The Skilled Worker visa and the UK gambling industry

Solicitors Laurence Keir-Thomas and Asif Hanif, of Fragomen LLP, discuss the UK immigration system and how it can help those in the online gaming industry.

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Recent changes to the UK immigration rules have provided increased flexibility to businesses that need 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. 

The UK's online gaming sector continues to grow, with revenue of nearly £7bn ($8.53bn) for 2021. In common with the video gaming sector, the battle for tech talent continues and many firms are looking outside the UK to meet their staffing needs. Thankfully, the current UK immigration rules may provide the solutions needed to meet this requirement.

The most common employer-sponsored visa in the UK is the Skilled Worker visa. Employers looking to use this route will require a physical presence in the UK and a sponsor licence. The licence permits employers to recruit individuals from overseas to work in the UK in a specific role.

Sponsors must ensure the employee’s role meets the prescribed skill and minimum salary thresholds set by the Home Office. The Sponsor also agrees to adhere to Home Office sponsor licence compliance obligations.

The Home Office Shortage Occupation List (SOL) sets out roles that are in short supply within the UK resident labour market. Employers applying for skilled worker visas for roles on the SOL pay reduced application fees and can pay salaries at 80% of the usual going rate. Software developers and many other IT professionals are well placed to take advantage of these concessions.

The main downside to a Skilled Worker visa is that it is an expensive option. Sponsors pay a licence fee (renewed every four years), the Immigration Skills Charge of £1,000 per year, per sponsored employee (a lesser charge of £364 per year applies to smaller organisations) and a charge to issue a Certificate of Sponsorship. There are also visa fees and the NHS surcharge charge to be paid.

A range of other visa options have been launched in recent years that may appeal to this sector: in particular, the Start Up visa. This is aimed at entrepreneurs starting their first UK business. There is no requirement for initial capital investment; however, the visa is only granted for two years and cannot be extended, so individuals need to switch to another visa category at the end of this period.

The Innovator visa is for more experienced entrepreneurs looking to set up a business in the UK. This visa comes with a requirement of at least £50,000 in investment funds.

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

The Global Talent visa is designed to attract the ‘best and brightest talent from around the world,’ and requires applicants to go through a rigorous process for an endorsement from Tech Nation before they can apply. This offers great flexibility and is lower cost than a Skilled Worker visa but also carries less certainty.

As the UK continues to adapt its immigration system to a post-Brexit world, we can expect further changes to the system in response to labour market demands. Two such recent examples are the High Potential Individual (HPI) visa (May 2022) and the Scale Up visa (August 2022) both launching this year. The HPI route, in particular, offers a route to a two or three-year UK work visa for graduates from a top 50 global university. Meanwhile, the Scale Up is aimed at supporting businesses going through rapid growth by removing many of the costs relating to visa sponsorship.

All of the visa categories stated above allow certain family members such as spouses, unmarried partners and dependent children to join the main applicant in the UK. Most also offer a path to permanent residence.

For the online gaming industry, the Skilled Worker visa offers a simplified route for those with an eligible sponsor. With further Home Office announcements expected soon, follow closely to be kept up to date with all changes.  

Laurence Keir-Thomas is a Manager (Solicitor) and Asif Hanif is an Associate Solicitor at the global immigration law firm Fragomen LLP.

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