The Scale Up visa has been designed to help qualifying UK businesses, with the potential for growth, to recruit skilled overseas workers more easily.
While scale up workers must initially be sponsored, they will be able to change employers after 6 months, allowing them greater flexibility and choice than other sponsored work visas.
In this guide, we outline the rules and requirements under the Start Up route, from the eligibility criteria to how this visa will benefit both UK businesses and talented individuals.
What is the UK Scale Up visa?
The scale up visa is a points-based route for migrant workers who have been recruited by a UK scale up sponsor, and who have the skills necessary to enable the sponsor’s business to continue growing. This visa is designed to allow those with a suitable job offer at the required skill level from a recognised UK scale up to qualify for a fast-track visa. In this way, together with a number of other business immigration routes designed to boost the UK economy.
Although the applicant must be employed in the job for which they’re being sponsored for the first 6 months of their grant of leave, scale up workers are then permitted to work full-time at any skill level.
Study is also permitted under this route, subject to the ATAS condition — this is a requirement to obtain an Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) certificate before studying certain sensitive subjects at postgraduate level.
The scale up worker will be able to bring dependent family members to the UK, as in other work routes, including a dependent partner and dependent children. The primary visa-holder and any qualifying family members may also be able to eventually apply for indefinite leave to remain in the UK, provided they meet the eligibility requirements for settlement.
How long does the Scale Up visa last?
Entry clearance, or permission to remain when switching from a different immigration route from inside the UK, will initially be granted under the scale up route for a period of 2 years.
The worker will be sponsored only for the first six months of this period, after which they are able to work for any employer.
Scale Up visa requirements
Applicants on this route must be aged 18 or over on the date of application. They must also have a genuine, high-skilled sponsored job offer from an authorised UK scale up business at the required salary level. The job must be skilled to RQF 6 and equivalent (graduate level). This means that the applicant must be sponsored for a job in an occupation code listed in Appendix Skilled Occupations under the UK’s Immigration Rules that is identified as eligible for the new scale up route. The applicant must also be paid at least £33,000 per year up to 11 April 2023, or £34,600 from 12 April 2023, or the ‘going rate’ for the occupation code in question, whichever is the higher.
The English language and financial requirements will apply under the scale up route, as in other work routes under the UK’s points-based system. This means that, unless an exemption applies, the applicant must be able to prove their English language ability in reading, writing, speaking and listening to at least CEFR level B1 (the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages). The applicant must show that they meet the English language requirement as set out in Appendix English Language under the Immigration Rules.
Under the financial requirement, unless the applicant is applying for permission to stay and has been lawfully in the UK for 12 months or longer on the date of application, they must either show funds of at least £1,270, or have their UK sponsor certify that they’ll maintain and accommodate their recruit up to the end of the first month of their employment. Where applicable, the applicant must show that they’ve held the required funds for a 28-day period and must show funds as specified in Appendix Finance of the Rules.
Overall, the applicant must be awarded a total of 70 points to be eligible for a scale up visa first time round, including 50 points for sponsorship, and a job offer at an appropriate skill and salary level, plus 10 points each for both the English language and financial requirements.
In addition to the eligibility requirements, the standard suitability requirements will apply under the scale up route. This means that criminality, misconduct and breaches of immigration law will disqualify an applicant from being granted leave, except if periods of overstaying can be disregarded. Police registration will also be required for certain nationals.
Employers registering for the Scale Up visa
The scale up sponsor licence is specifically aimed at UK businesses who are currently experiencing a sustained period of high growth, enabling them to recruit talented overseas nationals to work in the UK in highly skilled job roles to encourage continued growth.
Having been approved by UKVI as a qualifying scale up sponsor, an employer will be able to issue a valid Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) to enable a prospective new recruit to apply for a scale up visa. If successful, the migrant worker will be granted a visa for an initial period of 2 years, although they will only be sponsored for the first 6 months of their leave.
At the end of the first 6-month period, the scale up employer will no longer sponsor the worker. Neither party will need to do anything at this stage, where the scale up visa will remain valid but sponsorship responsibility for that worker will automatically end at this point. The migrant worker can continue working for their original employer without being sponsored. However, they will also have the flexibility to change their job role, or even their employer, without requiring renewed sponsorship or a further application for permission, as long as they continue to meet the relevant requirements on the scale up route.
To register for the scale up route, a UK business will need to demonstrate that they’ve an annualised growth of at least 20% for the previous 3-year period in terms of turnover or staffing. Scale up companies will also need to have had a minimum of 10 employees at the beginning of this 3-year period. In due course, the Government will consider additional ways in which scale up companies may be able to register for this route, for example, whether scale ups who can demonstrate an expectation of strong growth in future years may qualify.
