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09 August 2021

New “high potential” UK immigration category announced

On 22 July 2021, the government released its new UK Innovation Strategy (the “Strategy”). The Strategy sets out the government’s long-term plans to boost private sector investment in research and development. This is to ensure the UK is at the front of the global innovation race and is “building back better”.

The aim of the strategy is straightforward; through investment in innovation in multiple sectors, the government is looking to ensure that the UK is a global hub for innovation. In order to accomplish this the Strategy has set out four pillars. While pillars 1, 3 and 4 focus on business, Pillar 2 of the objective is People. The government wants to make the UK the most exciting place for innovation talent.

To achieve this aim the government has pledged to introduce a new High Potential Individual route and to revitalise the Innovator route.

High Potential Individual route – a rose by any other name

The Strategy states that this new route would make it easier for overseas citizens to come to the UK without a job offer if they are able to demonstrate high potential.

Eligibility for this route will be open to applicants who have graduated from a top global university and the UK government is exploring the scope to expand eligibility to other characteristics of high potential. Those familiar with the history of UK highly skilled visas will immediately see the similarity to the Highly Skilled visa applications that were on offer from 2002 to 31 March 2011. This is nothing new but is to be welcomed to give workers the flexibility to change jobs, or set up their own businesses, the latter being something that has not been easy since the Entrepreneur category was abolished in 2019.

There will not be a job offer requirement like other current routes, such as Skilled Workers, giving the individual applicants the same flexibility as a Global Talent visa route, being able to switch jobs or employers as long as within the same field. The route will eventually lead to settlement, subject to requirements yet to be outlined. Settlement sets an applicant on a road to obtaining British citizenship.

Innovator route

The Strategy recognises that the current Innovator route has been underutilised. One way that expansion of the route is being considered is by scrapping the current requirement for the applicant to have at least £50,000 in investment funds before applying for a visa. This is if the endorsing body is satisfied the applicant has sufficient funds to grow their business.

Applicants will still need to show that their innovative business venture has a high potential to grow and add value to the UK.

Furthermore, the government is exploring fast track options for the Innovator endorsement process. One example is that applicants who are accepted on to DIT’s Global Entrepreneur Programme will be automatically eligible.

Also welcome is the proposal to allow the applicant to do other work, outside of their primary business.

Scale-up route

A further proposal for a new route is for talented individuals to come to the UK if they hold a highly skilled job offer from a qualifying scale-up at a required salary level. A scale-up Is basically a high growth company in general terms. The OECD defines high growth as a company that has achieved growth of 20% or more in either employment or turnover year on year for at least two years, and have a minimum employee count of 10 at the start of the observation period.

The scale-up route will allow eligible individuals to work and switch jobs or employers in the UK. Individuals will also be able to extend their visa and settle in the UK, subject to meeting specific requirements.


The above routes follow the same pattern that the Home Office has been pushing regarding the new Immigration Bill, namely that they want to attract top talent to the UK. Alongside these routes, the new Global Business Mobility visa will also allow overseas businesses and innovative companies greater flexibility in transferring workers to the UK, in order to establish and expand their businesses. Furthermore, the Graduate Route is being resurrected for international students to work in the UK post-graduation.

The devil, as always, will be in the detail, which will be included in the Immigration Rules in due course. As there are a number of subjective elements contained in the proposals which will require clarification, such as what constitutes a “top global university”.

The Citizenship & Immigration team at Payne Hicks Beach, has over 20 years of experience dealing with immigration matters and the broad spectrum of highly skilled categories of visa applications. For further information please contact either Kathryn Bradbury email or Richard Milford by email or, alternatively, telephone on 020 7465 4300.

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Kathryn Bradbury
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Richard Milford
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