The Government today outlined a significant changes to the UK's immigration rules for investors and entrepreneurs. The changes, which will come into effect on 6 April 2011, are aimed at making the UK more attractive to High Net Worth individuals and entrepreneurs and will provide a fast track to settlement (permanent residence) for those investing significant funds or with successful businesses in the UK. In addition, the rules on the amount of time investors and entrepreneurs will need to remain in the UK to qualify for settlement will be relaxed.

Investors

New fast track to settlement

Currently, investors with £1 million at their disposal can obtain UK visas for themselves and their families and need to invest at least £750,000 in qualifying investments (UK Government bonds or a shares in UK listed companies), with any balance held in cash or assets in the UK. They can apply for settlement at the end of five years on proof that they have maintained the required investment/funds in the UK through this period.

Under the new rules, new investors and those already in the UK in this category will be fast tracked the settlement in the following circumstances:

  • Those investing at least £10 million will be able to apply for settlement after two years;
  • Those investing £5 million will be able to apply for settlement after three years; and
  • Those investing £1 million will continue to be able to apply for settlement after five years.

The new rules will apply retrospectively and will mean that investors who were admitted to the UK under the current rules but who have held these higher amounts in qualifying investments may be able to apply for settlement after 6 April or can increase their invested funds to accelerate their route to settlement.

More flexible rules on residence in the UK

During extensive consultation, it became clear that one of the most unattractive criteria of the existing investor scheme was the number of days that investors were required to be present in the UK in order to qualify for settlement. The new rules will now relax these requirements and will now allow investors to be outside the UK for up to 180 days in any 12 month period.

Faster acquisition of British Citizenship

The rules for British Citizenship remain unchanged. Investors will still be required to complete a period of five years residence in the UK, one of which must have been as a settled person. Currently, this means that investors must complete five years residence, apply for settlement and then complete another year with this status before being able to apply for British Citizenship. The new rules now mean that those investing £5 or £10 million will be able to qualify for Citizenship a year earlier than previously, as they will have completed their one year with settled status when they reach the five year mark.

While the rules on presence in the UK are relaxed for obtaining settlement, investors will still need to meet the separate requirements on residence which apply to British Citizenship.

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Entrepreneurs

In an attempt to increase the UK's attractiveness as a place to start a business, the Entrepreneur rules have also been changed. The current rules require Entrepreneurs to demonstrate that they have at least £200,000 available for investment in the UK. Visas are issued for an initial three years and can be extended on proof that the Entrepreneur has started or joined an existing business and created two full-time jobs for UK, EU or UK resident staff. Entrepreneurs can apply for settlement on completion of five years in the UK. The new rules will see a lowering of the initial capital requirement and offer a fast track to settlement for successful entrepreneurs.

New "Prospective Entrepreneur" visa

Those coming to the UK to seek start-up funding for their UK business will be able to obtain a six month Prospective Entrepreneur visa, which will enable them to remain in the UK while securing financial backing and if they obtain this extend their stay without having to leave the UK.

Lower initial capital requirements

The new rules, as well as allowing those who have the £200,000 available will also now enable Entrepreneurs to come to the UK with a lower level of £50,000 where this has been obtained through:

  • a UK FSA regulated private equity firm;
  • a UK government affiliated investment body; or
  • an entrepreneurial funding awarding body recognised by UK Trade and Investment (UKTI).

Investor pairs

The UKBA has recognised that entrepreneurs seeking to start up businesses will often not be operating alone and are often part of a team. To this end, the UKBA will allow two entrepreneurs to come to the UK based on the required investment criteria.

Fast track to settlement

The new rules will also provide a fast track to settlement for successful entrepreneurs who have been in the UK for at least three years where the business has:

  • created at least 10 new full-time jobs of UK, EU or UK resident staff which have existed for at least 12 months; and
  • a turnover of at least £5 million cumulatively over the previous three years.

The new rules will apply retrospectively so that those already in the UK as Entrepreneurs can apply for settlement if they have already completed three years residence and their business meets the above criteria.

As with the investor rules, the residence requirements will also be relaxed to allow Entrepreneurs to spend greater period outside the UK in each year.

Commenting on the new rules, Nick Rollason, Head of Immigration at Kingsley Napley LLP, said:

"This is a win-win for the UK. The UK Government clearly needs cash and these new rules will attract more investors to the UK, many of whom will invest in Government bonds. Current regional political instability is pushing high net worth individuals to look for a port in the storm and the UK and London in particular offer just that. The possibility of a two year fast-track route to permanent residence for those making a significant investment here is clearly a major incentive and we expect to see those already here as investors increasing their investment to benefit from these rules.

The new rules for entrepreneurs also fit squarely with the Government's strategy for economic growth and should attract more high value, high growth businesses into the UK , particularly in the technology field, with a pay off in terms of early access to permanent residence for those whose businesses do grow and generate employment. At a time when the UK is imposing immigration limits on the numbers of non-EU staff UK employers can hire, this is a welcome signal from the Government that the UK is still open for business."