The government has opened up its new High Potential Individual visa route today (30 May) to help attract the world’s top graduates into the UK to work.
The HPI visa is open to graduates from a university on the Home Office’s list of eligible institutions, which consists of universities included in the top 50 in at least two of three world ranking systems.
These are the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, the Quacquarelli Symonds World University Rankings, or The Academic Ranking of World Universities – and the ranking must apply to the year the person graduated.
The 2021 list, announced earlier this month, includes 20 universities in the US, including Harvard, Yale and MIT; two in Canada, the universities of Toronto and British Columbia; and two institutions each from Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and Switzerland.
Only two universities from within the European Union are listed: the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, and Université PSL in France.
A bachelor’s level or postgraduate degree must have been awarded in the five years immediately before the date of application, and the Home Office has compiled lists of the universities eligible for the High Potential Individual visa for the past six years on its website.
The new visa route is part of the government’s strategy to bring in the “brightest and best” at a time when many sectors are experiencing acute skills shortages.
Graduates will be eligible for the High Potential Individual visa regardless of where they are born, and they do not need a job offer in order to apply. They may bring family members but must be able to show they have maintenance funds of at least £1,270.
The visa itself costs £715, plus the immigration health surcharge which allows entrants to use the NHS. This is £624 for each year of the scheme.
Applicants must also show a certain level of English language proficiency, either through demonstrating level B1 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages scale, the fact they come from a majority English-speaking country, or have obtained a GCSE or A-level in English while in the UK.
Individuals who are switching from other visas may have already completed the English language requirement.
High Potential Individual visa duration
High Potential Individual visas will be granted for two years for those with a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree, and three for a PhD or other doctoral-level qualification. After this, individuals can switch into another route leading to potential settlement, such as the skilled worker route.
Home secretary Priti Patel said: “I am proud to be launching this new and exciting route as part of our points-based immigration system which puts ability and talent first, not where someone comes from.”
Chancellor Rishi Sunak added that the High Potential Individual visa route would enable the UK to “grow as a leading international hub for innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship”.
“We want the businesses of tomorrow to be built here today, which is why I call on students to take advantage of this incredible opportunity to forge their careers here,” he said.
Vanessa Ganguin, an immigration lawyer, said the visa had been introduced “amid controversy it prioritises graduates from the ‘Global North'”.
“For those who qualify, it’s a particularly useful immigration route, especially for those who want to try working in the UK without being beholden to a particular employer,” she said. “Those who have graduated in the past five years from one of the top universities on the government’s list can come to the UK with dependant family in an unsponsored route, allowing them to work, look for work, work freelance or set up a business. The financial requirements are far from onerous – just £1,270 savings, £285 for a partner coming with you, £315 for a first child, £200 savings for an additional child.
“It will also prove very useful for employers who want to hire a talented graduate without the expense or responsibility of sponsoring them. Any employment they undertake will not be subject to having to be coded under a standard occupation classification (SOC) code or minimum salary restrictions. Employers can get to know High Potential Individuals first before sponsoring them on a more permanent immigration route.”
However, Ganguin said the university list had been controversial. “The institutions that count as a top university are controversial and I have already had enquiries from graduates from excellent higher education departments who do not feature on the list for the year they graduated,” she added.
“The government has insisted that the UK’s post-Brexit immigration system brings ‘the brightest and the best’ to a ‘global Britain’ but many have spotted that the three independent ranking guides to top universities used contain many US institutions and not one university from Africa, Latin America or South Asia. In the context of decades of immigration legislation that can be seen to discriminate already against these regions, this will understandably cause controversy.”
Charlie Pring, employment specialist at firm Taylor Wessing said the High Potential Individual visa is a welcome addition. “While the scheme is capped at two or three years in the UK, only rewards overseas degrees in the last five years from elite global universities and does not lead to settlement – and so is not as generous as the previous highly skilled visa schemes that closed many years ago – crucially it’s a personal visa that doesn’t require a job offer or visa sponsorship. And it provides total flexibility for the applicant, with employment or self-employment permitted.
“The current landscape requiring employers to sponsor visas for skilled roles in many cases has been a headache for some UK businesses. A new personal visa option to complement the post-study work visa introduced in 2021 for UK graduates is a positive development for UK business immigration policy, that has pushed many workers into sponsorship due to a lack of alternative routes.
“Employers will be pleased to see a cheaper and often faster alternative visa route for some new hires, especially start-ups or SMEs that either are not yet sponsors or that can’t afford the higher sponsorship fees. International businesses that are launching into the UK for the first time and that need to grow quickly will also benefit from removing the initial delay and red tape involved with sponsorship.”