An overview of the new UK Scale-up Worker Visa

Tuesday 18 October 2022

Chetal Patel
Bates Wells, London

Ellen Hadman
Bates Wells, London

The UK has a history of aiming to attract the brightest and the best to its shores. This latest revamp of the UK immigration system has seen the introduction of a fast-track, unsponsored points-based route.

The Scale-up Worker visa was launched on 22 August 2022. It ‘allows employers who are in a sustained period of high growth to recruit people to work in the UK in highly skilled roles’. Individuals are recruited by a Scale-up sponsor and then transition to become unsponsored. After being in this process for five years, workers may become eligible for settlement in the UK.

Scale-up sponsors need to show an annual growth of at least 20 per cent for the previous three-year period based on staff count or turnover and have had a minimum of ten employees at the start of this period. If successful, the Scale-up sponsor licence is valid for only four years. It cannot be extended beyond this period.

For individual applicants, the route can be split into two. The first stage is similar to all sponsored routes, and requires a job offer with points for sponsorship, skill level and salary, as well as English language and finance requirements. Stage two is unsponsored and, while the financial and English language requirements remain, the outstanding requirements mainly focus on UK earnings.

What are the requirements for a sponsored application?

An individual must have been assigned a valid Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) and be sponsored for a job in an occupation code identified as eligible for the Scale-up route. They must receive a salary which equals or exceeds £33,000 per year (£10.10 per hour) and the ‘going rate’ for their occupation code.

The sponsor can certify maintenance for the individual, otherwise they must show funds of at least £1,270 (if they have not been present in the UK for 12 months prior to the date of application). Finally, they must also show the required level in all four components for English language.

What are the requirements for an unsponsored application?

The financial and English language requirements remain the same, although would be likely to be met automatically at this stage. The sponsorship requirements no longer apply. Instead, an individual must show that they had monthly UK PAYE (pay as you earn) earnings equivalent to at least £33,000 per year during at least 50 per cent of their permission as a Scale-up Worker.

How long is the visa granted?

The initial grant is for two years, although only the first six months are sponsored. An individual should be granted a further three years leave to remain for an unsponsored extension application.

Can dependants apply?

As with most other points-based routes, the spouse or partner of an applicant under the Scale-up route is eligible to apply, along with any dependent children under the age of 18. They will need to satisfy the relationship and financial requirements.

What are the pros and cons for employers?

The main consideration for employers will be whether this route offers benefits in comparison to the Skilled Worker route (this is a sponsor-led work visa). If the organisation meets the requirements, it appears to be a straightforward process to add this additional limb to an existing sponsor licence, as no documents are required to be submitted. However, the Home Office will conduct its checks using application programming interfaces to access PAYE and/or VAT returns data held by the UK’s HM Revenue & Customs. This allows them to assess automatically whether an organisation meets the requirements, in a move towards their aim to streamline and digitise the UK immigration system.

With no Immigration Skills Charge payable (this is a business levy payable by sponsors under certain work visas and can be either £364 or £1,000 per year of sponsorship) and the reduced CoS fee being attractive reasons to apply for this visa, there are some concerns. Scale-up employees are not required to remain with their sponsor beyond six months. Consequently, organisations may see individuals leaving after this period and taking employment elsewhere. For individuals this could be good news as it gives them more flexibility in the job market.

​​​​​​​What does the future hold for this visa category?

It is too early at this stage to see how popular this route may become, but the latest stats from the ScaleUp Institute’s analysis of the latest Office of National Statistics,[1] data shows that in 2019 there were 33,445 scaleups in the UK. This is a 24 increase of 2013, but one per cent down year on year from 2018 to 2019.


[1] Scaleup Institute ‘Explore the ScaleUp Annual Review 2021’ https://www.scaleupinstitute.org.uk/scaleup-review-2021/scaleup-initiatives-from-a-national-and-local-perspective accessed 21 September 2022.