Finding an appropriate visa route for entrepreneurs looking to establish or join a business in the UK has become increasingly difficult, given the closure of the Tier 1 Entrepreneur route as well as the Home Office’s increasing scrutiny of existing business visa routes.
It is important to consider carefully the different options available, the requirements that need to be satisfied for each route as well as the feasibility of meeting any settlement criteria.
The Gherson immigration team set out below the most popular options available to entrepreneurs looking to establish or join an existing business in the UK.
How to apply for a skilled worker visa UK: For those looking to join an existing business
The Skilled Worker visa is an increasingly popular option for entrepreneurs, particularly with the removal of the cap on shareholdings (previously, applicants could not hold more than 10% of the shares in the company unless they were earning a gross salary of at least £159,600 per annum).
The company in the UK will first need to acquire a sponsorship licence in order to be able to sponsor the applicant as a Skilled Worker. The role in which the sponsored migrant will work must meet certain minimum skill and salary requirements. For example, a Skilled Migrant assuming a senior executive role would, in most cases, need to be paid a salary of at least £67,300 per annum. The Home Office must also be satisfied that the role on offer is a genuine vacancy, i.e. the job genuinely exists and has not been created mainly so the applicant can secure a visa.
Those who are employed as Skilled Workers will need to work for the company full-time in the role for which they were sponsored. This visa is also a 5-year route to settlement.
Representative of an Overseas Business visa - For those looking to establish a branch or subsidiary in the UK
The Sole Representative visa is designed to allow overseas businesses with no commercial presence in the UK to send a senior employee to the UK to establish a branch or subsidiary of that overseas business in the UK. This is not, strictly speaking, a category designed to cater to entrepreneurs looking to set up shop in the UK. Applicants for this visa must not otherwise own or control a majority of the overseas business they represent, whether that ownership or control is by means of a shareholding, partnership agreement, sole proprietorship or any other arrangement. This, clearly, disqualifies most business-owners.
There may, however, be limited circumstances where an entrepreneur may be able to qualify for a Sole Representative visa. If, for example, he is one of multiple partners in the overseas business, without majority ownership or control, and it can be shown that the overseas business’ operations will remain centred overseas even after the entrepreneur in question has relocated to the UK, then he would be able to satisfy the requirements for the visa.
This visa allows the applicant to establish and operate a branch or subsidiary of the parent company in the UK, however they cannot engage in other businesses whilst in the UK. This visa is a 5-year route to settlement. It is granted for an initial period of 3 years and extendable for a further 2 years. During the period of the visa, the applicant must establish and continue to operate the branch office or subsidiary in the UK full-time and must generate business in the UK.
What is the UK Start up visa? For those with an innovative business idea
The Innovator and Start Up visas are for those looking to establish a new business in the UK, with the Start Up visa aimed at those who are in the earlier stages of their career or have less experience in running a business. There are two stages to the application process, the first being the endorsement stage and the second being the visa application stage.
The applicant’s business proposal must first be endorsed by an endorsing body approved by the Home Office. The business idea will be assessed against three criteria: innovation, scalability, viability.
The applicant must also be either the sole founder or an instrumental member of the founding team, so this category is not suited to those entrepreneurs looking to join an existing business in the UK.
Once endorsed by an endorsing body, an applicant can then submit the visa application. Those looking to apply for the Innovator visa will also need to demonstrate that they have £50,000 available to invest in the business.
The Start Up visa is valid for 2 years, after which time applicants will need to switch into the Innovator visa or another visa category. Those who meet the onerous settlement criteria under the Innovator route will be able to apply for settlement after 3 years.
What is the UK Global talent Visa and How to apply? For the exceptionally talented
The Global Talent visa is for individuals who are recognised as leaders or emerging leaders in their respective fields. At present, the scheme is only open to those working within the fields of digital technology, arts and culture, and academic and scientific research.
There are two stages to the application process, the first being the endorsement stage and the second being the visa application stage.
An applicant must first be endorsed by the relevant organisation within their chosen field, who will assess their eligibility against their own set of endorsement criteria. The application for an endorsement must be supported by experts in the field and supplemented by extensive evidence of their contributions to the field.
Those who successfully secure a Global Talent visa will be able to work on an employed or self-employed basis provided they continue to undertake work in the field for which they are endorsed. This visa route leads to settlement after 3 or 5 years, depending on factors such as the relevant endorsing body as well as the level of endorsement.
How to get a UK investor visa? For those looking to invest in an existing business in the UK
The Investor visa requires an applicant to have access to at least £2 million and have held this for 2 years or, alternatively, be able to demonstrate the source of the funds. Applicants will also need to have opened a UK bank account for investment purposes. The funds must be invested in qualifying investments, which includes active and trading UK companies which are not principally engaged in property investment, property management or property development. This visa is therefore suited to high net worth individuals looking to invest in an existing business in the UK. There are also no restrictions on work or running a business with this visa, so applicants can be as involved in the business as they wish to be.
What is the graduate route? And Can an International student stay in the UK? A guide for the newly graduated
The newly minted Graduate route – due to accept applications from 1 July 2021 – may be another option for recent overseas graduates of UK universities looking to set up a company in the UK. There are no work restrictions for the Graduate route and the visa will be valid for 2 years, at which point applicants will be expected to switch into a different visa category. It would be advisable for any prospective Entrepreneur looking at setting up a business in the UK whilst on the Graduate Visa to devise a plan well in advance to ensure that they can switch into an immigration category which permits entrepreneurial activities.
Gherson has a wealth of experience in dealing with all UK visa and immigration categories. If you have any specific questions or queries in respect of your particular circumstances, please do not hesitate to contact us. alternatively, follow us on Twitter
The information in this blog is for general information purposes only and does not purport to be comprehensive or to provide legal advice. Whilst every effort is made to ensure the information and law is current as of the date of publication it should be stressed that, due to the passage of time, this does not necessarily reflect the present legal position. Gherson accepts no responsibility for loss which may arise from accessing or reliance on information contained in this blog. For formal advice on the current law please don’t hesitate to contact Gherson. Legal advice is only provided pursuant to a written agreement, identified as such, and signed by the client and by or on behalf of Gherson.
Consultant in our Private Client Department