What is a scale-up visa? 

A scale-up visa allows skilled overseas talent to be employed by eligible scale-ups in the UK

Last summer, the Government launched the scale-up visa to make it easier for global talent to be employed by the UK’s fastest growing businesses.  

The aim was to attract top talent to help drive high-growth businesses in roles such as software development, programming, science R&D and engineering.  

The UK has recently been seeing an exodus of R&D activity, with 69 per cent of scale-ups moving R&D activity to European countries such as Germany and France.  

However, it is hoped the visa will help resolve the digital skills shortage resulting from Brexit and a record amount of start-up investment in 2021.  

What is the scale-up worker visa?  

In short, the scale-up worker visa enables any eligible UK scale-up to hire an eligible employee from anywhere in the world for up to two years. 

The scale-up worker receives a certificate of sponsorship from the scale-up after meeting eligibility criteria including financial, skill set and English proficiency. The talent will earn at least £33,000 from the scale-up and can bring their partner and/or children if eligible if they meet relationship and financial requirements.  

For employees  

How to qualify for the scale-up worker visa  

Successful scale-up workers must work at least six months and up to two years initially. The visa can then be extended by three years at a time with the applicant free to work full-time at any skill level – providing eligibility requirements continue to be met.  

As an applicant, you must earn whichever is highest out of the following from the job: £33,000 per year, £10.10 an hour, or the going rate of the type of work you’ll be doing.  

It is likely employers will be paying this higher going rate because of the nature of the roles available in fast-growth digital companies.  

Other requirements for a scale-up visa include a knowledge of English – which comes in the form of a reading, writing, listening and speaking test.  

To qualify, you must: 

  • Have a firm job offer for an eligible occupation with an eligible scale-up  
  • Have a certificate of sponsorship from the scale-up outlining the job role 
  • Be over the age of 18 
  • Be at graduate level and above 
  • Have at least £1,270 in savings  

Some of the above have points attributed to them. For an application to be successful, 70 points must be accumulated. Certificate of sponsorship, appropriate skill level and salary all garner 50 points, with an understanding of English and required savings amounting to 10 points each.  

How do you apply for a scale-up visa?  

Applications must be made online, which you can do via the gov.uk website, here

Applications can be made up to three months before the start date, which must be stated on the certificate of sponsorship given by the scale-up.  

How much does a scale-up visa cost? 

You will then need to provide proof of identity and documentation before paying a £715 application fee – which any dependants will also have to pay – and an annual healthcare surcharge fee (usually about £624).  

As above, You must have at least £1,270 in savings, which must have been in your account for at least 28 days.  

You will also need to check your scale-up can take part in the scheme. A list of approved companies list can be found here

Expect approval to the application to take up to three weeks for applications from outside the UK. 

For scale-ups  

How to get a scale-up sponsor licence 

To be eligible as a scale-up, employers must prove they have grown by at least 20 per cent on average each year over three years – in either revenue or staff – and at least 10 employees to their name before being approved by the Home Office for sponsoring. 

Once approved, the sponsor licence will be valid for four years and cannot be renewed after that point. 

To offer a certificate of sponsorship, you will have to prove:  

  • The job is genuine 
  • The job is listed as eligible (check here) 
  • Offers the required salary (at least £33,000) and is at the correct skill level (graduate level and above)  
  • 20 per cent year-on-year growth for the last three years  

Once you have proven the above, you are ready to hand out certificates of sponsorship to your desired employee.  

The certificate of sponsorship must confirm:  

  • Worker’s personal information  
  • Start date  
  • Working hours and salary  
  • Job title and occupation code  
  • Main duties of role  
  • PAYE reference number  

Then, going forward, for every additional certificate of sponsorship you assign you will need to pay a £21 application fee – which is the current temporary worker certificate fee.  

More on scale-up jobs  

3 jobs at exciting tech scale-ups 

Dom Walbanke

Fred Mann

Dom is a feature writer for Growth Business and Small Business, focused on matters concerning start-ups and scale-ups. He has also been published in the Independent, FourFourTwo magazine and various lifestyle...