Posted on October 11, 2022

High Potential Individual visa: What HR needs to know

Launched last week, the High Potential Individual visa is aimed at attracting exceptional graduates to work and reside in the UK and opens up a new route for potential candidates for HR. But what are its benefits and drawbacks? Vanessa Ganguin explains.

The High Potential Individual visa launched last week amid controversy that it prioritises graduates from the “global North”, excluding talent from developing countries.

For those that qualify it looks set to be a useful immigration route to the UK, as well as for employers who want to hire people who have graduated from some of the world’s top universities in the past five years without the need for sponsorship.

The new visa, in the words of chancellor Rishi Sunak, “means that the UK can continue to attract the best and brightest from across the globe”.

Launching the new route, he insisted: “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.”

Eligibility requirements

Potential employers or employees keen to use this route should check the global university list, available on the Home Office website, for the year applicants graduated to see if theirs was one of the eligible institutions that year. They should have graduated within the past five years.

They must also pass a security and criminality check and be proficient in English to at least the B1 intermediate level, defined as “fluency to communicate without effort with native speakers”.

A husband, wife, civil partner, or unmarried partner may accompany a high potential individual, as may children under 18 on the date of application. Unmarried partners must be in a genuine and subsisting relationship of two years or over.

The financial requirements are far from onerous for applicants. They just need to show savings of £1,270, £285 for a partner coming with them, £315 for a first child, and £200 savings for any additional child.

What are the benefits of the High Potential Individual visa?

The new visa is a relatively easy immigration route, especially for those who want to try working in the UK without being beholden to a particular employer.

They can come to the UK with dependant family members in an unsponsored route, allowing them to work, look for work, work freelance or set up a business. Though, as you would expect, they will not be able to access public funds.

It will also prove very useful for employers who want to hire a talented graduate without the expense or responsibility of sponsoring them. Employers can get to know High Potential Individuals first before sponsoring them on a more permanent immigration route.

Any employment they undertake will not be subject to having to be coded under a standard occupation classification (SOC) code or minimum salary restrictions.

The visa costs £715 plus the immigration health surcharge, which allows free access to NHS healthcare.

How long can High Potential Individuals stay?

This is not a route to citizenship, but an opportunity for people to try working in the UK and switch into longer-term immigration routes.

Applicants holding a qualification equivalent to a UK Bachelors or Master’s level degree will be granted a period of two years leave. Applicants who hold a qualification equivalent to a UK PhD or other doctoral level qualification will be granted three years.

This route does not lead to settlement in the UK. At any point before it expires though, switching is permitted into other visa categories leading to settlement, such as Skilled Worker, Start up, Scale up, Innovator or Global Talent visas.

What is the difference between a Graduate visa and a High Potential Individual visa?

The High Potential Individual visa is for qualifications obtained outside the UK, while the Graduate immigration route is meant for those who graduate in the UK, and can only be applied for in the UK.

While the routes are otherwise similar, applicants for the Graduate visa must have a Student visa as their current or most recent visa for the UK, with which they have successfully completed their course. High Potential Individuals have five years after graduation to make use of the route.

They also have less onerous requirements to meet to bring dependants to the UK, while Graduates are only allowed to have dependants joining them if they were already dependants when on their Student visa.

Why is the new visa controversial?

The global universities lists are made up of higher education institutions that featured in the top 50 of at least two of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, Quacquarelli Symonds World University Rankings and The Academic Ranking of World Universities.

While the ranking is based on these three independent directories, I have already spoken to disappointed graduates of some of the world’s finest higher education departments that did not appear in two of the above guides in the year they graduated.

It is not just academics who are quibbling about how the universities have been ranked. While the UK government insists that this is another post-Brexit immigration measure to bring “the brightest and best” to a “global Britain,” many have spotted that the lists of eligible universities are dominated by US institutions and not one university from Africa, Latin America or South Asia. In the context of decades of UK immigration legislation that has discriminated already against these regions, this will understandably cause controversy.

As an interesting aside, the latest Home Office immigration statistics show the majority of employees arriving in the UK on work visas are now coming from countries excluded from the top universities list. For instance, the top nationalities arriving on Skilled Worker visas, accounting for over half, are from India, Nigeria and the Philippines.