Only once the sponsor has been approved and registered by the UK Home Office will they be able to assign their new recruit a valid Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) for the job that individual is being sponsored to do in the UK. The unique reference number on the CoS can then be used by the applicant to apply for a scale up visa, provided this was issued by their UK sponsor no more than 3 months prior to the date of the visa application.
Scale up endorsing pathway
Under new guidance, an ‘endorsing body pathway’ is being launched on 13 April 2023 for prospective employer applicants that do not meet the sponsor licence eligibility requirements (eg where the HMRC history is not long enough). As an alternative, prospective sponsors will be able to obtain endorsement from a Home Office-approved endorsing body and submit this with the licence application, no more than three months from the date of endorsement. The guidance confirms that the endorsement process will attract a fee, and further details will be published in due course.
What is the difference between sponsored & unsponsored scale up visas?
There are various key differences between the sponsored & unsponsored scale up visas. These can be summarised as follows:
- a sponsored scale up visa will be granted for a period of 2 years, while an unsponsored visa will be granted for 3 years and will provide the visa-holder with a direct path to settlement in the UK, also known as indefinite leave to remain
- a sponsored scale up visa will require the scale up visa-holder to work in their sponsored job for at least 6 months, while the unsponsored scale up visa will provide the visa-holder with far greater flexibility, allowing them to utilise their skills elsewhere
- a sponsored scale up visa will require a valid sponsorship certificate to be able to apply.
Still, while the unsponsored scale up visa offers far greater benefits and fewer restrictions for the successful visa-holder, every applicant seeking either entry clearance or leave to remain on this route for the first time must have the offer of an eligible job with a licensed scale up sponsor. This means that, in all cases, overseas workers ultimately looking to settle in the UK on this route or, at the very least, live in the UK long-term, will initially need to be sponsored by an approved scale up sponsor. The unsponsored route is only available to applicants who have previously been granted permission as a scale up worker.
It is also worth noting that if an overseas worker wishes to change employer, sponsor or occupation code during the initial 6-month period on a scale up visa they will need a new sponsorship certificate and have to make a further application as a sponsored scale up worker before they can lawfully start this new employment in the UK.
How to apply for the Scale Up visa
An application for a scale up visa can be made from both inside and outside the UK. In either case, an application must be made online, providing a number of documents in support and paying the relevant fee and an immigration health surcharge per year of stay. The applicant may also need to attend an appointment to provide any required biometrics.
In support of their application, the applicant must provide a passport or other travel document which satisfactorily establishes their identity and nationality. The applicant may also need, for example, documentary proof of their English language ability and the financial requirement, and a valid tuberculosis medical certificate if from a listed country.
If an application is made for permission to stay from inside the UK, where the applicant is switching from a different immigration route, they must not have, or have last been granted, permission as either a visitor, a short term student, a parent of a child student, a seasonal worker, as a private domestic worker or outside the Immigration Rules.
Sponsored scale up visa application
A sponsored scale up visa application is for skilled migrant workers applying on this route for the first time, where they have the offer of a high-skilled job from a qualifying scale up sponsor at the required salary level for a minimum of 6 months, as evidenced by their CoS.
Given that the whole purpose of the scale up route is to encourage further growth in fledgling or otherwise expanding companies in the UK, the migrant worker must possess the necessary skills needed to enable the business to grow. As such, there are various strict eligibility criteria that must be met when making a sponsored scale up visa application, where the worker must accumulate a total of 70 points in the following way:
- Valid sponsorship: 50 points
- English language requirement: 10 points
- Financial requirement: 10 points.
If an applicant fails to score 70 points against these three criteria, their application will be refused by UKVI and the sponsor will not be able to employ them.
Valid sponsorship (50 points)
When it comes to valid sponsorship, the sponsor must be able and intend to offer genuine employment that meets the minimum skill-level and salary requirements for this route. Importantly, under the ‘genuineness’ requirement, points will not be awarded for sponsorship if UKVI has reasonable grounds to believe that the job role does not exist, it is a sham, or it has been mainly created so that the migrant worker can apply for a visa.
To meet the appropriate skill requirement, the applicant must be sponsored in a job that falls within an occupation code that is listed as eligible for the scale up route in either Tables 1 or 2 of Appendix Skilled Occupations under the UK’s Immigration Rules. These are jobs at graduate level, ie; assessed at level 6 or above on the Regulated Qualifications Framework for England and Northern Ireland, or the equivalent level for Scotland or Wales. This does not mean the overseas worker has to have a graduate-level qualification, although the work that they do must be at that level. When assigning an CoS to a scale up worker, the sponsor must choose the appropriate occupation code for the job in question.
