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The UK immigration system and how it can help those in the MedTech sector

By Kelly Chua and Tayyaba Karim, Fragomen LLP

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With the introduction of the post-Brexit UK immigration system, UK immigration rules have increased in flexibility, giving businesses wider access to talent from around the world.

The new system is designed to be straightforward, streamlined and flexible to respond to the needs of the country and the economy.

A growing need for MedTech talent is evident in the UK, and multiple options are now available to companies who wish to employ overseas talent within the sector.

The most common employer-sponsored visa in the UK is the Skilled Worker visa. Employers require a sponsor licence and may use this category to recruit individuals to work in the UK in a specific job and for their business only.

Sponsors must ensure that their employee’s role will meet the prescribed skill and minimum salary thresholds set out by the Home Office.

The Home Office Shortage Occupation List sets out roles which are deemed to be in short supply.

Those taking up roles on the list benefit from lower minimum salary requirements and reduced visa application fees.

MedTech employers are well placed to take advantage of these concessions as roles on the list include scientists, medical practitioners, laboratory technicians, managers in health services, amongst others applicable to the sector.

The main downside to a Skilled Worker visa is that it is an expensive application.

Sponsors must pay a licence fee (which is renewed every four years), the Immigration Skills Charge of £1,000 per year per sponsored employee (a lesser charge of £364 applies to smaller organisations) and a charge to issue a Certificate of Sponsorship.

There are also visa fees and an NHS charge for most applicants although there are exemptions for those who qualify for a health and care visa. In addition, sponsors must take on compliance obligations in order to maintain their sponsor licence.

A range of other visa options have been launched in recent years that could appeal to the sector, particularly to senior executives and business founders.

Kelly Chua

The Start Up visa is aimed at entrepreneurs starting their first UK business.

There are no requirements for initial capital investment, however the visa is only granted for two years and cannot be extended, individuals would need to switch into another visa category at the end of this period.

The Innovator visa is intended for more experienced entrepreneurs looking to set up a business in the UK.

This visa comes with a requirement of at least £50,000 investment funds, however, it also provides an accelerated route to permanent residency in the UK after only three years.

The key requirements to qualify for these visas is the same; applicants must obtain an endorsement from an approved endorsing body confirming that their business idea is innovative, viable and scalable.

The UK also offers a Global Talent visa, designed to attract the ‘best and brightest talent from around the world’. This route also normally requires individuals to apply for an endorsement from an endorsing body.

The applicant can obtain a visa for up to five years under the Global Talent route, and they can also apply to settle in the UK after three or five years, depending on whether they are applying as a leader or a potential leader in their field.

Tech Nation is the body capable of endorsing digital technology applicants to enter the Global Talent route and Fragomen are proud to be the exclusive UK immigration provider for Tech Nation.

The above highlights a few visa options but we expect to see the UK continue to develop the immigration system over the coming years.

For example, the High Potential Individual visa (launching 30 May) and Scale Up visa (launching in August) will help individuals and high-growth businesses sponsor workers more easily and at lower cost than the Skilled Worker route.

All of the visa categories stated above make provision for certain family members such as spouses, unmarried partners and dependent children to join the main applicant in the UK, making a move to the UK more attractive.

Tayyaba Karim

Additionally, many (but not all) of the visa categories offer five-year routes to settlement in the UK, and some offer accelerated routes of as little as three years.

The wide range of new visas available coincides with a push towards digitalisation.

Visa applications typically involve a collection of biometric data and in an increasing number of instances, this can be collected via an app rather than an in-person appointment and individuals are granted eVisas rather than physical ones.

Undoubtedly, more changes will be coming as the UK immigration system establishes itself post-Brexit.

However, in a competitive international jobs market, UK employers can now act nimbly when vying for the most talented individuals from across the world.

The Skilled Worker visa offers a straightforward route for those with a willing and able sponsor. Other alternatives are available to those at the forefront of the MedTech sector, particularly those with innovative business ideas so long as they can prove they have the right credentials.

With more announcements from the Home Office expected, this is an area to watch.

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