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UK Visas for Highly Skilled Migrants

While the Tier 1 Highly Skilled Migrant visa UK is no longer available to new applicants, there are several newer visa options available to those with highly skilled workers who wish to come to the UK to work. Over time, what is meant by a “highly skilled migrant” has changed and expanded. Under the UK’s current immigration rules, highly skilled migrant visa routes include the following:

To make a successful visa application, highly skilled individuals must score enough points under the point-based immigration system based on meeting certain criteria (e.g. salary, an offer for an eligible job, endorsement). The point requirements vary depending on the specific visa being applied for.

The following provides a brief outline of each of the current highly skilled migrant visa schemes available in the UK.

Skilled Worker visa

Skilled Worker visa is the most popular skilled immigration routes in the UK. It enables UK-based employers to hire overseas highly skilled workers to fill relevant vacancies. The Skilled Worker visa, which replaced the Tier 2 general visa, allows foreign nationals with a sufficient skill level (RQF level 3 or above) in an eligible occupation to work in the UK. RQF level 3 is broadly equivalent to college-level education in the UK (i.e. A-Level). This does not mean that applicants under this route must have an RQF level 3 qualification; it means that they must have skills which are equivalent to this level of qualification.

Under the Skilled Worker visa scheme, employers are no longer required to carry out resident labour market tests to prove that they have tried to find a worker in the UK before hiring from overseas. This was a requirement under the previous Tier 2 general visa.

To make a successful application for a Skilled Worker visa, applicants must have a job offer from a UK employer with a sponsor licence for an eligible occupation and a valid CoS (Certificate of Sponsorship) from their employer and meet the salary requirements. There are additional requirements relating to knowledge of the English language and sufficient personal savings. You can check our Skilled Worker visa guidance for more information about the requirements.

The list of eligible occupations1 under the Skilled Worker visa route includes jobs such as:

  • Chief executives
  • Welders
  • Classroom assistants
  • Chemical engineers

Those considering a Skilled Worker visa can also apply if they have a job on the shortage occupation list, for which there is insufficient supply in the UK to meet demand. The benefit of having a job on the shortage occupation list is that the salary requirement is set at a lower point (80% of the going rate).

New work visas for highly skilled migrants in 2022

For 2022, there are several new visa categories available for highly skilled individuals from overseas who would like to work in the UK; these include:

  • Scale up visa
  • High Potential Individual (HPI) visa
  • Global business mobility visa scheme (see dedicated section below for more details on this scheme)

Scale Up Visa

The Scale Up visa is a new scheme that will open to applications on 22nd August 2022. It is aimed at individuals with high levels of skills and qualifications. Like the Skilled Worker visa, Scale Up visa applicants require a job offer and sponsorship from a licenced sponsor. However, sponsorship is not required for those who were previously given permission to stay as a Scale-Up worker. It is expected that the Scale-Up visa 2022 will be open to those with:

  • High levels of skills or individuals considered “academically elite”
  • A certificate of sponsorship
  • A highly skilled job offer with a Scale-Up company
  • A salary of at least £33,000
  • Sufficient knowledge of the English language

High Potential Individual (HPI) visa

The High Potential Individual visa opened on 30th May 2022 and allows overseas nationals without a job offer but with an overseas ‘degree-level’ qualification gained recently from a top university to work or seek work in the UK. Applicants must:

  • Be 18 years or above
  • Have an overseas degree-level qualification from an institution on the Global Universities List and this must have been gained in the last 5 years
  • Meet the English language requirements (CEFR Level B1 or above in speaking, listening, reading, and writing)
  • Have sufficient support funds (at least £1,270)

Global Business Mobility visa scheme

The Global Business Mobility visa scheme is also brand new for 2022 and includes 5 separate visas, most of which replaced existing visa routes.

