 2 years. Scale up visa-holders may then be able to extend their stay under this route.
An existing scale up visa-holder will no longer need to meet a sponsorship requirement to extend their stay under this route. This is because they may no longer be working for the UK sponsor as named in their original application. However, they must be able to show PAYE earnings of at least £33,000 per year during at least 50% of their most recent permission as a scale up worker. For example, an applicant with 2 years’ permission under the scale up route must have had this level of earnings during at least 12 months of that permission. Provided the applicant can meet the ongoing requirements, an extension will be granted for 3 years.
Having spent a continuous period of 5 years living in the UK — and provided the applicant can demonstrate a minimum level of earnings, together with a minimum level of knowledge of life in the UK — they may also be able to apply for settlement.
Scale up visa dependants
The spouse or partner of a scale up applicant or visa-holder, or any dependent child under the age of 18, can apply under the scale up route, provided they meet the eligibility requirements. This will include a relationship requirement and a financial requirement.
Under the financial requirement, a spouse or partner will need to provide proof of funds of £285, unless the UK sponsor can certify maintenance for both the dependant and applicant. A dependent child would need proof of funds of £315, whilst any additional children would each need proof of funds of £200, unless again the sponsor will certify maintenance for the family.
Companies registering for the UK scale up route
To register for the scale up route, a UK business will need to demonstrate that they’ve an annualised growth of at least 20% for the previous 3-year period in terms of turnover or staffing. Scale up companies will also need to have had a minimum of 10 employees at the beginning of this 3-year period. In due course, the Government will consider additional ways in which scale up companies may be able to register for this route, for example, whether scale ups who can demonstrate an expectation of strong growth in future years may qualify.
Only once the sponsor has been approved and registered by the UK Home Office will they be able to assign their new recruit a valid Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) for the job that individual is being sponsored to do in the UK. The unique reference number on the CoS can then be used by the applicant to apply for a scale up visa, provided this was issued by their UK sponsor no more than 3 months prior to the date of the visa application.
Scale Up visa FAQs
Who can apply for scale up visa UK?
Applicants for a scale up visa must have a sponsored job offer from an authorised UK scale up company, skilled to graduate level and which pays at least £33,000 per year or the ‘going rate’, whichever is the higher.
What is start-up visa UK?
A start-up visa is a visa for those looking to set up an innovative business in the UK, different from anything else on the market, provided the business idea has been endorsed by an authorising body.
Can I work in UK with startup visa?
Startup visa-holders can work in another job in the UK, as well as working for their new business, although they'll not be able to work as a professional sportsperson.
Can I move to the UK and start a business?
To start a business in the UK, you’ll need a suitable visa that allows you to work for yourself and for your business. This could include, for example, a start-up visa or an innovator visa.
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.