Effectiveness of new visa schemes questioned

Reservations over the long-term efficacy of two of the government's new visa routes into the UK are being voiced by business executives and an expert in immigration law.

London, UK - January 01, 2022: Name sign above the entrance of Google offices in London. First Google office in the UK in opened in 2003 and has since grown to accommodate thousands of employees.
Both the recently-introduced Scale-up visa and the High Potential Individual (HPI) visa are being scrutinised across industry and academia and, according to some, are found to be wanting.
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Scope of Scale-up visas too narrow

The Scale-up route was introduced in August by the UK government, which promised the new route would make it "quicker and easier for fast-growing businesses to bring highly skilled individuals”. To qualify for a Scale-up sponsor licence, a business must have an annualised growth of at least 20 per cent in either employment or total sales for three years running and needs to have had at least 10 employees at the start of that three-year period.But, in an article in SME Magazine, Jackie Penlington, an immigration specialist at law firm Stevens & Bolton, says it is expected that only a small number of businesses will actually meet these requirements. On the plus side, Ms Penlington says the Scale-up category does open the possibility of a worker obtaining Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK after five years and the fact that it is a cheaper route than, for instance, the Skilled Worker route.

Retention remains a challenge

"However," she adds, "there are still costs involved – the immigration fees alone for the initial two-year visa amount to just under £2,000. Given that individuals sponsored are only tied to their Scale-up sponsor for the first six months, there are understandably concerns around employee retention."Ms Penlington also points out the new immigration category offers no help to businesses recruiting for lower skilled roles. "This is a deliberate policy decision from UK government but has left many businesses with skills shortages."While she says the Scale-up visa is "a good idea in principle", the strict criteria and bureaucracy involved mean it is unlikely to help many businesses in practice."With UK businesses struggling on many fronts at the moment, the UK immigration system is often more of a hindrance than any help to them. If the government is serious about staving off an economic recession, they need to reflect and consider proactive immigration measures to help UK businesses recruit the staff they need."

HPI 'not a long-term solution'

Meanwhile, the HPI visa has come in for criticism in an article in The Times, with business chiefs saying it might help solve skills shortages in the short term but does not represent a long-term solution.HPI visas are available to graduates from 50 of the world's top universities. Successful applicants do not have to have a job offer prior to arriving in the UK, though they must have a command of English and sufficient funds to support themselves. The visas expire after two years, or three years for those with doctorates.Stuart Munton, Chief for Delivery at AND Digital, told The Times: "Initiatives such as the HPI visa are attractive in the short run, with a flock of new skills - especially digital skills - coming available to UK businesses to plug the gap."However, without proper consideration, they can be damaging for businesses looking to grow and innovate in the longer term."Mr Munton said that long-term solutions to overcoming the UK's skills gap would require the nation to turn its attention "to the potential of those with untraditional backgrounds, such as ex-armed forces, refugees and minority communities, and put in place concrete initiatives to continuously upskill and support them".Callum Anderson, co-founder and CEO of Distributed - a provider of on-demand engineering teams - said he considered the HPI visa to be "yesterday's solution to today's problems".He added: "A solution that is, by definition, temporary and cannot be extended, will do nothing to solve a systematic shortage of talent."

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