Self-employed highly skilled migrant visa UK options

In addition to the above visas, several routes are available to overseas nationals in self-employment. These include the following:

  • Start-up visa
  • Innovator visa
  • Global Talent visa

Start-up visa

The Start-up visa is intended to enable overseas entrepreneurs with entry-level business experience to come to the UK to establish an innovative business here. Unlike the Innovator visa, there is no requirement to have investment funds under the Start-Up visa route. Start-up visa applicants must:

  • Be at least 18 years of age
  • Have a business plan for an innovative, viable and scalable start-up business
  • Possess or be in the process of developing the business skills required to set up a Start-up business in the UK
  • Have endorsement from an approved endorsing body
  • Meet the English language requirement
  • Have sufficient savings

Innovator visa

The UK Innovator visa is intended to enable overseas entrepreneurs to establish an innovative business here. Applicants must have at least £50,000 in investment funds and have a unique and viable business idea that is endorsed by an approved endorsing body. Applicants must:

  • Be at least 18 years of age
  • Have at least £50,000 in investment funds
  • Have a business plan for an innovative, viable and scalable business
  • Have their business ideas endorsed by an approved endorsing body
  • Meet the English language requirement
  • Have sufficient savings

Global Talent visa

The Global Talent visa is intended for overseas nationals who are leaders or potential leaders in academia or research, arts and culture, or digital technology. Applicants must:

  • Be at least 18 years
  • Endorsed by an approved endorsing body as a leader or potential leader

How to apply for visas as highly skilled migrants

Each of the above visas has a slightly different application process, but the main steps you will need to follow are as follows:

  1. Check that you meet all of the eligibility requirements for the visa you are applying for.
  2. Ensure you have a valid Certificate of Sponsorship from your employer or an endorsement letter from an endorsing body (depending on the type of visa you are applying for).
  3. Prepare and submit your visa application – this is completed online on the Home Office website.
  4. Pay the visa application fees and immigration healthcare surcharge (if required).
  5. Book an appointment with your nearest UK visa application centre (VAC) to have your biometrics processed.
  6. Upload any documents required to support your application.
  7. Attend your VAC appointment to have your fingerprints scanned and your photo taken.
  8. Wait for a decision on your high-skilled visa UK application.

In some cases, you may be required to attend an interview to discuss your application.

Conditions of stay on the UK highly skilled migrant visa

As a highly skilled migrant, the immigration conditions attached to your stay will depend on the type of visa you hold. In general, as a work visa holder, you may be able to:

  • work in an eligible job in the UK
  • study
  • bring your dependants with you (i.e. your partner and children)
  • do voluntary work
  • travel outside of the UK and return freely
  • apply for indefinite leave to remain (ILR) after a qualifying period (Global Business Mobility visa holders cannot apply to settle and must switch to a different type of visa to do so).

Work visa holders cannot, however:

  • apply for benefits (public funds)
  • apply for a State Pension
  • change jobs or employers without gaining permission from the Home Office

Business visa holders (e.g. the innovator and start-up visa) can come to the UK to set up their business and employee people as required. Innovator visa holders can apply to settle after 3 years in the UK, but the start-up visa does not provide a direct route to settlement.

UK highly skilled migrant visas to ILR

Some, but not all highly skilled migrant visas provide a route to ILR. Those that allow settlement include the following:

  • Skilled Worker visa – after 5 years
  • Scale up visa – the qualifying period for ILR is yet to be confirmed
  • Innovator visa – after 3 years
  • Global Talent visa – after 3 or 5 years

It is not possible to apply for direct settlement if you hold one of the following visas (note: you can settle in the UK if you switch to one of the above qualifying visas or another suitable visa):

  • High potential individual visa
  • Global Business Mobility
  • Start-Up visa
  • Graduate visas

How Reiss Edwards can help?

Reiss Edwards specialises in all aspects of highly skilled migration to the UK, representing employers and workers. Our immigration solicitors can:

  • Advise on all aspects of employing overseas workers the UK
  • Advise on your business’s overseas hiring and global mobility strategy
  • Guide you through the UKVI compliance process necessary to secure your sponsor licence as an employer
  • Help your business to remain in compliance with your sponsor licence obligations and duties
  • Advise on the available visa routes for highly skilled migrants to the UK
  • Handle your highly skilled visa UK application for you and on behalf of your family
  • Handle a refusal of your highly skilled visas

For assistance with highly skilled immigration UK, please speak to our immigration lawyers for a free telephone consultation on 020 3744 2797 or by email at


1 GOV.UK: List of eligible occupations

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