The Scale-up Worker category

The Scale-up Worker category came into force on 22 August 2022. Its aim is to allow high growth UK companies to attract and recruit top international talent in highly skilled roles. The light touch sponsorship route brings flexibility for high growth UK employers and Scale-up Workers.

The Scale-up Worker category first requires a UK company to obtain a Scale-up sponsor licence.

The Scale-up Worker must then be sponsored for an initial six-month period. After which, they can continue working for the sponsor, change jobs or become self-employed, without having to notify the Home Office.

The Scale-up Worker visa is made up of two stages:

  1. the sponsored initial visa, which is granted for two years; and
  2. the unsponsored extension visa, which is granted for three years.

Which UK companies qualify for a Scale-up sponsor licence?

The Home Office defines a Scale-up company as a company that meets the following requirements at the time of applying for a Scale-up sponsor licence:

  • annualised growth of at least 20% in terms of turnover or staff over the last three years; and
  • a minimum of 10 employees at the start of the three year period.

Obtaining a Scale-up sponsor licence

The Scale-up company will need to obtain a valid sponsor licence under the Scale-up category.

UK companies that already hold a general sponsor licence but meet the Scale-up requirements can add the Scale-up limb to their licence.

The Scale-up company does not need to submit any supporting documents. The Home Office will check HMRC data directly.

Unlike a general sponsor licence, the Scale-up licence cannot be renewed beyond the four-year period it is granted for. It is a temporary licence as the Home Office’s expectation is that sponsors will only apply following a period of high growth.

What are the benefits for a Scale-up company to apply for a Scale-up sponsor licence?

Some of the key advantages are:

  • Scale-up sponsors are only required to sponsor a Scale-up Worker for six months;
  • Sponsorship compliance duties for the Scale-up Worker ends after six months; and
  • there is no Immigration Skills Charge for the Scale-up Worker – this saves up to £1,000 per year, per sponsored worker.

How to apply as a Scale-up Worker

There are two stages for the Scale-up Worker.

First stage: sponsored initial visa

To qualify, the Scale-up Worker must:

  • have a Certificate of Sponsorship issued by a Scale-up sponsor, which confirms the details of their employment and that they will be employed for at least six months;
  • have a role that is at the Regulated Qualifications Framework Level 6; and
  • be paid a gross annual salary of at least £33,000, the minimum gross salary based on the Occupation Code or £10.10 an hour, whichever is higher.

If the Scale-up Worker meets all of the requirements, they will be granted immigration permission for two years.

During the first six months, the Scale-up Worker must work for the Scale-up company that sponsored them.

Second stage: Unsponsored extension visa

To qualify, the Scale-up Worker must:

  • have held a sponsored initial Scale-up visa for two years and during the first six months, they worked for the Scale-up company that sponsored them; and
  • have earned UK PAYE employment income of £33,000 or more, for at least 12 months. This means that the Scale-up Worker must have earned a gross monthly income of at least £2,750, for at least 12 months.

If the Scale-up Worker meets all of the requirements, they will be granted immigration permission for three years.

What can you do on the Scale-up Worker visa?

The Scale-up Worker can do the following:

  • work for the sponsored Scale-up company for at least the first six months of the initial visa, after which they can work for any company/organisation in the UK, regardless of whether that company/organisation has a sponsor licence;
  • take on additional work during their grant of leave, including self-employment and voluntary work;
  • study in the UK; and
  • bring eligible family members (Dependants) to the UK.

Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR)

The Scale-up category does lead to ILR, also known as Settlement or Permanent Residence, in the UK, for the Scale-up Worker provided:

  • they have held UK immigration permission in certain categories for five continuous years;
  • since the grant of the unsponsored extension visa, the Scale-up Worker must:
    • be employed at the time of applying and earning a gross annual salary of at least £33,000; and
    • has earned at least £33,000 per year (as calculated above) for at least 24 months in the three years immediately before applying for ILR. Again, this must be from UK PAYE employment income and cannot be derived from self-employment income, savings, or overseas income.
  • The Scale-up Worker meets the residence requirements for ILR: they must not have been outside of the UK for more than 180 days in any 12-month period during the five years before ILR;
  • The Scale-up Worker can demonstrate that they can communicate in English to the required level and pass the Life in the UK Test.

The Dependants can also apply for ILR if they meet the requirements.

British citizenship

Once a Scale-up Worker has held ILR for at least one year, they may be eligible to apply to naturalise as a British citizen.

The residence requirements for naturalisation are stricter than those for ILR. The Scale-up Worker must demonstrate that they have not been outside of the UK for more than:

  • 450 days in total in the last five years before applying for British citizenship;
  • 90 days in the last 12 months before applying for British citizenship; and
  • six consecutive months in the last five years before applying for British citizenship.

It is possible for the Home Office to waive excess absences in certain limited circumstances. For example, if absences beyond the prescribed limits were due to business travel as a result of UK employment or self-employment.

After obtaining British citizenship, they may subsequently apply for a first British passport.

Conclusion

The Scale-up Worker route is a new category for fast-growing UK companies who wish to recruit talented, high skilled workers. This light-touch sponsorship route allows for flexibility and does not commit a sponsor or a Scale-up Worker to each other for an initial period beyond six months.

In order for a UK company to qualify for a Scale-up sponsor licence, it must meet the high growth criteria which may be challenging for smaller companies or start-ups.

Scale-up Workers will also need to ensure that they meet, and continue to meet, the minimum salary requirements in order to extend the visa and/or apply for ILR.