The Scale-up route was introduced with the aim of promoting fast-growing UK businesses. Former Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced that the new route would make it “quicker and easier for fast-growing businesses to bring in highly skilled individuals” to the UK. The Scale-up route went live on 22 August 2022. Here, we take a critical look at this new route. How useful is it for sponsors and overseas workers and, crucially, how does it square up to the popular Skilled Worker route?
A brief overview of the Scale-up route
The Scale-up route allows fast-growing UK-registered businesses to sponsor talented migrants.
Businesses that wish to sponsor an individual under the Scale-up route must first consider whether they can meet the requirements for a Scale-up sponsor licence. If the business already holds a sponsor licence, it must apply to have the route added to its existing licence and will need to meet the additional requirements for this route. Businesses without a sponsor licence will need to apply for one. The Scale-up route is classed as a ‘Temporary Worker’ route due to the short initial period of sponsorship.
The organisation must meet the general requirements for a sponsor licence, as well as the following criteria:
- the business has had an annualised growth of at least 20% for the last three-year period based on either employment (staff count) or turnover; and
- it has had a minimum of ten employees at the beginning of the relevant three-year period.
PAYE information and VAT returns will be accessed by UKVI to ensure the staff count or turnover meets the above requirements.
Scale-up visa: main requirements
Providing the organisation can satisfy the above criteria and is issued with a sponsor licence, the prospective employees may apply for a Scale-up visa. The requirements for the applicant are broadly as follows:
- they are aged 18 or over;
- they have been issued a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) by the Scale-up sponsor, confirming sponsorship for at least six months;
- the role is eligible as per Appendix Skilled Occupations (although not all roles can be sponsored under the Scale-up route);
- the job offer must be at the required skill-level (RQF level six or above);
- the role must be at the appropriate salary, which is £33,000 per year, £10.10 per hour, or the ‘going rate’ for the occupation code, whichever is highest;
- they meet the required level of English language (minimum Level B1 of the CEFR); and
- they have enough funds to support themselves unless certified by the sponsor.
The Scale-up route is designed to be more cost effective than many other options. The cost for a Temporary Worker sponsor licence is £536, and the Certificate of Sponsorship fee of £21 applies. Significantly, the Immigration Skills Charge (ISC) does not apply which would usually be £364 per year of sponsorship for small or charitable sponsors, or £1,000 per year for medium or large sponsors.
Removal of (some) red tape
In an effort to make recruiting overseas talent less administratively burdensome, sponsors only need to sponsor the worker for the first six months of their two-year permission. The employee may continue working unsponsored after six months or could choose to move to a different employer unsponsored.
Scale-up workers may also study (subject to ATAS requirements) and work on a self-employed basis. Providing workers continue to meet the Scale-up requirements, they can go on to make an unsponsored application for further permission to stay. They may also be eligible for settlement after five years continuous residence in the UK. Qualifying family members are also permitted under this route.
Scale-up or Skilled Worker?
The key differences between the Scale-up and Skilled Worker routes are as follows:
- The initial grant of leave: Scale-up visas are granted for two years initially, but only the first six months must be sponsored. Skilled Worker visas can be granted for up to five years.
- Salary level: Scale-up requires the greater of £33,000 each year, £10.10 an hour, or the going rate. Skilled Worker requires the higher of £25,600 each year, £10.10 an hour, or the going rate.
- PAYE: unlike Skilled Worker salaries, Scale-up salaries must be paid via a PAYE scheme.
- Skill level: Skilled Workers must be skilled to a minimum of RQF Level three (i.e. A-Level equivalent). Scale-up requires RQF Level six (roughly degree level).
- Immigration Skills Charge: unlike for Skilled Worker visas, the ISC is not required for Scale-up visas.
- Sponsorship fees: Skilled Worker visas come under the Worker route. Therefore, a licence fee of £536 for small or charitable sponsors applies, or £1,476 for large sponsors. Assigning a CoS costs £199. Scale-up falls under the Temporary Worker route and therefore, a licence fee of £536 applies irrespective of size. The CoS fee is lower at £21.
- Sponsor duties & employment restrictions: Skilled Workers must be sponsored throughout their permission and other employment is limited. Scale-up workers must only be sponsored for the first six months of their permission, following which they may commence other unsponsored work. Voluntary work and study (subject to ATAS requirements) is permitted for both.
- Criminal record certificate requirement: unlike for Skilled Workers under the relevant occupation codes, Scale-up applicants are not required to provide this.
Will businesses benefit from Scale-up?
There are estimated to be around 33,000 Scale-up businesses in the UK, meaning a substantial number of UK businesses may be eligible to take advantage of this route if they need to hire overseas talent. Businesses are likely to be attracted by the lower cost and administrative upkeep of sponsoring Scale-up migrants. The higher skill level and salary is unlikely to be a hinderance to businesses looking to sponsor workers when considering the eligible occupation codes. Employers must also be mindful that not all occupation codes are eligible for Scale-up.
Businesses must be wary not to fall into a false sense of security given the short initial sponsorship, as they will still be responsible for the general sponsor duties to maintain their sponsor licence. They must also consider employee retention, as workers are at liberty to explore alternative opportunities after six months. Some businesses may then wish to proceed with the Skilled Worker route in any event given employee retention considerations.
How our Immigration solicitors can help
Our immigration team are specialists in assisting businesses with sponsor licences and subsequent work visa applications. If you are considering the Scale-up route or wish to receive advice on the best options for your business, we provide advice on a no-obligation basis. Please contact us or complete our enquiry form below.