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What next for highly skilled migrants: visa solutions for the current candidate shortage? - Brabners

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The UK Government has recently unveiled plans for a new “high potential” visa.  Importantly, this visa route will not be reliant on employer sponsorship, and individuals will not require a job offer in order to apply. The strategy behind the announcement is to provide an easy immigration route to the UK for first-class talent within innovation, technology and R&D.

In July, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy released a new 'UK Innovation Strategy' setting out the Government's plans to make the UK a world-leader in technology, innovation and research.

The Innovation Strategy is driven by the government’s vision of a more inclusive, dynamic, productive and sustainable innovation and technology sector in which a diversity of people and ideas can thrive to drive economic and societal benefit for the UK. As well as developing home-grown talent, the Government wants to make the UK attractive to the world’s best innovators and entrepreneurs, recognising that skilled migration is strongly associated with higher levels of innovation and entrepreneurship, and the fact that individuals from overseas bring complementary skills, knowledge, and ideas to the workplace. 

The Government has announced a new High Potential Individual route, with the aim of making it as simple as possible for individuals who demonstrate high potential to come to the UK. The move builds on previous promises to provide an unsponsored work route under the Points Based Immigration System for business visas. Importantly, there will be no requirement for individuals to be sponsored by an employer or have a specific job offer in order to apply.

For those who have been involved with immigration for some time, this announcement is hardly ground-breaking in that it is clearly reminiscent of the previous Tier 1 General route, or going back even further, the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme. 

What we know so far:

“…the UK government will introduce a new High Potential Individual route to make it as simple as possible for internationally mobile individuals who demonstrate high potential to come to the UK. Eligibility will be open to applicants who have graduated from a top global university. The UK government will explore the scope to expand eligibility to other characteristics of high potential. There will be no job offer requirement, giving individuals the flexibility to work, switch jobs or employers and make contributions to the UK economy. The route will also allow eligible individuals to extend their visa and settle in the UK, subject to meeting specific requirements.”

Questions which remain unanswered:

  • What will qualify as a “top global university”?

  • Will there be a specific list of acceptable institutions, or will there be more flexible criteria?

  • Will the scope of the UK government’s eligibility criteria expand to other characteristics of high potential other than “top university” attendance? If so, what will this include?
  • What other requirements will there be? For example, will only specific degrees be acceptable?

It seems unlikely that being a graduate of a specific institution irrespective of the degree obtained and/or class achieved will be the only significant criterion to apply for this visa, particularly given that just over a year ago, the Home Office released a statement confirming that only “a smaller number of the most highly skilled workers” would be eligible for visas of this sort. With this in mind, it seems inevitable that there will be further criteria for applicants to meet and/or some sort of numerical cap on the visas in this category. No further details have been released, so all organisations and individuals can do is await further clarification and announcements from the Home Office.

Finally, we do not yet have any idea when the Government might be proposing to launch this visa. The Innovation Strategy sets out the UK Government’s plans to make the UK a global hub for innovation by 2035...

Other new visas

In addition to the High Potential Individual route, the UK government have also released further details on the proposed changes to the entrepreneurial based routes, namely the “scale-up” and “Innovator” routes, along with the long-anticipated “Global Business Mobility” visa.

  • The scale-up route will support UK scale-ups by allowing talented individuals with a high skilled job offer from a qualifying scale-up at the required salary level to come to the UK. However, this visa might well be difficult to obtain in practice given that the Government has announced that a scale-up will be defined as a business that can; “demonstrate 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 route will allow eligible individuals to work, switch jobs or employers. Individuals will also be able to extend their visa and settle in the UK, subject to meeting specific requirements.

  • The Innovator route will enable talented innovators and entrepreneurs from overseas to start and operate a business in the UK that is venture-backed or harnesses innovative technologies, creating jobs for UK workers and boosting growth. As part of this latest announcement applicants will no longer be required to have at least £50,000 in investment funds and when it comes to the more bespoke individual criteria, applicants will only need to show that their business “has a high potential to grow and add value to the UK and is innovative”.
  • The Global Business Mobility visa will allow overseas businesses and innovative companies greater flexibility in transferring workers to the UK, in order to establish and expand their businesses. This appears to be a rebranding of the current Sole Representative for Overseas Business visa, although it will be interesting to see what overlap there is with the current Intra Company Transfer sponsorship route.

Again, no further details are available and there is no confirmed timetable for these visa routes being introduced.

These new strategies aim to make the UK a global hub for innovation and increase business investment and provide fast track visa routes for highly skilled individuals and their teams, attracting top talent to the UK. Whether or not this is the case in practice will depend on the details; businesses struggling with the current candidate shortage will no doubt await further announcements with interest.

If you have any questions about anything referenced in the above or would like advice regarding your specific circumstances, please contact a member of our Business Immigration Team who will be able to assist you.