2021 wasn't a year of great upheaval in the Immigration Rules. Major changes such as the overhaul of the Skilled Worker sponsorship system took effect just at the end of 2020, as did the Frontier Worker Permit scheme for EU nationals remaining in employment (but not residence) in the UK. That is not to say that 2021 was quiet; the Graduate route was introduced in the summer, Global Talent has continued to be tweaked and expanded, and the deadline for EU Settlement Scheme applications has come and gone during the year.
2022 is shaping up to be a year of big changes in business immigration, particularly the first half of the year. Spring 2022 is slated for the introduction of new routes such as Global Business Mobility and Scale-up, which will see both the introduction of new visa categories and amalgamation or amendment to some existing offerings. We also have the new High Potential Individual visa to look forward to, as well as anticipated changes to the Innovator route, aiming to make that option a little more accessible and user-friendly. In this article we will take a closer look at some of the new schemes being introduced this year.
Global Business Mobility
Here is what the Home Office had to say about the route in the August 2021 sponsorship roadmap:
The new Global Business Mobility route for overseas businesses seeking to establish a presence here or transfer staff to the UK will be launched in Spring 2022 under the existing sponsorship system. Improvements will be made in line with the wider sponsorship transformation project outlined in this document. The new sponsorship system will make it easier for overseas businesses to assign and manage workers coming to the UK under the Global Business Mobility route.
This route is intended to bring together existing intra-company transfer and sole representative routes under one new and improved umbrella. 'Sponsorship transformation' measures aim to make the process easier and more streamlined, so any new routes should aim for these ideals. The current options for overseas businesses looking to transfer talent to the UK are, however, limited. There either needs to be an established UK presence with a senior employee to take responsibility for a sponsor licence, or the sole representative route permits a lone worker to transfer to the UK to establish that presence. The Global Business Mobility route may offer scope for a team of workers to mobilise as one unit, something that is likely to be of use to sectors such as tech. While we wait for more details, there is concern over the reference to how this route will fall under the "existing sponsorship system". Sponsorship has traditionally involved a senior UK employee already established in the UK, and the addition of this requirement to options such as sole representative would be unwelcome. The Migration Advisory Committee recently reviewed the intra-company transfer route and found much to recommend its continuation and potential expansion, so there is hope that the Global Business Mobility route may see some of those suggestions put into practice, such as options to more easily secure settlement in the UK.
The Scale-up category was addressed specifically in the Chancellor's Autumn budget and spending review:
The government is implementing changes to the UK's immigration system to attract highly-skilled people to the UK. This includes a new Scale-up Visa, launching in spring 2022, that will help the UK's fastest-growing businesses to access overseas talent. The visa will be open to applicants who pass the language proficiency requirement and have a high-skilled job offer from an eligible business with a salary of at least £33,000.
The big draw of the route appears to be the absence of formal sponsorship via a licence; side-stepping this requirement allows a business to proceed with a hire quickly and without the cost and administrative burden of the sponsorship system. But which businesses will qualify? This was addressed in the July 2021 innovation strategy:
…they 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. UK Government will explore whether scale-ups who can demonstrate an expectation of strong growth in future years may also qualify following a review. The route will allow eligible individuals to work, switch jobs or employers. Individuals will be able to extend their visa and settle in the UK, subject to meeting specific requirements.
So, the route is going to be relatively exclusive, and it is worth noting that the base salary level here is more than £7,000 above that paid for some sponsored positions. As a result, the release of full immigration rules will be helpful in the new year to identify exactly to what extent this route will offer greater opportunity than the pre-existing sponsorship system.
High Potential Individual
This new route is currently the option with the least information available about it. However, a summary was given in the innovation strategy document released earlier this year:
Furthermore, as part of our plan for growth, 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.
What will be regarded as a 'top global university' remains to be seen, although we anticipate beneficial treatment for some countries, for example. The HPI route has potential to be a great option in 2022, with no need for sponsorship and much more flexibility for UK business activities than we currently see in many of the existing sponsored and un-sponsored options.