The UK is one of the best places in the world to start and run a successful business. However, finding the right visa to establish a commercial presence or set up operations in the UK can be difficult: the UK’s Immigration Rules can be complex and the criteria often strict.
The following guide will help overseas business owners, investors and entrepreneurs to navigate the various visa options available for opening a UK business, including the eligibility requirements that must be met and the application process you’ll need to follow.
UK Expansion Worker Visa
The UK Expansion Worker Visa opened on 11 April 2022, replacing the Sole Representative visa. It is one of five visa sub-categories under the UK’s new Global Business Mobility visa, and is supported by its own Appendix of the Immigration Rules.
The UK Expansion Worker route is aimed at companies that are established and trading overseas and are looking to deploy a senior manager to set up and grow the organisation’s presence in the UK.
It allows the visa holder to remain in the UK for a period of up to two years but it does not lead to UK settlement. It is possible to apply for an extension of the visa, up to a maximum of five years in total under this route. Visa holders may also apply to switch into a different visa category (such as the skilled worker visa), but any time spent in the UK as an expansion worker visa would not count towards any future settlement application.
There is also no limit on the number of expansion visa workers that a business can deploy to the UK, potentially allowing teams of senior employees to apply together.
UK expansion worker visa eligibility requirements
For a worker to be eligible under the expansion worker route, the business must not have not already have a trading presence in the UK.
The employer must also hold a valid sponsorship licence before any application for an expansion worker visa can be made.
All applicants must meet the visa requirements. Applications have to be made before the business starts trading in the UK.
Unlike its predecessor route, there is no limit on the shareholding of the worker coming to the UK, which means business owners and those with more than 50% shareholding can be eligible to apply.
Applicants must ahave either been employed by the overseas entity for a period of 12 months before filing their application, or if not, they must earn a salary of £73,900 or if they are a Japanese national, meet specific provisions.
The role in the UK must be genuine and the visa cannot be used for applicants to simply gain permission to come to the UK. The role must meet the minimum salary threshold for the relevant job code, which will be at least £42,000.
In addition, the Home Office will also consider “whether the applicant has the appropriate skills, qualifications and experience needed to do the job as described” and the business’s history of compliance with the immigration system including, but not limited to, paying its sponsored workers appropriately”, among other factors relevant to the information provided by the sponsor.
UK start up visa
The start up visa is ideal for first-time business owners who want to establish an innovative business in the UK, and who need to work to support themselves while developing their idea. This is because a start up visa holder can work in another job in the UK, at the same time as working for their business, to give them the means to support themselves in the early stages.
UK start up visa eligibility requirements
As with the sole representative visa, there are a number of strict eligibility requirements that must be met before being granted a start up visa by the UK Home Office.
The applicant must not have previously established a business in the UK, and their proposed business venture must be innovative, viable and scalable. This means that they must have an original and realistic idea that’s different from anything else on the market, with the potential for job creation and growth. Their idea will also need to be endorsed by either a UK higher education provider or a business with a track record of supporting UK-based entrepreneurs.
In addition, applicants must meet a financial and English language requirement.
UK start up visa application process
To apply for a start up visa, the applicant must submit an online application and pay the relevant fee. When applying from overseas, this will cost £363, plus the annual healthcare surcharge. The applicant may also need to attend an appointment at an overseas visa application centre to submit their biometric information.
In support of an application for a start up visa, the applicant will need to provide a number of supporting documents in addition to their passport or other travel ID. These include a detailed business plan, an endorsement letter to show that an endorsing body has assessed their business, and proof that they meet both the financial and English language requirements.
It will usually take around 3 weeks for a decision to be made when applying for a start up visa from outside the UK, although it may be possible to pay for a faster decision. If the application for a start up visa is successful, this will be granted for a period of 2 years. This visa cannot be extended, although the start up visa holder may be able to switch in-country to an innovator visa to enable them to further progress their business in the UK. The innovator visa is also a route to settlement in the UK, provided the eligibility requirements are met.
