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One of the main aims for the UK Government has been to simplify UK work visas and provide UK businesses with access to a more flexible pool of highly skilled worker.
As such, throughout 2022 the UK has launched two new visa routes, namely the High Potential Individual (HPI) route and the Scale-up route. In remains to be seen what positive impact these will have on the UK economy as the initial figures suggest the take-up is relatively low. In addition, the Global Business Mobility routes have had an overhaul in many areas, which are detailed further below.
The revised GBM routes opened to new applicants on 11 April 2022 and a sponsorship licence, under the specific category, is required for all five routes mentioned below.
In summary, the GBM routes are aimed at overseas businesses seeking to establish a presence in, or transfer staff to, the UK for specific business purposes. The UK government is trying to make global business mobility into the UK as seamless as possible. In our experience, although it isn’t seamless, the UK are certainly heading in the right direction.
The GBM route replaces, reforms and/or expands four existing routes and introduces a new visa category:
The requirements are largely the same as before, requiring eligible staff to have worked for their employer outside of the UK for at least 12 months (subject to any exemption) and have a skill level equivalent to degree-level or above. However, the minimum salary threshold has been increased from £41,500 to £42,400 per year, or the going rate for the relevant occupation code, whichever is higher. Supplementary employment (employment additional to their sponsored worker) is also no longer permitted.
The UK sponsor will need to register the high-value contract with the Home Office and the secondee must have worked outside the UK for the overseas business for a cumulative period of at least 12 months. The secondment role will need to be an eligible job at or above the minimum skill level (i.e., A level or equivalent). Although there will be no requirement to satisfy a minimum salary amount, the Certificate of Sponsorship must confirm that the applicant is paid at least the UK’s National Minimum Wage. If granted permission, their stay will initially be up to one year, with the ability to extend to a maximum of two years.
This Secondment Worker route allows businesses located in the UK and overseas, which vitally aren’t connected by common ownership or control but instead through high value business dealings, to temporarily bring across overseas nationals to fill eligible jobs in the UK.
The requirements are notably different to the Sole Representative of an Overseas Business route, with the main difference being that this route will require a sponsorship licence. Overseas businesses therefore need to think ahead surrounding their expansion plans into the UK as the time preparing this sponsor licence application through to receiving an approved sponsor licence decision will likely take 12-14 weeks.
The key criteria are that the overseas business must not already be trading in the UK and will need credible evidence that they intend to establish a new UK branch or wholly owned subsidiary of an established overseas business. The overseas business must normally have been trading for a minimum of three years (with some exceptions).
After the sponsor licence is granted, there will often be an additional 6 – 8 weeks required for sponsorship duties to be fulfilled and the overseas worker to prepare and submit their UK Expansion Worker visa.
The UK Expansion Worker route will allow up to a maximum of five workers at any one time to be sponsored to establish the UK business and the English language requirement has been removed. However, there is a minimum service requirement to ensure that workers have worked outside the UK for the linked business or organisation for a cumulative period of at least 12 months unless they earn more than £73,900 or are a Japanese national. In addition, the minimum salary threshold will be set at £42,400 per year (rather than not being specified). If granted permission, workers can stay for up to one year, with the ability to extend to a maximum of two years. This is comparatively restrictive when the Sole Representative route provided for the option of settlement.
Despite recommendations, none of the Global Business Mobility visa routes will lead directly to settlement in the UK. All five categories are envisaged for temporary stays in the UK and therefore will not be subject to an English language requirement. Applicants will be able to bring family dependants with them to the UK and switch into other immigration categories leading to settlement, subject to satisfying the relevant eligibility criteria.
The High Potential Individual visa is a new immigration route which has been live to international graduates since 30 May 2022. The intention of this new visa route is to encourage and simplify the process for “the brightest and best” individuals to come and live and work in the UK. Importantly, this is an unsponsored route so will allow eligible individuals who simply wish to look for work (of any type) in the UK.
Individuals must have a degree from an “eligible university” located outside of the UK, awarded within the last five years, which meets or exceeds the recognised standard of a bachelor’s or UK postgraduate degree. The Home Office Global Universities List specifies eligible universities institutions from ranking systems including the Times Higher Education World University Rankings. The Quacquarelli Symonds World University Rankings and the Academic Ranking of World Universities. The institution which awarded the applicant’s degree must appear on the Global Universities List in respect of the date when the graduate was awarded that qualification. It is notable that the Global Universities Lists includes no universities from Africa, Latin America or Southern Asia. This does raise the question of whether the sources used were fit for purpose when, the development of those ranking systems noted above were based on the universities research and resources. To suggest this list is the “brightest and best” globally appears to be very misleading.
In addition, individuals will need to show the English language requirement (at least to Level B1, the same as the Skilled Worker route) and meet a financial maintenance requirement (funds of at least £1,270 must be held for 28 days). Permission under this route will be granted for a two-year period (or three-year period for PhD or other doctoral level qualifications) but cannot be extended or lead directly to settlement in the UK.
The Scale-up visa is another new immigration route which was introduced on 22 August 2022. This new visa route has been designed to assist fast-growing UK businesses looking to attract highly skilled talent from overseas. It is intended that this Scale up visa route will enable UK businesses to process worker visas more quickly and efficiently, with reduced expense and responsibilities.
To be eligible for a sponsorship licence under the Scale-up route, a UK business must have an annualised growth of at least 20%, in either employment or total sales, for the previous 3-year period immediately prior to this application being approved. The business must also have had at least 10 employees at the start of the 3-year period. UK businesses should seek legal advice on whether their last 3-year results will satisfy this definition, as figures will be automatically assessed through PAYE and VAT returns.
UK businesses granted a Scale-up sponsor licence will only have to sponsor a migrant for the first six months. After this time, sponsorship duties automatically end. This means that UK sponsors could incur the costs and effort of sponsoring someone who may then leave their organisation after six months. UK employers may therefore wish to consider how to incentivise recruits to stay with them.
The Scale-up job, for the first six months, will require a minimum skill level of RQF Level 6 (i.e. degree level or equivalent) and the minimum salary must be at least £33,000 per year (limited to basic gross pay) or the going rate for the job, whichever is higher. Applicants must also satisfy the English language (to Level B1) and be able to evidence their own funds of at least £1,270, held for at least 28 days before the application. If successful, applicants will be granted permission for an initial two-year period.
For UK businesses growing rapidly and needing to attract high skilled talent fast – this new visa route will be beneficial, but the retention rate will always be the sting in the tail. We expect to see an increased use of clawback provisions in the employment contract of a Scale-up migrant to counter that.
Many of these immigration categories are welcomed by UK employers, however, our view remains that they still don't go far enough to address the shortages faced in the UK market. If you have any questions on the new visa routes, it is important that advice is sought at the earliest opportunity, so please do get in contact with Gemma Robinson.