UK Budget and immigration - Chancellor confirms 2022 high skilled visa plans

27 October 2021

Today, the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer announced the Government’s fiscal plans for the immediate and near future. Amongst the tax and budgetary announcements was a reference to visa changes to encourage businesses and talented individuals to come to the UK.

The Chancellor re-confirmed the Home Office’s commitment to introduce new visa types in 2022. The Home Office previously set out these plans as part of the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy’s “UK Innovation Strategy” policy paper published in July 2021.

The paper announced two new visa routes:

  • the High Potential Individual route – a visa option for those who have graduated from a top global university. They would be permitted to come to the UK without a job offer and work without restriction with potential to settle in the UK if certain requirements were met; and
  • the scale-up route – a visa option for talented individuals with a job offer from a qualifying scale-up. The sponsoring company would be subject to a fast track verification process but it would need to show an annual average revenue or employment growth rate over a three year period greater than 20% and a minimum of 10 employees at the start of the three-year period. This visa option was specifically referenced by the Chancellor in his speech.

The paper also announced some changes to an existing route. The Home Office plans to re-visit the Innovator route (introduced in March 2019 to replace the older Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa) and make it simpler since it has not attracted as many applicants as expected. They plan to:

  • simplify the business eligibility criteria , with an emphasis on growth and adding value to the UK;
  • introduce a fast track programme for particularly exciting businesses and those being endorsed by the Department for International Trade’s Global Entrepreneur Programme; and
  • introduce more flexibility around funding and the ability for the applicant to work outside the primary business

These changes would be very welcome for many employers who recruit from top universities and for entrepreneurs looking to setup innovative and fast growing businesses in the UK.

The UK’s immigration system has the advantage of being quite certain and relatively quick compared to the global standard, but it is very expensive and some routes can be very restrictive.

The proposed change to allow Innovator visa holders to work beyond their primary business is a positive step, since many entrepreneurs prefer to work on more than one project at a time. A major drawback of the Innovator visa is thus eliminated.

The High Potential Individual route also has scope for being an exciting option if the Home Office can keep the requirements simple and not be overly concerned if the individuals do not necessarily meet their potential after all. The last iteration of the High Skilled Migrant visa (Tier 1 (General)) had a similar aim but it was closed to applicants after only 18 months as the Home Office had concerns it was being abused.

On the downside, these changes offer little to those employers who offer high skilled, and often high waged, employment but do not fit the Government’s current definition of “high potential” or “innovative”. As we have discussed previously, the UK has an acute labour shortage in many areas – particularly those that relied on freedom of movement - but there was no assistance announced in these fields.

We wait with anticipation on the details of these new visas in the new year.

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