Why the latest revamped visa route is limited

The government’s new High Potential Individual visa is a missed opportunity to encourage diversity, says Samar Shams

The government’s latest immigration policy paper – UK Innovation Strategy: leading the future by creating it – sets out plans for new and revamped visas routes, including a High Potential Individual visa. The route would facilitate graduates of ‘top global universities’ moving to the UK without a job offer. They would be authorised to work and potentially settle in the UK.

The visa is part of a new programme that seeks to boost private sector investment across the UK and the government has said that the scheme would make it “as simple as possible for internationally mobile individuals who demonstrate high potential to come to the UK”.

Points-based visa

The High Potential Individual visa seems to be the government’s latest take on the points-based visa they have been promising. In February 2020, the government committed to implementing the Migration Advisory Committee’s recommendation to implement a true points-based visa.

A true points-based visa is one where an applicant can make up for low points scored for one characteristic, such as relevant work experience, with points gained for another characteristic – for example, level of higher education achieved – to score the points required for eligibility.

The way this type of visa tends to work in countries like Canada and Australia, is broadly that individuals register their interest, completing a form to specify their characteristics and receiving a points score on that basis. The interested individuals enter a pool of candidates and the highest point scorers each month are invited to submit visa applications. Indeed, this is the process that the Migration Advisory Committee suggested that the government implement.

However, the proposed High Potential Individual visa cannot be a true points-based visa or operate meaningfully on the monthly selection of highest points scorers like the Canadian or Australian models because the government has announced only one characteristic for the High Potential Individual visa: having graduated from a ‘top global university’. In future, eligibility might extend to other characteristics, but this is the only characteristic to which the government is committing at the moment.

A missed opportunity for diversity and inclusion

By using qualifications as the sole determinant of potential, the government ignores the value placed on relevant work experience in the gig economy. Limiting eligibility exclusively to top global university graduates also seems an anachronism in an era focusing on diversity and inclusion.

The impact that diversity has on productivity and innovation is becoming increasingly clear. Qualifications and where an individual obtained them are just one measure of talent. Focusing solely on people from top universities risks UK businesses missing out on recruiting exceptionally talented people who may have built up their experience through working or running their own businesses rather than studying.

Samar Shams is an immigration and global mobility partner at international law firm Spencer West