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Decoding Immigration Routes

Scale-up vs Skilled Worker Visa

The UK’s immigration system offers a variety of entry routes for migrants – each with unique advantages, and unique requirements .  It can be difficult to decide which route is most appropriate, especially where  there are similarities between two potential options.  We are frequently asked whether the recently established Scale-up route is a better option than the more established Skilled Worker route.

Both categories present advantages – and if you are a businesses undergoing high growth, the scale-up route may well be for you.  However, despite its touted attractions the Skilled Worker route frequently emerges as a more favourable option for employers (although perhaps less so for migrants) for a number of key reasons.


The Distinctions


Scale Up Visa Skilled Worker Visa
Designed to attract top talent and bolster businesses experiencing rapid growth. Designed to address skilled job vacancies for any business with a sponsor licence, offering a suitable role in the UK.
Less Expensive. Sponsors are not required to pay the immigration skills charge for each migrant. Immigration Skills Charge: Small/charitable and medium/large sponsors have to pay £364/£1000 for the first 12 months and £182/500 for each additional 6 months, respectively).
To be eligible for a Scale-up sponsor licence, a business must show 20% growth in employed staff or turnover for three consecutive years,  and at least 10 employees at the outset of the 3-year period.  No such growth requirements.
Migrants must work in the sponsored job for a minimum of six months – after which they are free to switch employers without the need for sponsorship.  Hence the attraction to migrants rather than sponsors!  No such flexibility.  Every time the migrant changes employers (or to roles with a different SOC code) visa holders need to file a Change of Employment application.
Salary Threshold for the Scale-up visa is £34,600, or the ‘going rate’ for the appropriate occupation code. Salary Threshold £26,200 or the ‘going rate’ for the appropriate occupation code. Some discounts possible for shortage occupation or new entrants.  Increasing to £38,700 in April 2024.
Scale-up visas are initially issued for two years and can be extended for an additional three through an unsponsored application. Offers an initial 5-year period which can be extended for up to 5 years at a time, with sponsorship needed each time.


Distinctions aside, there are similarities:

  • Point-based system: Both routes demand a total of 70 points for qualification, based on factors such as job offer, skill level, and salary.
  • English Language requirement: Applicants must meet the B1 level or above on the Common European Framework of Reference for languages in all components unless they’re from a majority English-speaking country.
  • Financial requirement: Applicants submitting an Entry Clearance application will need to meet the financial requirement for both routes (have at least £1,270 for them, £285 for their partner and £315 for each child in their bank account to show they can support themselves in the UK), unless their sponsor certifies maintenance on the Certificate of Sponsorship.
  • Dependents: Both routes pave the way to settlement after five years of lawful residence in the UK, assuming all requirements are met.
  • Settlement: Both routes lead to settlement after 5 years of lawful residence in the UK (provided all requirements are met).
  • Public funds: No access to public funds under either route.
  • Application from inside/outside the UK: Applicants can apply for entry clearance outside the UK or switch from inside the UK under both routes.


What is right for your business will depend on numerous factors including speed of growth and whether you are looking for a stable framework for recruitment efforts or are happy to offer talented, individuals a route into the UK which enables flexibility and movement after 6 months.  Whilst potentially destabilising such flexibility may be attractive and could work for your business if you need talent in the short term.   If you’d like more guidance on what may be best for your business, do get in touch.

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