On 22 August 2022, the new Scale-up visa route opened. Much like the Skilled Worker route, the Scale-up route is a route to settlement. Both routes require sponsorship by employers holding an appropriate sponsor licence.
However, whilst sponsorship is at the heart of the Scale-up route, this new route does allow for more flexibility for migrants. In this post we compare the Skilled Worker visa route and the Scale-up visa route in detail, to help employers and workers understand which route might be more appropriate based on their circumstances.
Overview of the Skilled Worker Visa and Scale-up Visa Routes
Skilled Worker route
The UK Skilled Worker Visa is open to individuals who have an offer of an eligible skilled job in the UK from a Home Office-approved sponsor. In order to secure a UK Skilled Worker Visa applicants will need to be sponsored to do a specific job, which meets certain skill and salary requirements, by an employer that has been licensed by the Home Office.
Scale-up Worker route
The Scale-up visa route allows for migrants with job offers at Scale-ups with the relevant Scale-up Sponsor Licence to obtain entry clearance / permission to stay and work in the UK. Unlike the Skilled Worker route, it offers both a 'sponsored application' route and an 'unsponsored application' route. Like the Skilled Worker route, applicants must show, in their first application in this category, that they are being sponsored to do a job which meets the skill and salary requirements set out below.
How Does Sponsorship Work in Practice?
Skilled Worker route
Skilled Workers must be sponsored in an eligible role throughout their permission as a Skilled Worker. In order to settle, migrants must still be sponsored by their employer and be required for their role for the foreseeable future. More details regarding settlement as a Skilled Worker can be located in a previous post, here.
Scale-up visa applicants must initially make a sponsored application. They will need to show that they have qualifying job offers from sponsors who hold a Scale-up Sponsor Licence. They will need to be sponsored for at least six months. If a migrant wishes to change employer, sponsor, or occupation code during this period, they will need a new CoS and they will have to make a new application for entry clearance / permission to stay as a sponsored Scale-up Worker.
Following their two year initial grant of permission, the Scale-up Worker Visa applicant can make an unsponsored application meaning that they are not required to be sponsored for any particular role, though other eligibility criteria apply.
What about Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS)?
In order to obtain permission as a Skilled Worker, an applicant must show that they have been assigned a valid Certificate of Sponsorship. Initial applicants in the Scale-up category must also meet this requirement. There are no limits on the number of people that can be sponsored as Skilled Workers or Scale-up migrants.
Defined vs Undefined CoS?
There are two types of CoS for Skilled Workers: Defined and Undefined. Undefined Certificates of Sponsorship must be assigned to Skilled Workers applying for permission to stay in the UK, from within the UK. A Defined CoS is required by a Skilled Worker applying for entry clearance from outside the UK.
Applicants in the Scale-up route must be allocated an Undefined Certificates of Sponsorship, even where they are applying for entry-clearance.
For more information regarding CoS, please see our previous post here.
Can Applicants Make an In-country Switch Into the Route?
Yes, it is possible to switch to both the Scale-up route and the Skilled Worker route from inside the UK unless the applicant is in the UK:
- as a Visitor; or
- as a Short-term Student; or
- as a Parent of a Child Student; or
- as a Seasonal Worker; or
- as a Domestic Worker in a Private Household; or
- outside the Immigration Rules.
Is There a Minimum Skill Level for the Skilled Worker Visa and Scale-up Visa Routes?
Yes, both routes have a minimum skill level which must be met. Not every role is eligible for sponsorship. Sponsors will need to consider the job roles that the migrants are to undertake and whether they appear in Appendix Skilled Occupations as eligible roles for the respective routes.
Applicants in the Skilled Worker route must be sponsored in a skilled role of at least RQF level 3, while Scale-up applicants must be sponsored in a skilled role of at least RQF level 6. With both routes, applicants will need to satisfy the Home Office that they are being sponsored to fill a genuine vacancy.
Do Applicants Need To Be Paid Certain Salary Levels?
Skilled Workers: In most cases, Skilled Workers need to show a minimum salary of at least £25,600 per annum, £10.10 per hour, or the going rate for the role, whichever is higher. There are certain exemptions which are set out in our previous post here. Applicants will need to consider their occupation code to determine the correct going role for the route.
Scale-up Workers (sponsored application): Applicants must show that they will earn at least £33,000 per annum, or the going rate for the role, and at least £10.58 per hour. This is a higher salary threshold than the Skilled Worker route. As with the Skilled Worker route, applicants will need to consider their occupation code to determine the correct going role for the route.
Scale-up Workers (unsponsored application): Where applicants are applying for permission to stay as a Scale-up migrant, having already been granted permission as a Scale-up migrant previously, they must show that they have had monthly PAYE earnings in the UK equivalent to £33,000 per annum during at least 50% of their permission as a Scale-up Worker. Migrants cannot rely on self-employment earnings to meet this requirement, even though self-employment is permitted.
Do Applicants Need To Meet an English Language Requirement?
Both Skilled Workers and Scale-up Workers will need to show that they meet the English language requirement to the CEFR Level B1 in all four components: Speaking, Listening, Reading, and Writing.
Is There a Financial Requirement for the Skilled Worker Visa and Scale-up Visa Routes?
Yes, both routes have a financial requirement. Only those who are applying for entry clearance or who have been living in the UK for less than 12 months must show that they meet this requirement. Sponsors in the Skilled Worker route can certify the migrant's maintenance if they have an A-rated licence.
Can the Skilled Worker Visa and Scale-up Visa Routes Lead to Settlement?
Yes, migrants on both routes may be eligible for settlement provided they meet the requirements of their respective route.
What Are the Periods of Grant for Each Category?
Skilled Workers: Skilled Workers will be granted entry clearance / permission to stay until 14 days after the end date of their certificate of sponsorship which may be up to a maximum of five years after the date of their CoS. Migrants may be eligible for settlement after 5 continuous years in this category (or in a combination of eligible categories).
Scale-up Worker: Applicants will be granted entry clearance / permission to stay for a period of two years. Following this, they can apply for a three year extension. Migrants may be eligible for settlement after 5 continuous years in this category (or in a combination of eligible categories).
Can the Applicant Bring Their Dependents?
Both routes allow for main applicants to bring their dependent partners and children under the age of 18.
Can the Worker Work Outside Their Sponsored Role?
Work is permitted only in the job the applicant is being sponsored for unless the additional work is considered to be supplementary employment.
Supplementary Employment is permitted where the migrant continues to work in the job for which they are being sponsored and the extra work is:
- in either a job on the shortage occupation list or a job in the same profession and at the same professional level as the work for which the CoS was assigned;
- no more than 20 hours a week; and
- outside the working hours covered by the CoS If they meet the above requirements the applicant does not need to inform the Home Office before taking extra work.
For the first six months of their permission, a sponsored Scale-up Worker must work for their sponsor in the employment stated on their CoS. As above, if the worker wishes to change employer during this period, they will need to make a new application. Work outside of this role is permitted (including self-employment and voluntary work), except as a professional sportsperson.
Following the six month period, migrants have full permission to work (except as a professional sportsperson) and they are no longer required to work for their initial sponsor.
Is either the Scale-up Worker Route or the Skilled Worker Route Better Than the Other?
The Scale-up route is more flexible in terms of work outside the sponsored role, and also by not requiring sponsorship beyond the initial six months entry clearance / permission to stay in this category. However, fewer employers are likely to meet the definition of Scale-up, which is a requirement for obtaining a Scale-up Sponsor Licence. This may mean that fewer sponsorships are available in this category.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.