UK innovator visa
The innovator visa is for experienced entrepreneurs or investors looking to set up or run a business in the UK. It’s essentially for those with industry experience, together with funding of at least £50,000, and who will have a hands-on role in running the business. It can also be used for those looking to switch into this route from the start up visa, provided they continue to be endorsed and are in a position to dedicate more time to their UK business venture.
UK innovator visa eligibility requirements
As with the other visa options, there are a number of strict requirements that must be met under the innovator visa route before being granted permission by the UK Home Office.
Similarly to the start up visa, a new business must be innovative, viable and scalable. The applicant will also be expected to have funds of at least £50,000 to invest in their venture, and intend to play a key role in the day-to-day management and development of the business. In contrast, when switching from a start up visa, the business must be active, trading and sustainable, and demonstrating significant progress. However, where the business is already established, and has been endorsed for an earlier visa, investment funds won’t be needed.
In either case, whether the applicant is applying on the basis of a new business idea, or further progressing an existing business, this must be endorsed by an endorsing body. Applicants of the innovator visa must also meet the financial and English language requirements.
UK innovator visa application process
To apply for an innovator visa, the applicant must submit an online application, pay the relevant fee, and submit their biometric information and supporting documents. When applying from overseas, an application will cost £1,021, and when applying to switch from inside the UK, this will cost £1,277. The applicant must also pay the healthcare surcharge.
In support of an application for an innovator visa, the applicant will need valid travel ID, together with an endorsement letter to show that their business idea or business has been assessed, and proof that they meet the financial and English language requirements.
It should take around 3 weeks for a decision to be made when applying for an innovator visa from outside the UK, or 8 weeks from inside the UK. In either case, it may be possible to pay for a faster decision. If the application for an innovator visa is successful, this will be granted for a period of 3 years. This visa can also be extended, with no limit on how many times it can be renewed, and eligible applicants may be able to apply for settlement after 3 years in the UK.
New global business mobility visa
There are various visa options available to overseas business owners, investors and entrepreneurs looking to set up or run a business in the UK. In the wake of Brexit and post-pandemic, the UK government is also opening up new immigration routes, promising even greater flexibility for those looking to invest their time and money in the UK economy.
The global business mobility visa, expected to be launched imminently, will hopefully provide a new streamlined route for overseas businesses seeking to establish a presence in the UK or to transfer members of staff, although this is likely to be a sponsored route. However, the global mobility visa is just one of many new visa routes for 2022 aimed at attracting investment to the UK, in addition to amendments to existing routes, including a new revitalised innovator route designed to ‘build back better’.
If you’re an overseas business owner, investor or entrepreneur looking to start a business or establish a commercial presence in the UK, you should always seek expert advice from an immigration specialist. It’s important to explore all available options before applying for a visa, ensuring that you meet each of the strict eligibility requirements and can provide the necessary documentation in support. In this way, your legal advisor can help you to navigate the application process, leaving you with more time to focus on planning and preparing for your new UK business venture.
Visa to start up business in UK FAQs
Do I need a visa to start a business in UK?
If you’re subject to UK immigration control, and don’t otherwise have permission to work in the UK, you’ll need a visa to start up a business. This could be, for example, a start up visa or an innovator visa.
How do I get a UK business visa?
To obtain a business visa to set up and run a UK business, you’ll need to apply for permission from the Home Office. There are various visa options to choose from depending on the nature of your proposed business venture.
How much money is required for start-up visa UK?
To apply for a start-up visa, this will cost £363 to apply from outside the UK, and £493 to apply from within the UK. There will also be a separate fee for any dependants, plus an immigration health surcharge.
Is it easy to get start-up visa in UK?
Getting a start-up visa to set up and run a business in the UK can be complex, where you’ll need to meet various eligibility criteria and provide supporting documents, including proof that your idea is innovative, viable and scalable.
The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.