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Scale up visa – Guidance for employers

Businesses can now hire international talent by sponsoring overseas skilled workers using the scale-up visa route. In this guide for UK employers, our business immigration solicitors look at the advantages of using the scale-up visa route to hire workers for your business, whether your business qualifies as a ‘scale-up’ sponsor under the immigration rules and if your proposed recruits will qualify for the scale-up work visa.

What is a scale-up visa?

The scale-up visa is a specialist work visa under the UK points-based immigration system. It is more flexible than other UK work visa routes. The scale-up visa is a sponsored work visa so you will need a Home Office sponsor licence to recruit employees and your recruit will need a formal job offer and certificate of sponsorship to secure their work visa.

If your business already has a sponsor licence to recruit skilled worker visa holders it’s in your interests to see if you meet the Home Office criteria for a ‘scale-up business’. That’s because, unlike the skilled worker visa, the scale-up visa holder doesn’t require sponsorship throughout the duration of their work visa – just for the initial six months.

Entrepreneurs and SMEs welcome the lack of restrictions on the scale-up visa after six months as business owners have the option of changing the employee’s job role to one with a different or no standard occupational classification code and they don’t have to comply with the Home Office reporting and recording duties after the first six months of employment.   

How does a business qualify for a scale-up visa?

A UK business will qualify to apply for a Home Office-issued sponsor licence to sponsor scale-up visa applicants if they meet the Home Office definition of a ‘scale-up business’. The criteria are:

  • The business has had annualised turnover or staff growth of at least 20 per cent year-on-year for at least three years and
  • The business must have had at least 10 employees at the start of the three years before their scale-up sponsor licence application

Applying for a first sponsor licence can take a matter of days if you use the Home Office priority service. Our business immigration can help you with your sponsor licence application, ensuring you have the right procedures in place and making your that your paperwork is in order. 

Entrepreneurs and start-ups shouldn’t be deterred from applying for a sponsor licence as there is no minimum business size or turnover required to apply for a sponsor licence. If your business doesn’t currently qualify for a sponsor licence to sponsor scale-up visa applicants you may meet the criteria for a sponsor licence to recruit skilled worker visa applicants.

Who is eligible for a scale-up visa?

A job applicant from overseas is eligible for the scale-up visa if they reach 70 points under the UK points-based immigration system. That’s relatively simple if your business has offered them a suitable job and the visa applicant meets the English language and financial requirements.

The job offered to the scale-up visa applicant must be on the Home Office list of jobs with a standard occupational classification code or on the shortage occupation list. If the job isn’t on one of these lists the recruit can't be sponsored for a work visa. Business immigration solicitors recommend that you look at the standard occupational classification codes and your job specification before you start the recruitment process.

The scale-up visa skill requirement

The immigration rules state that the skill requirement for the scale-up visa is graduate level, referred to as RQF 6 level. This doesn’t mean your job applicant must have a degree to apply for a scale-up visa but the job needs to be at a degree level. For example, an older recruit may not have the formal qualifications but their expertise and experience may qualify them to do a graduate-level role.

The scale-up visa salary requirement

The salary requirement for the scale-up visa is a minimum of £33,000 gross per year or £10.58 gross per hour based on a 48-hour week. The £33,000 minimum salary threshold does not include:

  • Non-guaranteed bonuses, overtime or shift allowance
  • Accommodation that forms part of the employment, such as a serviced apartment or hotel accommodation
  • Living allowances
  • Benefits such as a company car, subsidised travel, free flights home to see family or private health insurance
  •  Your employer pension or national insurance contributions

The scale-up visa financial requirements

The financial requirement for the scale-up visa is the same as other work visas as the applicant must be able to show they have held funds of £1,270, for at least 28 days or their sponsoring employer can certify that they’ll maintain the applicant for the first month. Full details of the financial requirement can be found in the Immigration Rules Appendix Finance.

