Back in July last year the government published its new ‘Innovation Strategy’ setting out its plans to make the UK the easiest country in the world for top innovative talent to enter. To that end, in the coming months a number of new visas are going to be rolled out by the Home Office.
The 116-page document sets out details of planned new visa routes during 2022 aimed at attracting talent to the UK – a combination of factors including Brexit, Covid-19 and increasing global competition has left many employers facing recruitment challenges with an exodus of experienced EU workers from a variety of industries having left the UK taking their skill-set with them.
To help address the problem the government has created an 'Office for Talent' to work on recruiting and welcoming talent to the UK and to that end we will be seeing a series of new visa routes open up. They are: the High Potential Individual route, a scale-up route, a revitalised Innovator route and a Global Business Mobility route.
So let’s have a look at these in turn. Shara Pledger is an immigration specialist who joined me by video-link from Manchester to discuss all of them. First the High Potential Individual route:
Shara Pledger: “Well, a high potential individual is, in theory, a very attractive route for people because it's, crucially, a non-sponsored option and we don't have that many non-sponsored routes that are currently applicable in the immigration rules. The thing that will be very attractive to people who are interested in ‘high potential’ as opposed to say, for example, ‘innovator’ is that it would give them a lot more freedom in terms of what they want to do. So with innovative people they are probably used to the idea that they might have to meet lots of requirements that are ongoing to do with the business that they are going to set up in the UK, high potential individuals will not have those ongoing requirements all the time so it's more flexible and, as a result, hopefully, it will be attracting some really good candidates to the UK. The problem that we have with the route so far is just how little we know about it. The Home Office haven't released any rules, there is no guidance really. The only thing that we currently know is that a lot of weight is going to be put on to somebody whose past experience and, crucially, also their education and the Home Office have already said that they'll be looking to offer places to people who've attended top global universities, but no indication of exactly where those are and we do know, from experience, that the Home Office can tend to favour some nationalities over others, some institutions over others, so it could be that there might be some individuals who, unfortunately, won't qualify even though they think that this potentially could be a route for them.”
Joe Glavina: “What about the Scale-up route which is due to be launched in the Spring?”
Shara Pledger: “Scale-up is looking at providing some kind of alternative to people from skilled worker. So the skilled worker route, the traditional sponsored route, offers some really good opportunities for people but the burden on the individual and on the organisation can be quite onerous, particularly on the organisation when it comes down to things like the applications for a licence, the ongoing maintenance for licences, record keeping requirements, etcetera. What scale-up will do is give an opportunity for an organisation to support somebody’s application rather than formally sponsor it, so there’s no need for a licence, for example. It’s going to be an interesting route. There is not a huge amount of information that's come through as of yet. Some of it is quite intriguing about, for example, it might be that an individual only needs to be supported by an organisation for perhaps six months or so and then they could, in theory, move on somewhere else, which I don't think is what the organisations themselves will envisage when they support somebody to come to the UK. But again, obviously, the one restriction that we're going to see with the scale-up route is that it's only going to be open to certain organisations to offer that support because you need to be able to show that you've had that 20% growth over the required period of time, you've got the staffing levels that are needed for the scale-up option. So as with other routes that we see, unfortunately, in theory, it's a really, really great route, but in practice it will just cancel some people out because they just simply can't meet those requirements.”
Joe Glavina: “Next we have the Revitalised Innovator route. It sounds like an exciting revamp of something we’ve already got!”
Shara Pledger: “The revitalised route for innovators is probably overselling it a little, I would say. Innovator has been a bit of a dud, to be honest, ever since it was introduced into the rules, it doesn't have a high number of applicants and that's, crucially, down to how challenging it can be to get into that route. The need to get that endorsement from one of the required organisations and, crucially, keep that endorsement as well. The requirements that are ongoing for individuals under the innovator route are really, really, onerous compared to other options. What we hope to see, and what the Home Office have billed, we will see in terms of revitalising that route, is to try and streamline some of this. So even just taking out some of those contact points, for example, would make things a lot easier for both individuals and, I’m sure, also for endorsing bodies as well. But as with most things that we've seen that were organised in 2021, and now into 2022, the detail is still lacking in terms of exactly what that's going to look like and it is probably going to take a lot to make innovator and attractive option for those who've been put off so far.”
Joe Glavina: “Finally we have the Global Business Mobility route Shara.”
Shara Pledger: “Well, global business mobility has the potential to be a real game changer in terms of offering flexibility to both organisations and to workers. The bits that are really interesting that they've talked about so far with global business mobility include things like the ability to just take up whole teams and relocate them to the UK. That really isn't something that we've seen before in the immigration rules as it’s very much focused on one particular individual sponsored by one particular company. So offering a bit more flexibility in relation to that, and recognising this kind of global move towards, you know, sort of transferring skills, etcetera quite quickly and easily would be very, very beneficial, I'm sure, to industry in the UK. What is potentially less enticing about the route is the way that it's looking to bring together intra-company options but also sole representative options under one potentially sponsored umbrella. There is the sole representative route, which more accurately is referred to as representative of an overseas business, and what sole representatives are able to do is come to the UK representing their overseas entity and just establish that trading presence in the UK, but in a way that doesn't have that very intense Home Office scrutiny at the beginning, so they don't need to be sponsored, etcetera. If we see that kind of sponsorship approach starting to creep into things like sole representative, then it's potentially quite damaging in terms of that route, that route really offers a lot of flexibility for people and it would be, I think, potentially a step backwards to try and meddle with that particular option in that way. But that said, global mobility, in theory, that route does have a lot to offer and so it'll be very interesting to see what detail comes out about things like moving over whole teams etcetera.”
The timescales for these visas are unclear. Spring 2022 has been mentioned in relation to a couple of them but that’s something of a movable feast as far as the Home Office is concerned so we will need to wait for more news on that. Meanwhile, if you would like more information about those new visa routes and the rationale behind them you will find that in the government’s Innovation Strategy document which was published in July last year. We have put a link to that in the transcript of this programme.