The scale up sponsor must also ensure that the salary it intends to pay any overseas worker equals or exceeds both the general salary threshold of £34,600 per year ‘and’ the full going rate for the type of work that they will be doing. Each occupation code has its own annual going rate, as set out in the table of eligible occupations under Appendix Skilled Occupations. These rates have been set so as to ensure that the resident labour market is not undercut and will be regularly updated to reflect the latest available salary data. If the going rate for the relevant occupation code exceeds the general salary threshold, the sponsor must pay the sponsored worker at least the going rate, or vice versa.
English language & financial requirements (20 points)
The applicant must be able to demonstrate that they have English language skills at level B1 or above on what is known as the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) for languages in all four components, ie; speaking, listening, reading and writing.
Under the financial requirement, if the applicant is applying from overseas for entry clearance, or has been in the UK for less than a year at the date of their sponsored scale up visa application, they must show that they have enough funds to support themselves. This means that they must have funds of £1,270 for a period of at least 28 consecutive days, where day 28 must be within 31 days of applying for the scale up visa. Alternatively, the scale up sponsor can certify this requirement when assigning an CoS to their new recruit.
To make an application for a sponsored scale up visa, the applicant must submit an online application, together with their documentation in support, and pay the relevant fee.
A sponsored application will not be possible, however, without a confirmed job offer to work for an approved scale up business in the UK for at least 6 months, together with a valid sponsorship certificate from their proposed employer with information about the role that they have been offered in the UK. This will be evidenced by their CoS. Before assigning an CoS, the sponsor must satisfy themselves that the worker can meet the relevant immigration requirements on the scale up route. The sponsor must also pay the standard Temporary Worker fee of £21 for each CoS it assigns to a scale up worker.
An applicant can apply for a scale up visa up to 3 months before the day that they are due to start work in the UK. This date should be listed on their CoS. The sponsor does not have to enter a work end date on the CoS, but by assigning a sponsorship certificate to a scale up worker, the sponsor will be confirming that if the worker is granted a visa, they are expected to work for their business for at least the first 6 months of that permission.
The cost of applying for a sponsored scale up visa is £715. The applicant will also be liable to pay the healthcare surcharge for each year of their stay in the UK to enable them to access the UK’s National Health Service. This is currently set at £624 per year. Importantly, these costs are in addition to the requirement to have funds of £1,270, where applicable.
When applying from outside the UK, it will usually take up to 3 weeks to get a decision.
Unsponsored scale up visa application
An unsponsored scale up visa application refers to any subsequent application for leave to remain under the scale up route, where an overseas worker has already been employed as a scale up worker by a licensed scale up sponsor for at least 6 months in a previous grant of permission on this route. In most cases, this will be in circumstances where the worker is seeking to extend their stay on the scale up route. This is because a new visa application will not be required prior to expiry of any initial 2-year visa, provided the worker has already undertaken 6 months sponsored employment, even if they change jobs.
A worker can usually apply to extend their scale up worker visa if:
- they worked in the job on their sponsorship certificate for at least 6 months
- they met the earnings requirement during at least half of their stay with their most recent scale up visa. For example, they must have earned a monthly salary equivalent to £34,600 per year for at least 12 months if extending their visa after 2 years.
The earnings requirement will be reduced to £33,000 per year if the applicant’s most recent permission on the route was on the basis of an CoS assigned on or before 11 April 2023. An applicant will also still be required to meet the English language requirement, although they should already have satisfied this requirement in their initial application. Equally, if the applicant has been in the UK with permission for 12 months or longer on the date of their application, they will automatically meet the financial requirement without showing funds.
The process to apply for an unsponsored scale up visa is the same as when applying for a sponsored visa under this route, but without the requirement for an CoS.
When applying from inside the UK, it will usually take up to 8 weeks to get a decision. During this time, the applicant will be required to stay in the UK, otherwise risk having their visa application withdrawn. However, they may be able to pay for a faster decision.
If an application for an unsponsored scale up visa is successful, the worker will be granted leave for a period of 3 years. There is no limit on the number of times that a scale up worker can apply to extend their stay in the UK. Further, after 5 years’ continuous residence on this route, the scale up worker may be eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain.
Can you switch into the scale up route from within the UK?
For potential new recruits already in the UK, it may be possible to switch into the scale up route without leaving the country. Provided they meet the eligibility requirements under this route, an overseas national can switch from another visa route from within the UK.
The only exceptions to this rule are those who were last granted permission as either a visitor, a short-term student, the parent of a child student, as a seasonal worker or as a domestic worker in a private household. As such, for UK businesses looking to sponsor a worker who is already in the UK on any one of these routes, the worker would normally need to leave the UK and apply for entry clearance as a scale up worker from overseas.
How much does the Scale Up visa cost?
It costs £715 to apply for the Scale Up visa. In addition to the application cost, there is also the healthcare surcharge (typically £624 per applicant per year) and the financial requirement to be met (having at least £1,270 available, unless exempt).
