News & Insights

New type of visa for ‘high potential’ individuals

Unsponsored visa route to make it simpler to attract top global talent.

Why is it needed?

In July 2021 the government published its UK Innovation Strategy. This outlined the steps needed to ‘supercharge’ economic growth through innovation, following our exit from the EU and the effects of the pandemic.  As some innovative businesses have struggled to access the skills needed, there is a need for enhancements to the immigration system if the UK is to achieve its goal of becoming a global hub for innovation by 2035. The aim is to make ‘the UK the easiest country in the world for top innovative talent to enter’, settle and contribute to the growth and prosperity of the UK economy.  The High Potential visa is therefore one of three new routes included in the strategy designed to attract top global talent, particularly in areas such as science, technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

What is the High Potential visa?

The new route allows high potential individuals to come to the UK without needing a job offer.  This will make it quicker and simpler for internationally mobile individuals to come to the UK, by avoiding the procedures involved in sponsorship.  Eligible individuals would have the flexibility to work, switch jobs or employers. It may also be appealing to some employers who do not want to the costs and obligations associated with sponsorship.

Under this route individuals also benefit from being able to extend their stay and attain settlement in the UK (subject to specific requirements), without needing to switch into another visa category to achieve this. This differentiates the High Potential visa from the existing graduate and student visa routes.

Who is Eligible?

The High Potential visa is open to those who have ‘graduated from a top global university’ although the criteria for this has still to be properly defined.  In the interest of attracting diverse global talent there are hopes that this will not be limited to list of top academic institutions and that government will follow up on its commitment to consider expanding eligibility criteria to include other characteristics of high potential e.g. high salary, post-graduate qualifications, age, or STEM degree.

How effective will it be?

The terms of the new visa have yet to be announced and are likely to appear in a future revision or addition to the current points-based immigration system.  It is therefore too early to speculate whether the visa will attract the desired level of talent. Its success will depend on targeting the right individuals through the eligibility criteria and maintaining operational flexibility so the route can be adapted as needs change. Lessons from previous unsuccessful unsponsored routes might also be usefully applied to the new visa design, since these have tended to cast a wider net than originally intended.

Next Steps

A more diverse range of immigration routes, including new visas such as the High Potential visa and changes to existing visas, could be available as soon as Spring 2022.  For individuals the High Potential visa will supplement the existing options available of the Skilled Worker visa and the Global Talent visa.  It is therefore important for leading individuals to consider their options carefully and for businesses to prepare strategies for harnessing this pool of top talent when it becomes available.  FSP are well placed to help you navigate through these changes to ensure you leverage the most appropriate opportunities. For advice on inbound visa routes to the UK, please contact our Head of Immigration, Imelda Reddington at [email protected]