Now High Potential Visas are here, are they a good option for non-UK contractors?

To a fairly mixed response, the High Potential Visa route opened on May 30th 2022 but it still has the potential to be an exciting prospect for contractors wanting to work in the UK -- and businesses wanting to engage such non-UK resident freelance or self-employed workers, writes immigration lawyer Arshia Hashmi of law firm Brabners LLP.

To recap, the High Potential Visa (HPV) allows graduates of "top global universities” to come to work in the UK without a job offer.

Contractor-friendly, with caveats

Successful applicants are permitted to work in any role, or be self-employed, with no minimum salary requirements. As such, this is one of the very few immigration routes suitable for contractors and freelancers.

However, it does have its limitations. As this route doesn’t lead to settlement, individuals will need to apply to switch to another immigration route before their HPV expires. Alternative routes might include the Skilled Worker route, which does lead to settlement. Yet this poses some difficulties for contractors and freelancers who are non-UK nationals, as many alternative work-related routes into the UK now require sponsorship and may not permit individuals to continue with their freelance or contracting arrangements.

In addition, the list of eligible universities may seem a bit short, thereby proving restrictive to certain talent pools, given the list is heavy weighted in favour of western universities.

HPVs: Eligibility criteria

The key eligibility criteria for HPVs is that applicants will need to have graduated from a qualifying university in the five years before they apply.

The qualifying universities will be set out annually on the Global Universities List.

And the Home Office’s approved list includes institutions which appear in the top 50 in at least two of the following three rankings:

  • Times Higher Education World University rankings
  • Quacquarelli Symonds World University rankings
  • The Academic Ranking of the World Universities

The degree the applicant holds can be in any discipline but it must be equivalent to at least a UK Bachelor’s degree.

Financial and language requirements of the High Potential Visa

Further, the length of visa which is granted is determined by the level of the qualification relied upon. Applicants holding a Bachelor’s or Master's degree from a qualifying university will be eligible for two-year visas, for example, while those holding the equivalent of a UK PhD will be eligible for three-year visas.

Applicants must also demonstrate that they have English language ability of at least level B1 Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).

In addition, there is a financial requirement for individuals applying to come to the UK for the very first time, or for those who have been in the UK for less than 12 months. It is this -- they will need to show that they have held funds of at least £1,270 for 28 days. Anyone who has been resident in the UK for more than 12 months and is applying for leave to remain under the High Potential Individual visa route, may not need to meet this financial requirement.

Standing back from the detail…

While this is a potentially exciting development for those graduating from the specified universities, the restrictive nature of the university lists has already come in for some criticism.

For example, the most recent list for those graduating between November 1st 2021 and  October 31st 2022 does not contain any universities from the African continent or India. Instead, it is heavily skewed towards institutions situated in North America.

Although these lists are not created by the Home Office, questions are also being asked as to how the eligibility requirements ensures the “brightest and the best” graduates will come to the UK, not least given there are no restrictions on what degree courses are eligible or the standard of degree obtained.

Additions, but potentially restrictions too

While it is certainly possible that the Home Office might widen the list of universities in due course (or increase the number of eligible rankings), it is likely the Home Office will want to see how this route fares within its first few years -- before making any changes to it.

Finally, although there are currently no limits on the numbers of visas which can be awarded under this route, such a cap also remains a distinct possibility for the future, especially given the history of similar visa routes.

Eligible contractors wanting to come to the UK, and businesses wanting to engage them, would therefore be advised to apply for this visa without delay, particularly given the relative flexibility of this immigration route and the limited other options available to self-employed contractors and freelancers.

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Written by Arshia Hashmi

Arshia is a specialist business immigration lawyer and has practiced in this field for over a decade. She regularly handles issues such as sponsor licences (including compliance), right to work issues, corporate support, the implications of Brexit and support for those entering the UK for work purposes. Arshia has specialist experience in dealing with technology and sports-related immigration issues. Her client base includes a range of businesses from SMEs to multinational corporations as well as individuals.

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