The Scale up visa is aimed at overseas workers taking up roles at high-growth UK businesses. As a part-sponsored and part-unsponsored work route, the Scale up route provides overseas nationals with the flexibility to either remain with their sponsor for the validity of their visa or to transfer over to another UK-based business, in this way enabling the visa-holder to build their employment experience and increase their skillset.
In this guide, we explain the rules and requirements of the Scale Up route.
What is the Scale up visa?
A Scale up visa will allow an overseas national to come to the UK to do an eligible job for a fast-growing UK business. The Scale up visa is essentially the permission needed for talented individuals to come to the UK to work for a UK Scale up sponsor, with the necessary skills to allow the Scale up business to continue growing. In this way, together with a number of other immigration work routes designed to boost the UK economy by attracting top global talent, the UK Government hopes to build back a better UK.
If granted a Scale up visa, the successful applicant will initially be permitted to work in the UK for a period of 2 years. With a Scale up visa, an overseas national must work in their sponsored job role for at least 6 months, but with the freedom to leave that job after this length of time. The visa-holder can then carry on in the same role, or choose to switch jobs or take on additional work, including becoming self-employed or doing voluntary work.
If the Scale up visa-holder changes jobs after 6 months, they will not be required to notify the Home Office of their decision, and nor will they be required to update their visa. The Scale up visa will remain valid for the full 2 years, without the restriction of sponsorship, regardless of whether or not the visa-holder has switched jobs. This also means that sponsorship responsibility will automatically end after 6 months, even if the Scale up worker continues to be employed by their initial sponsor, where this short period of sponsorship makes it easy for growing businesses to manage top global talent in the UK.
Scale up visa eligibility requirements
The Scale up visa is for overseas nationals with a job offer that meets the minimum skill level for this route, and at the required salary level, from a qualifying Scale up business.
The overseas national must have a job offer from an approved UK employer before they can apply for this visa, where the employer must be an eligible Scale up business to be approved. An approved employer is also known as the sponsor because they will be sponsoring the Scale up worker to come to or stay in the UK on this immigration route, where the UK employer must meet specific criteria to be able to sponsor Scale up workers.
There are various different requirements that must be met, both for the overseas national to apply for a Scale up visa and for the UK employer to apply for a Scale up sponsor licence.
Scale up visa: worker requirements
To qualify for a Scale up visa, the applicant must:
- have a confirmed job offer to work for a Scale up business in the UK for a minimum period of 6 months
- have a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) from their UK employer with information about the role that the applicant has been offered in the UK
- have a job offer to do a role that is on the list of eligible occupations under the rules
be paid a minimum salary in their new job role.
In broad terms, to be eligible for a Scale up visa, the applicant must be doing a job that is suitable for this type of visa and meets the salary requirements, where the applicant will be working in their sponsored job role for a minimum of 6 months. The applicant must also meet an English language requirement and may need to meet a financial requirement.
Under the sponsorship requirement, the applicant must be sponsored in an occupation code listed under the UK’s Immigration Rules as being eligible for the Scale up route. The applicant will also need to be paid either £34,600 per year or the ‘going rate’ for the work they will be doing in the UK, whichever is the highest. Each occupation code has its own annual going rate, also set out under the Rules. This means that if the salary on offer is £34,700 per year, but the going rate for the role is £36,000, while this exceeds the general threshold, it does not exceed the going rate, so fails to satisfy the salary requirement.
When it comes to the English language requirement — unless an exemption applies, such as where the applicant is from a majority English-speaking country or they have a degree-level academic qualification that was taught in English — they will need to prove their English language ability to Level B1 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. This means that the applicant may need to pass a Secure English Language Test.
To meet the financial requirement — unless the applicant is applying for permission to stay in the UK and has lawfully lived in the UK for at least 12 months — they must show funds of £1,270. The applicant must also show that they have held these funds for 28 days, where day 28 must be within 31 days of applying for this visa. Alternatively, the applicant’s UK sponsor can certify that they will maintain and accommodate them for the first month.
Scale up visa: employer requirements
To be able to apply for a Scale up sponsor licence, a business must meet the definition of a ‘qualifying Scale up sponsor’, where this can be done in one of the following two ways:
- the standard pathway, where the Home Office will assess the employment and/or turnover growth of a business, based on information previously submitted to HMRC, or
- the endorsing body pathway, where an approved endorsing body will need to confirm in writing the employer’s eligibility to apply for a Scale up sponsor licence.
