Today sees the launch of the new High Potential Individual visa. Reminiscent of the Tier 1 (General) visa and its predecessor the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme, this is a new immigration route for recent graduates from the top global universities who wish to work, or look for work in the UK. Crucially, no sponsorship is required, applicants do not need to have a job offer and visa holders can work in any capacity (save for very limited professional sporting roles).
The High Potential Individual visa does not lead to settlement in the UK but upon expiry of leave to remain, individuals with this visa have the option to switch in the UK into another visa route which does lead to settlement. Typically, this is likely to be the Skilled Worker route, subject to the individual securing an eligible role with an employer who is a licenced sponsor.
In order to qualify for a High Potential Individual visa, applicants must:
- be aged 18 or over;
- have been awarded an overseas degree level qualification from an institution that appears on UKVI Global Universities List within the five years immediately prior to the date of application; and
- not have previously been granted leave under the Student Doctorate Extension Scheme (which closed on 1 July 2021), the Graduate route (for international students in the UK who have completed an eligible UK degree) or the High Potential Individual route.
The Global Universities List is a list which is compiled annually by UKVI and consists of all institutions which are ranked in the top 50 of at least two of the following University ranking systems:
- Times Higher Education World University Rankings;
- Quacquarelli Symonds World University Rankings; and
- The Academic Ranking of World Universities.
The awarding University must be on the Global Universities List for the year in which the applicant graduated. The Global Universities Lists from 2016 to 2021 can be viewed here.
As part of the application, candidates will need to submit confirmation from ECCTIS, the official UK national agency for recognition and comparison of international qualifications and skills, that their degree meets or exceeds the UK bachelor’s or postgraduate degree standard and also of the year of graduation.
Applicants must also evidence that they have English language skills to at least level B1 (intermediate) on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. As under other immigration routes, the English language requirement may be satisfied where the applicant is the national of an English majority speaking country; has passed a UKVI approved test; has a degree that was taught in English; or has obtained GCSEs/A’levels or Scottish Highers whilst at school in the UK. Where the English requirement has been met in a previous successful immigration application, the individual can rely on that fact.
Unless the applicant has been in the UK lawfully for at least 12 months at the date of application, they must also satisfy the financial/maintenance requirement. This means that they must be able to show that they have held funds of at least £1,270 for a consecutive period of 28 days immediately prior to the application.
Eligible individuals can either apply for a High Potential Individual visa from outside the UK or may be able to apply to switch to this visa route from within the UK. Switching is not permitted if the individual is in the UK with leave to remain as a Visitor, Short term student, Seasonal Worker, Parent of a child student, Domestic Worker in a Private Household or outside the Immigration Rules.
The leave granted to successful applicants depends on the level of the qualification relied on to meet the Global Universities List degree requirement. Those with a Phd or other doctoral level qualification will be granted leave to remain for three years. Individuals with all other degrees will be granted leave to remain for two years.
High Potential Individual visa holders will have the right to work in the UK in any role (including self-employment and voluntary work) other than that of a professional sportsperson or sports coach. They may also study provided that the relevant course does not meet the requirements of the Student route (ie the High Potential Individual route should not be used as an alternative to the usual sponsored Student route).
It is not possible to extend the High Potential visa route but, subject to meeting the relevant immigration rules, it is possible to switch to another immigration category from within the UK.
High Potential Individuals can be joined or accompanied by a dependent partner and dependent children subject to family members meeting the relevant dependent visa requirements.
Overall, whilst more limited in scope than its predecessors, the High Potential Individual route is likely to be welcomed by both applicants and employers. It is especially useful for those employers who do not yet have a sponsor licence. It also means that employers have the option to recruit High Potential Individuals without incurring the considerable expense associated with sponsorship.