Other scale-up visa requirements

Other scale-up visa requirements include:

  • The applicant is aged 18 or over
  • The applicant meets the English language requirement by sitting the English language test or is exempt from doing so because of their nationality or qualifications If the job applicant is from a majority English-speaking country on the Home Office list, they are exempt from having to sit the test. The list of countries can be found here. The list of academic qualifications that exempt an applicant from having to sit the test can be found here
  • The applicant meets the general immigration entry clearance eligibility. For example, they do not have a poor immigration record or have been convicted of criminal offences

How much does the scale-up visa cost?

There are two costs associated with the scale-up visa; the cost to your business in securing a sponsor licence and sponsoring employees on the scale-up visa and the costs payable by the individual visa applicant.

Your business will need a sponsor licence to sponsor scale-up visa applicants and the licence cost (payable every four years) depends on the size of your business and whether your organisation has charitable status. The sponsor licence application fee for a ‘small’ sponsor is £536. The fee rises to £1,476 if your business is classed as a large sponsor. If speed is of the essence, you may also want to pay the Home Office premium and priority service fees. In addition to these Home Office fees, your business will also incur costs in administering the sponsor licence and complying with sponsor licence reporting and recording duties as well as paying a certificate of sponsorship fee each time you recruit a scale-up visa applicant and allocate them a certificate of sponsorship.

The applicant will need to pay the visa application fee of £715 and the healthcare surcharge of £624 per year. Some businesses offer to reimburse these fees as well as provide the recruit with a financial requirement certification so the visa applicant doesn’t have to prove that they have at least £1,270 in funds to meet the financial requirement.

How long does the scale-up visa last?

The scale-up visa lasts up to two years but the worker can apply to extend the visa without you needing to sponsor the employee as under the scale-up visa the worker only requires sponsorship for the initial six months of their visa. However, to qualify for a further scale-up visa the applicant needs to have been on a salary of at least £33,000 gross per year for at least 50% of their time spent on the scale-up visa.

Once the worker has been in the UK for five years, they may be able to apply to settle by securing indefinite leave to remain. To qualify for indefinite leave to remain they will need to have been both continuously and lawfully resident in the UK under the immigration rules for five years.             

What other visa options are available for employers looking to attract talent?

Whether your business meets the definition of a ‘scale-up business’ or not, there are other visa options for employers looking to attract talent, including:

  • The skilled worker visa – the skilled worker visa holder requires sponsorship from a sponsoring employer for the duration of their visa so it isn’t as flexible as the scale-up visa but the skill criteria and minimum salary threshold are lower
  • The graduate visa – the graduate visa employee doesn’t need sponsorship from your business and there is no minimum salary threshold or restrictions on the type of job that the graduate can be employed to undertake. However, unlike the scale-up visa or skilled worker visa, the graduate visa is time restricted and can't be extended. It does not lead directly to settlement in the UK


Business immigration solicitors are continuing to see a rise in enquiries by employers about work visa options so UK employers can secure the best overseas talent to meet their recruitment needs. Whilst the minimum salary threshold and skills criteria may be higher for the scale-up visa than the skilled worker visa, the new scale-up gives greater flexibility as only six months of employment need to be sponsored and you don’t need to pay the immigration skills charge when recruiting a new member of staff on the scale-up visa. That could save your business around £5,000 over five years as well as achieving administrative sponsor licence savings as you don’t need to comply with sponsor licence reporting and recording duties after six months of the scale-up visa holder’s employment.

If you would like to recruit workers using a scale up visa or you need help with a sponsor licence application contact our business immigration lawyers today.

About our expert

Fozia Iqbal

Fozia Iqbal

Senior Business Immigration Solicitor
Fozia has been practising in the field of immigration law for over 20 years, specialising in Business Immigration since 2015. Fozia has advised an array of businesses, from start-ups to multinationals, owner-managed businesses through to SMEs, as well as individuals looking for immigration solutions. With a range of experience across the board, it is unusual for her to come across an immigration issue that she cannot tackle. 

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