If the information held by HMRC provides evidence of annualised growth of at least 20% for the previous 3-year period in terms of staff count or turnover, together with evidence of at least 10 employees at the start of this 3 years, the application can be easily processed.
If the business does not qualify under the standard pathway because any history with HMRC is not lengthy enough, it can instead use the endorsing body pathway. However, this means that before applying for a sponsor licence, the employer must first obtain an endorsement from a endorsing body and, among other criteria, be able to demonstrate a potential growth rate consistent with the requirements of the Scale up route and be reasonably expected to meet the definition of a qualifying Scale up sponsor within 4 years.
How to apply for a Scale up visa
Once an organisation has been approved by the UK Home Office, they can assign their new recruit a valid CoS for the job that the individual is being sponsored to do in the UK. The unique CoS reference number can then be used by the applicant to apply for their Scale up visa, provided this was issued no more than 3 months prior to the date of application.
An application for a Scale up visa must be made online from either inside and outside the UK where, in either case, the applicant will need to pay the relevant fee and provide any supporting documentation. As part of the application process, the applicant will also need to prove their identity, either by using the ‘UK Immigration: ID Check’ app or by attending an appointment to prove their identity in person and to enrol their biometric information.
If applying from overseas, the applicant will need to schedule an appointment at an overseas visa application centre. If applying to switch to this visa from inside the UK, this must be done at a Visa and Citizenship Application Services (UKVCAS) service point.
Scale up visa supporting documents
In support of their visa application, the applicant will need their unique reference number from their CoS, as well as a passport or other travel document to prove their identity and nationality. The applicant may also need, for example, proof of their English language ability and evidence of the financial requirement, where applicable.
Additional documentation could include a valid tuberculosis certificate, if from a listed country, together with a valid Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) certificate, if doing a job in the UK involving PhD-level research in a relevant subject.
Once the applicant has verified their identity, submitted their documents in support and paid the relevant fee, their application should take up to 3 weeks to process if applying for a Scale up visa from outside the UK, and up to 8 weeks if applying from inside the UK.
How much does a Scale up visa cost?
The cost to apply for a Scale up visa is £715, together with a fee of £624 per year of stay in the UK to be able to access the UK’s NHS. This is known as the Immigration Health Surcharge. These costs are in addition to proving the financial requirement, if applicable.
There are also various costs associated with applying for a sponsor licence under this route, including an application fee of £536, plus a fee of £21 to assign each CoS. Additionally, there will be an endorsement fee of £1,500, payable to an endorsing body, if the employer fails to meet the definition of a qualifying Scale up sponsor under the standard pathway. However, unlike other skilled worker routes, there is no Immigration Skills Charge.
Can dependants apply on the Scale up route?
The partner and dependent children of the principal applicant or primary visa-holder can apply under the Scale up route, provided they meet the requirements for dependants. This will include both a relationship requirement and a financial requirement.
Under the financial requirement, a partner will need proof of funds of £285, unless the UK Scale up sponsor can certify maintenance for both the dependant and applicant, with an extra £315 for any first child, plus £200 for every additional child.
Can a Scale up visa be extended?
A Scale up visa will be granted for a period of 2 years, although a visa-holder looking to stay longer in the UK can extend their visa as many times as they like by a period of 3 years, provided they meet the relevant requirements. They must also apply prior to expiry of their existing visa, although they will be permitted to stay in the UK while waiting for an extension decision, even if their existing visa expires during this timeframe.
When applying for an extension, the Scale up visa-holder can make an unsponsored application. However, they must be able to meet a minimum earnings requirement, showing annual earnings of £34,600 or more during at least 50% of their most recent permission as a Scale up worker (or £33,000 per year if the applicant’s most recent permission was granted in association with an CoS assigned on or before 11 April 2023).
The Scale up route is also a route to settlement, where after meeting a 5-year continuous residence requirement, together with various other requirements, the primary visa-holder and any dependants may be able to apply for indefinite leave to remain in the UK.
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 a Scale-up visa?
A Scale-up visa is the permission needed from the UK Home Office for talented overseas nationals to come to the UK to work for a Scale-up sponsor, with the necessary skills to allow that fast-growing business to continue to grow.
What is the Scale-up visa settlement?
Having continuously lived in the UK on the Scale-up visa for 5 years, the visa-holder may be eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain (ILR) in the UK, also known as settlement, provided they meet the requirements for ILR.
How do I get a Scale-up visa?
To obtain a Scale-up visa, an application will need to be made to UK Visas and Immigration, the division of the Home Office responsible for the UK’s visa system. You will also need to pay the relevant visa application fee.
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.