Scale-up Worker Route
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Scale-up Worker visa, introduced in August 2022, is one of the most attractive Sponsored worker routes leading to settlement after five years. It offers the worker maximum flexibility in the choice of employment and self-employment, does not tie the worker to the sponsor for the entire visa duration and leads to indefinite leave to remain after five years of continuous residence.
To qualify, the worker must have a job offer from a Scale-up Sponsor licence holder. The licence can be granted by the Home Office to qualifying businesses which have been established for at least three years and meet the specific requirements.
The Scale-up Worker visa holder has to work in the sponsored employment for a period of six months. After this the worker is free to take up any unsponsored work, employed or self-employed, or start their own business.
The initial visa is granted for two years, the first six months of which must be sponsored by the Scale-up sponsor. The visa can be extended for a further three years and no sponsorship is required for the extension if income requirements are met. This second stretch of the visa is called the unsponsored application under the Scale-up Worker route. On completion of five years in this route, or in a combination of permitted routes, a Scale-up visa holder is eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain. There are UK earnings requirements both for the extension and ILR applications as explained below.
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Skills level and minimum pay requirement for a Scale-up worker
The job sponsored under the Scale-up Worker route has to be at least RQF level 6 as listed in Appendix Skilled Occupations of the Immigration Rules.
The minimum annual salary threshold under this route is £34,600 per year together with the hourly “going rate” for the job as prescribed for the specific occupation in the Immigration Rules. The going rates for the jobs correspond to a 37,5-hour week. There is a minimum hourly pay if the sponsored employee is to work longer hours. Work beyond a 48-hour week is not taken into consideration.
The position does not have to be full time or meet any minimum hours requirements, but monthly pay has to be proportionate to the annual salary of at least £34,600 and the hourly pay has to match or exceed the “going rate” for the occupation as indicated in the Immigration Rules.
For example, an investment banker (Standard Occupational Classification code 1131) if hired for a 37.5-hour week is to be paid an annual salary of £42,800. However, if hired for a 32-hour week, can be paid proportionately (£29.95 x 32 = £702.40 weekly x 52 = £36,525 per year) and still meet both the minimum threshold requirement of £34,600 and £21.95 hourly rate prescribed for SOC code 1131. If hired for a 20-hour week, the worker under this SOC code will have to be paid at least £33.27 per hour to meet the £34,600 annual threshold.
Where the “going rate” for the occupation is below £34,600, annual salary can be topped up by additional hours to meet the minimum threshold requirement. For example, a fleet manager of a distribution company (SOC code 1161) if paid the “going rate” of £15.64 per hour will have to work a 42.6-hour week to meet the minimum annual threshold.
It is of course permissible to pay above the required minimum.
There is no salary discount for the job listed on the Shortage Occupation List. So the salary threshold for the same position may be different under the Skilled Worker route and the Scale-up Worker will have to be paid at a higher rate. There may still be financial advantages for the employer, since sponsorship is required for only six months.
Requirement to stay in the sponsored position for six months
The Scale-up worker may have to change the visa if sponsored employment changes within the first six months. Some changes may not require a new visa application, more important changes – like a significant change to the job or change of employer – will require a new visa.
The sponsor remains responsible for the sponsored employee for the first six months after the initial grant of the Scale-up visa and the visa may be curtailed if sponsorship is terminated or changes have not been properly reported to the Home Office.
Scale-up visa timeline
Scale-up visa is initially granted for two years.
You have the option of extending it for a further three-year period if you meet the income requirement on completion of the two years. This extension is called unsponsored as you will not need a sponsor for this stretch of leave.
After the second stretch of three years you are entitled to apply for ILR if you meet the income and continuous residence requirements, or extend it for a further three years – again without the need for sponsorship. There is no limit on how many times you can extend this visa.
Income requirement for the unsponsored Scale-up visa extension
To extend the Scale-up visa for an unsponsored three-year period, the worker has to meet the UK earnings requirement as follows:
- Monthly PAYE earnings in the UK of not less than £2750 before tax for at least 12 months of the previous period of permission to stay.
- Earnings from other sources (self-employment, dividends, earnings from outside the UK etc) do not count
- Period of absence from work due to sick leave, statutory maternity or parental leave count towards the earnings requirement as long as the job from which leave is taken has basic pay above the £33,000 threshold.
There is no limit on permissible number of the visa extensions in this category. If the worker is applying to extend the visa after a three-year stretch, the UK earnings requirements have to be met during 18 months of their last leave, in other words during 50% if the last visa period.
Earnings requirements are assessed on a monthly basis. This means that higher earnings over some months cannot compensate for the months with lower earnings.
The qualifying income has to come through the PAYE scheme. Income may come from one or multiple jobs. Earnings from outside the UK do not count.
When and where to apply for unsponsored Scale-up worker visa extension
The unsponsored application for the Scale-up visa is available for applicants who have completed their stay on the sponsored application and meet the UK earnings requirement. The application for the next stretch of the visa can be made within six months of expiry of the first two-year stretch. The application can be made from the UK before expiry of the two-year visa or from abroad.
If you are applying from abroad, you must meet the maintenance requirement.
English language requirement
All Scale-up Worker applicants have to meet the English language requirement in reading, writing, speaking and listening to at least B1 standard. The language requirement is met if you are a national of a majority English-speaking country or if you have graduated from a UK University. You may be able to meet the English language requirement if you graduated from a university outside the UK where tuition was in English.
The maintenance requirement applies to applicants switching into the Scale-up Worker route if they have been in the UK for less than 12 months or to those applying for entry clearance from outside the UK. The requirement is to show funds equivalent to at least £1270 held in a bank account for 28 days prior to the date of the application.
The Scale-up sponsor may certify maintenance on the Certificate of Sponsorship and this requirement will be considered as met.
Requirements for indefinite leave to remain
- Five years continuous residence which can be in a combination of the following routes:
- UK earnings requirement
The applicant has to show PAYE earnings of at least £2750 per month during 24 months of the three years immediately before the date of the application.
Earnings only include guaranteed basic pay before tax and do not include bonuses.
As with extension applications, the time taken off work on sick leave or statutory maternity or parental leave counts towards meeting the requirement as long as the basic salary for the job meets the threshold of £34,600 per year.
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Last updated on 20 April 2023
Last updated on November 3, 2022