Which UK business visa?

Find out which UK visa your skilled non-EU staff need to transfer to London.

London & Partners offers free UK business visa requirement advice and can connect you to an appropriate specialist. Get in touch with us.

1. Tier 1 UK exceptional talent visa requirements

The Tier 1 exceptional talent route is designed to allow exceptional people in science, humanities, engineering, medicine, digital technology or the arts to work in the UK in order to enrich the talent pool from within the UK. An applicant must, in general, confirm that they are world leaders in their field or can demonstrate that they have the potential to become world leaders in their field.

Each applicant must go through a two-stage process before they are awarded with a quota to join the category. The first stage is for the applicant to apply to the Home Office for an endorsement by specific endorsement bodies which are Arts Council England, British Academy, Royal Academy of Engineering, Royal Society and Tech Nation, each of which have a set allocation.

Once this is completed and an endorsement has been given, an applicant can then proceed to the second stage by making an application to remain in the UK as a Tier 1 exceptional talent.

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2. Tier 1 UK entrepreneur visa requirements

The Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa route allows eligible applicants to set up or invest in an existing business in the UK by investing at least £200,000 of their own funds (or £50,000 in limited circumstances) and creating full-time employment for at least two British, European or settled workers.

The applicant must satisfy the English language requirement, the police clearance requirement, and to undergo tuberculosis (TB) testing depending on country of origin/ residency. The applicant also has to prepare a business plan to evidence how their background relates to the business they are proposing to operate. Their qualifications, work experience and previous business dealings are all part of this assessment.

If approved, the initial visa is granted for three years and four months, and further leave of two years is granted if the applicant complies with the various extension requirements. This route leads to settlement after five years or can be accelerated to three years in some circumstances.

London & Partners provided us with several services, some strategic – such as helping us understand the talent pool and industry landscape – and some tactical, for example, helping with visa applications to bring people from the US into London.

Jordi Ribas, General Manager of the Microsoft Search Technology Centre, Europe

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3. UK sole representative business visa requirements

If you are planning to start up in the UK and wish to send somebody from a non-EEA country, you should consider whether the Sole Representative visa route can be used. It is the simplest work visa available and can be obtained relatively quickly. It is an application prepared jointly by the parent company and the person lined up for the visa.

There are a number of requirements that need to be adhered to.

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4. Which  UK business visa?

Tier 1 exceptional talent visa
Ideal for: Internationally recognised leaders or emerging leaders in the fields of science, humanities, engineering, medicine, digital technology or the arts.
Applicants must: Receive an endorsement from one of the designated endorsing bodies:  Arts Council England; British Academy; Royal Academy of Engineering; Royal Society or Tech Nation.
Resulting in: Visa of up to 5 years. Leads to permanent residency after 3 (Exception Talent Route) or 5 years (Exceptional Promise Route)
How long to organise: Up to 3 months depending on timing of endorsement.

This is a capped visa category with a total of only 2,000 visas available each year.

Tier 1 entrepreneur visa
Ideal for: Business owners and founders: there are no  restrictions on the size of their shareholding in the new London business.
Applicants must: Have access to at least £200,000 (£50k in some limited cases) to invest, sufficient personal maintenance funds and English language skills.
Resulting in: A 40 month visa, extendable by a further two years. Permanent residency after five years, but can be accelerated in some circumstances.
How long to organise: 2–8 weeks from application.

You can only extend your UK entrepreneur visa beyond 40 months if you invest the required level of funds (£200k or £50k) into a UK business, register as a UK director or as self-employed and create at least two full-time jobs for settled workers lasting at least 12 months each.

Sole representative visa
Ideal for: Established senior employees of an overseas business that does not have any presence in the UK. Applicants must not be majority shareholders of the parent business.
Applicants must: Be the UK entity’s first hire and be responsible for running the new UK office
Resulting in: A three-year visa, extendable by a further two years. Permanent residency after five years’ continuous stay.
How long to organise: 2–4 weeks from application.

You must meet English language requirements and be based full time in the UK (personal and business travel is permitted). 

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Tier 2 visas

The tier 2 visa is a sponsored UK business visa for skilled workers. You will need a sponsorship licence from UK Visas & Immigration and there are minimum skill and salary levels for all Tier 2 visas. A 12 month cooling off period often applies from the end of a Tier 2 visa or UK assignment preventing the migrant from applying overseas for a new Tier 2 visa, but it does not apply if salary is at least £159,600 per year (the high-earner threshold). Licence for start-ups: approx. 3-6 months from having first employee on the ground in UK.

Tier 2 General visa
Ideal for: Hiring other skilled non-EU staff that are ineligible for Tier 2 ICT visas, that want to leave the door open on permanent residency or that are outside your ‘employing group’ (e.g. recruits from other UK businesses currently on Tier 2 visas with another sponsor).
Applicants must: Be paid a minimum salary of £30,000 per annum, with some exceptions for new entrants (recent graduates). Must meet English language requirements.
Resulting in: A visa capped at six years (up to five years initially with an  extension to six years in total). Leads to permanent residency after five years.
How long to organise: 2–4 weeks from application (but a sponsor licence must be in place first).

Applicants must not own more than 10% of the business, directly or indirectly, unless their gross annual salary is £159,600 or higher. The UK business may need to advertise the role for at least 28 days before arranging a visa to a non-EU national, but various exemptions apply. Hiring of a non-EEA citizen resident outside the UK requires additional permission to recruit against the UK’s immigration cap (20,700 visas per year). Sponsors are exempt from the shareholding restriction, advertising and the cap if UK salary is at least £159,600 per year.

Tier 2 Intra Company Transfers (ICT)
Ideal for: Transferring skilled overseas-based non-EU employees from overseas group companies to your
UK operation.
Applicants must: Be paid at least £41,500 a year (for long term staff) or market rate for the role if higher; and

Have been working for the sponsor for at least 12 months or will be paid a salary of at least £73, 900 per year
Resulting in: A visa of up to five years in total (or nine years if annual salary is at high-earner level of at least £120,000)
Does not lead to permanent residency
How long to organise: 2–4 weeks from application (but a sponsor licence must be in place first).

After a maximum of five years (nine years if annual salary is at or above the ICT high earner level), the employee must leave the UK. During the period of the visa, the employee cannot change to employer or change to a Tier 2 General visa with the same employer or a different employer. A person cannot switch into a Tier 2 (General) from Tier 2 (Intra-company transfer) if they are in the UK and were granted leave under the rules in place after 6 April 2011. No English requirement.

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4. How London & Partners can help

London & Partners is the Mayor of London’s official business development company. Our expert team offers free UK business visa requirement advice to potential investors, from start-ups to established companies. We

  • introduce you to UK visa specialists
  • connect you to a network of legal experts
  • offer advice on setting up in London

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          • Tier 1 Exceptional talent visa information, Entrepreneur visa information and Sole representative visa information provided by Redfern Legal
          • Which visa section provided by Newland Chase

This information is intended for general guidance only. You should always seek professional advice.