Business is thriving in the UK, making the country very sought after by investors and those in business. There are a variety of business visas available, and it is important to select the correct route for your individual needs.
What if I am looking to do business in the UK short-term?
If you are looking to come to the UK short-term, usually up to six months, the Standard Visitor Visa is usually the preferred option since it is the most straightforward. However, in order to be able to use this visa for business reasons, you need to ensure that your business activities do not fall outside the below:
- Attending meetings, conferences, seminars, and interviews within the UK
- Giving talks, either one-off or a short series of them. However, they cannot be organised as commercial events nor can they make a profit for the organiser.
- Negotiating and signs deals/contracts
- Attending trade fairs to promote your business; direct selling is not permitted
- Carrying out site visits and inspections
- Gathering information for overseas employment
- Being briefed on the requirements of a UK customer; any work for the customer must take place outside the UK
What if I want to set up a business in the UK?
If you are an experienced businessperson with an innovative, viable and scalable business idea in any sector, the UK Innovator Visa could be a good option. Generally, the business will not already exist or if it does, trading will not have yet started.
To use this route, there are a number of requirements:
- Investment funds of at least £50,000 (unless an exception applies)
- You must be 18 and over
- You must be endorsed by a UK-approving body which has assessed your plan as being viable and scalable. You will be provided an endorsement letter which must not be dated more than 3 months prior to your visa application
- Your business must be genuine
- You meet the English language requirements of at least CEFR level B2
The UK Innovator Visa is valid for up to three years at which point you can then apply for indefinite leave to remain.
Another option is the Start Up Visa. The main differences when compared to the Innovator Visa, are that this visa is specifically for start-up businesses and no investor funds are required. In addition, you must be endorsed by an authorised body which is either a UK higher education institution or a business organisation that has a history of supporting UK entrepreneurs. This is not a direct route to settlement, but you can stay in the UK for up to two years. This cannot be extended after two years, so you would need to qualify to switch into another visa category (such as the Skilled Worker or Innovator route) to remain beyond the initial permission.
What other options are there for businesses established overseas?
If you have a business overseas and wish to set up a branch in the UK, under the UK Expansion Worker Visa, you have the option to deploy senior workers (including yourself) to the UK temporarily in order to establish UK-based operations.
This visa is one of five new sponsored routes under the Global Business Mobility (GBM). The GBM was introduced to encourage trade in the UK post-Brexit.
The UK Expansion Worker Visa is a points-based visa where 60 points are required across three criteria:
- Sponsorship – the application must have a valid Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) from a licenced sponsor to meet the sponsorship 20 points. Unless an exemption applies, you (as the sponsored expansion worker) must have been working for the overseas business for at least 12 months prior to the visa application.
- Skill level– to score 20 points for skill, the job role must be eligible (this generally means the role must be at graduate level or above)
- Salary – the pay must be at least the going rate for the role or £42,400, whichever is higher in order to gain the 20 points for salary.
Your sponsoring company must be an already established business overseas which must not have already started trading in the UK. A UK ‘footprint’ must be demonstrated (evidence of UK premises being one example). The sponsor will also normally be required to demonstrate a trading presence of at least three years, overseas.
In order for the business to sponsor a UK Expansion Worker, you must have a valid licence for the specific category of worker. Once the licence is in place, the UK Expansion Worker is permitted to apply for a visa. A UK Expansion Worker can act as the UK “Authorising Officer” of the UK sponsor licence and can assign a Certificate of Sponsorship to themselves.
The UK Expansion Worker visa does not lead to settlement in the UK. However, there is no minimum investment required into the UK Company and no minimum English level requirement for the visa applicant.
The UK Expansion Worker visa can be applied for/ extended by up to one year at a time and the total period in the UK under this route is two years maximum. A UK Expansion Worker may, however, be able to switch into the Skilled Worker route to continue long-term employment for the sponsor.
What about self-sponsorship?
Self-sponsorship is a great route for overseas citizens looking to either expand their business into the UK or start a business in the UK. This is a more accessible route compared to other visas since it does not limit the type of business you can run, nor does it need a minimum investment or any type of endorsement.
In order to ensure applications are granted to those whose sole intention is to open a business in the UK (with a desire to manage and offer leadership), there are strict criteria that need to be met:
- You have a solid business plan for the UK, or you intend on taking over an already established UK business
- You have the relevant skill set and/or experience and qualifications to successfully pursue a business in your field
- Can read, write and speak English at the correct level (CEFR B1)
- Have the means to set up the business; this includes the relevant funding
- Will be paid a salary that meets the minimum thresholds under the skilled worker route
- Have a British citizen (or person with settled status) who will fulfil the role of Authorising Officer/Level 1 user of the business’ sponsor licence
This visa allows an easier transfer to settlement status compared to the other business visas.
There are a vast array of business visas available, and it is important to consider your business and individual needs carefully before selecting the route to take. Self-sponsorship provides the most accessible and stable route for those whose genuine intention is to expand or start a business in the UK and work for themselves in this business.
A Y & J Solicitors is a specialist immigration law firm, with extensive experience with business visa applications. We have an in-depth understanding of immigration law and are professional and results-focused. For assistance with your application or any other UK immigration law concerns, please contact us on +44 20 7404 7933 or at contact us today. We’re here to help!