· Comment

Legal-ease: The High Potential Individual visa


Changes to the immigration system will allow UK firms to recruit more high-calibre workers from overseas and have the potential to deliver a significant fillip for businesses engaged in research and development (R&D). 

The New Innovation Strategy announced by business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng in July sets out long-term plans to secure the UK’s position as a world leader in science, research and innovation.

Alongside a commitment to increasing annual public investment in R&D to a record £22 billion, the strategy introduces new High Potential Individual visa and Scale-Up visa routes.

This will revitalise the existing Innovator routes to help boost private sector investment in R&D across the whole of the UK, and create the right conditions for attracting and retaining globally mobile and innovative individuals wanting to share their talent.

Employing overseas talent:

What are the new immigration routes employers should be aware of?

New visas announced to address labour shortages

Can EU nationals continue frontier working post-Brexit?


High Potential Individual route 

This new route will enable ‘high-potential individuals’ to enter the UK without a job offer, unlike many other immigration routes into the UK.

Eligibility includes applicants who have graduated from a top global university.

There is currently no published ranking determining these universities, however, this is expected to follow and may become even more specific to only include top global university graduates in a STEM subject.

The UK government will also explore the scope to expand eligibility to other characteristics of high potential.

This will afford eligible foreign nationals the flexibility to work and switch jobs or employers and contribute to the UK economy. This route will also enable eligible individuals to extend their visas  and settle in the UK, subject to meeting specific requirements.

Although this is an unsponsored route under the UK points-based immigration system, businesses may still require a sponsor licence as most overseas recruits will fall in the category of skilled migrant workers fitting the eligibility criteria for the sponsored skilled worker visa as opposed to the elite High Potential Individual Visa.

Employers should seek advice from business immigration solicitors where uncertain.


Scale-Up route

The government has pledged other ways to generate innovation through immigration as part of its Innovation Strategy, including a Scale-Up visa, a single sponsored Global Business Mobility visa, and the revitalisation of the existing Innovator visa.

The Scale-Up visa will support UK scale-ups by allowing talented individuals with a high-skilled job offer from a ‘qualifying scale-up’ business at the required salary level to enter the UK.

Qualifying scale-ups are businesses that 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.

Applicants will be able to apply for fast-track immigration processes and have greater flexibility to work in the UK, move between different employers, and be eligible to apply for Settled Status in the UK.


Revitalised Innovator route 

Once the above routes are in place, the UK government plans to make this route more accessible and desirable for eligible applicants by no longer requiring them to have at least £50,000 in investment funds or to prove growth in international markets under this route.

Applicants will only be required to show that their business has a high potential to grow and add value to the UK and that it is innovative.

The proposed reforms under the UK Innovation Strategy are all in addition to the existing skills visa schemes, including visas under the Global Talent or Skilled Worker routes and the reforms also supplement the Global Entrepreneur Programme (GEP), which continues to attract highly skilled migrant tech founders with IP-rich businesses to the UK. 

These ambitious plans for making the UK a leading global innovation hub by 2035 means there is much work yet to be done in bringing these plans into fruition.

However, it is believed that the UK government will implement the Innovation Strategy in a Statement of Changes later in the year. 

It is recommended that businesses keep up-to-date with these changes and understand the number of employees who might be impacted.

UK employers should now be looking to take advantage of these reforms to recruit the brightest and best talent from abroad for their business, ideally running alongside sponsored work routes that currently apply to all EEA and non-EEA workers coming to the UK. 


Hodon Anastasi is associate at Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath


This piece first appeared in the September/October 2021 print issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk.