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New year, new visa routes



United Kingdom

Last year, the government acknowledged in its Innovation Strategy that the UK is currently losing the global competition for top talent. With more inventors leaving the UK than arriving, the government is intent on reversing this 'brain drain' by 2030.  It plans to do this by unveiling a host of new and revitalised routes during 2022 aimed at attracting talent to the UK.
The government acknowledges in its strategy that this is the most critical moment in the UK in the post-war period. A combination of factors including Brexit, Covid-19, and increasing global competition has left many employers facing recruitment challenges.

The government's hope was that Brexit would open the UK to workers from all over the world. Instead  large numbers of experienced EU workers from a variety of industries have left the UK, leaving significant skills shortages which cannot be replaced overnight. In spite of this, the government has thus far not altered its strategy, focussing on visas offered to top talent with little provision for lower-skilled workers.
With this in mind, it has now created an 'Office for Talent' to work on recruiting and welcoming talent to the UK and it proposes to bring in new visa routes during 2022, namely the High Potential Individual route, a scale-up route, a revitalised Innovator route, and a Global Business Mobility route.  We look at these in further detail below.

High Potential Individual

This route is intended to make it as simple as possible for international talent who demonstrate high potential to come to the UK. Eligibility will be restricted to those who have graduated from a top global university and the government will consider expanding eligibility to other characteristics of high potential. This will be an unsponsored route so applicants will not require a job offer and will be able to switch jobs and employers. This will cut costs and bureaucracy and make it easier for applicants to secure work-based visas without the support of an employer.

We do not have details as yet as to what will qualify as a top global university and whether the Home Office will interpret the other criteria very strictly.  The risk is that the eligibility criteria can be so restrictive as to render the policy ineffectual. We will know more once the immigration rules are in place by Spring 2022.

Scale-up route

Like the High Potential Route, this will launch in Spring 2022. This visa will require the applicant to have a high-skilled job offer for a qualifying scale-up company. The scale-up should 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.

The government is also looking at whether scale-ups, which can demonstrate an expectation of strong growth in future years, may also qualify.  Again, little granular detail is currently available to understand how this visa will work and how it will differ from the sponsorship visas currently on offer. It does however demonstrate that the government is keen to show that it will adapt the work based visa system to the needs of businesses, albeit those with significant growth potential.

A revitalised Innovator route

The government is looking to amend the visa routes available for talented innovators and entrepreneurs who want to start and operate a UK business that is venture-backed or harnesses innovative technologies, creating UK jobs and boosting growth. Its plan is to simplify and streamline the eligibility criteria. Applicants will need to demonstrate that their business has a high potential to grow and add value to the UK and is innovative. They will also explore a fast-track, lighter touch endorsement process for applicants whose business ideas are particularly advanced to match the best-in-class international offers, and they will drop the £50,000 investment requirement. The applicant will also be able to do work outside of their primary business.

Global Business Mobility route

This route will be launched in Spring 2022 under the existing sponsorship system. This route will bring together a number of pre-existing visa categories under one umbrella route. This will include;
  • Senior or Specialist Workers working for the UK office of an overseas business (currently Intra Company Transfer route)
  • Graduate Trainees (currently Intra Company Transfer – Graduate Trainee route)
  • Service Suppliers travelling to the UK to deliver a service in line with a trade commitment (e.g. GATS) (currently International Agreement)
  • Secondment Workers in relation to high value import and export deals and to oversee substantial investment  (currently Visitor route)
  • UK Expansion Workers who will be senior employees setting up a UK entity for the overseas business (currently Representative of an Overseas Business route)
The government hopes to streamline the sponsorship process, and make it easier for businesses to expand into and set up in the UK.  Again we do not have the detail on what this route will involve and whether there will be changes to the rules for the categories that will be contained within it.  

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), an independent government advisory body, has advocated some changes such as permitting settlement for those in the Intra-Company route and to allow more than one person per company to come into the UK to set up a subsidiary. We do not know whether the Home Office will approve these changes, or, more importantly, if they will ease the pressure in attracting talent.  We expect further details of this route to be published shortly.  

Whether these new visa routes will have an impact on the recruitment challenges many businesses are facing remains to be seen. What is clear is that the Government is intent on making it easier for elite workers to obtain visas for the UK but is resolute in not offering a long-term solution for companies who need to recruit lower skilled workers.  Whether this will lead to further policy row backs and more new visas during 2022 remains to be seen.

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