The UK government has launched a scaleup visa for businesses to sponsor high-skill tech workers for a two-year stay to encourage more talent into the country and plug the digital skills gap.
From today, businesses that meet certain requirements can apply to sponsor individuals working in roles such as software development, engineering and science R&D.
Successful applicants will be granted a two-year stay without further sponsorship. By contrast, temporary worker visas have a six-month maximum. After five years, applicants can apply for settlement.
The visa – formally known as the “Scale-up visa” – comes as part of the government’s post-Brexit revamp of the UK’s immigration system.
Free movement between the UK and the EU ended on 31 December 2020, significantly reducing the visa-free talent pool available to British tech companies.
Since then, startups and scaleups have been battling for talent amid a long-running digital skills shortage.
Data published by Tech Nation shows that tech job vacancies are at a 10-year high as companies struggle to find talent with the right skillsets.
“Rapidly growing businesses, like small enterprises, tech and financial services, need the right level of support to go to the next level,” said Minister for Safe and Legal Migration Kevin Foster.
“Through our Scale-up visa, we’re enabling businesses to focus on their growth and innovation by giving them more freedom to bring in the diverse skills and experience they need, making them more attractive on an international stage.”
Scaleup visa: how to qualify
To qualify as a scaleup, businesses will need to demonstrate year-on-year growth of at least 20% in either employment or turnover for at least three years. They will also need to have employed at least 10 people since the start of that three-year period.
Applicants must be working in one of the “eligible occupations” listed by the Home Office, and have a valid job offer from a sponsor for a skilled role paying a minimum of £33,000 per year.
The visa has been welcomed by the ScaleUp Institute, a not-for-profit company that assists growing businesses.
“This is something we have recommended since our inception and should provide a much-needed fast track service to enable local growth companies to access the talent they need more quickly,” said Irene Graham OBE, CEO of the ScaleUp Institute.
Graham added: “The visa should help with the skills demands. We look forward to continuing to work with the government as this service evolves to ensure it fully addresses scaling business needs and works effectively.”
Nimmi Patel, policy manager for skills, talent and diversity at techUK, a trade association, told UKTN that the scaleup visa “will provide employers the flexibility they need to grow their business”.
However, Patel warned that the “cost of the new points-based immigration system is compounding the struggles of UK businesses to recruit the digital skills they need”.
Patel said that the UK’s immigration skills charge is “significantly more expensive” than in the EU and other countries and asked the government “whether it is the most effective way for companies to be a part of skills development in the UK”.