Extending leave as a Scale Up worker
Scale up workers do not need to meet a sponsorship requirement to extend their stay under this route and they do not need to be working for the same UK sponsor named in their original application.
However, they must be able to show PAYE earnings of at least £33,000 per year during at least 50% of their most recent permission as a scale up worker. Note that the minimum qualifying salary threshold for Scale Up workers changed from £33,000 up to 11 April 2023 to £34,600 from 12 April 2023.
For example, an applicant with 2 years’ permission under the scale up route must have had this level of earnings during at least 12 months of that permission. Provided the applicant can meet the ongoing requirements, an extension will be granted for 3 years.
Having spent a continuous period of 5 years living in the UK — and provided the applicant can demonstrate a minimum level of earnings, together with a minimum level of knowledge of life in the UK — they may also be able to apply for settlement.
Can dependants apply for a scale up visa UK?
The spouse or partner of a scale up applicant or visa-holder, or any dependent child under the age of 18, can apply under the scale up route, provided they meet the eligibility requirements. This will include a relationship requirement and a financial requirement.
Under the financial requirement, a spouse or partner will need to provide proof of funds of £285, unless the UK sponsor can certify maintenance for both the dependant and applicant. A dependent child would need proof of funds of £315, whilst any additional children would each need proof of funds of £200, unless again the sponsor will certify maintenance for the family.
Benefits of the UK Scale Up route
There are a number of benefits associated with the scale up visa, designed to entice skilled overseas workers to the UK. This includes the fact that successful applicants in the scale up route will have a significant degree of flexibility having worked for their UK sponsor for a period of 6 months. This means that their immigration status won’t be indefinitely tied to their original employer, although they’ll need to satisfy the UK earnings in the most recent permission requirement to stay on in the UK after expiry of their initial grant of leave.
The scale up visa essentially involves two stages. The first 2-year stage requires a suitable job offer from an eligible scale up sponsor in the UK, with an appropriate skill and salary level, and the applicant will need to meet an English language and financial requirement, similar to other sponsored routes. The second 3-year stage allows existing scale up visa-holders the flexibility to remain without sponsorship, based on previous UK PAYE earnings, with an attractive 5-year path to settlement in the UK for eligible applicants.
The scale up route allows dependent family members to accompany or join the primary visa-holder and, provided they meet all the eligibility requirements, the whole family can apply to permanently settle in the UK after a period of 5 years.
Equally, there are benefits for the UK sponsor, despite the possibility that a new recruit has the freedom to leave their employment after just 6 months. Scale up companies will be able to apply for approval through a fast-track verification process, provided they can demonstrate an annual average revenue or employment growth rate over a 3-year period greater than 20%, together with a minimum of 10 employees at the start of this period. The short period of sponsorship and lack of an immigration skills charge will also make it much easier and cheaper for growing firms to recruit and maintain top talent from around the world.
The scale up visa does require a high skill job offer from a UK employer with a minimum salary of £33,000. This is higher than the minimum salary requirement of £25,600 to be eligible for the skilled worker visa, although £33,000 will be a lower salary threshold than that required by many of the skilled worker occupations likely to be employed by scale ups. For example, to come to the UK under the skilled worker route, IT analysts must be paid the going rate of £36,600, unless they’ve other tradeable points to make up for being paid less.
DavidsonMorris are UK business immigration specialists. We support employers with all aspects of corporate immigration to meet their UK talent needs through international recruitment and global mobility. By seeking expert advice from an immigration specialist at the earliest possible opportunity, prospective and existing sponsors can maximise the chances of successful Home Office applications.
For advice and guidance for your organisation, contact us.
Scale Up visa FAQs
What is a scale-up visa?
A scale-up visa is the permission granted by the UK Home Office for an overseas worker to undertake a skilled job role with a qualifying scale up sponsor, ie; a UK-based business currently experiencing a sustained period of high growth.
Who is eligible for a scale-up visa?
To initially be eligible for a scale-up visa, the applicant must have the offer of a high-skilled job offer from a qualifying sponsor at the required salary level for a minimum of 6 months, as evidenced by their sponsorship certificate.
How can I apply for scale-up visa UK?
To apply for a scale-up visa, you will need to submit an online application, together with any supporting documentation, and pay the relevant fee. You will also need a valid sponsorship certificate from a scale-up sponsor for your first application.
Who can apply for scale up visa UK?
Applicants for a scale up visa must have a sponsored job offer from an authorised UK scale up company, skilled to graduate level and which meets the minimum salary threshold or the ‘going rate’, whichever is the higher.
Can I move to the UK and start a business?
To start a business in the UK, you’ll need a suitable visa that allows you to work for yourself and for your business.
Last updated: 20 March 2023