The UK is facing a huge challenge in staying attractive for global business.

Against a backdrop of Brexit negotiations and the UK Government’s pledge to reduce net migration, the economy needs both overseas talent and investment to remain competitive on a global scale.

Recruiting talent from overseas for example has become a solution for many UK employers seeking to meet their talent needs where the domestic market falls short.

For non-EEA citizens seeking permission to work in Britain however, the Government’s protectionist stance towards the UK domestic workforce has resulted in highly rigorous and costly visa application processes. Errors in applications can result in delays or rejections, they incur fees, and they can result in opportunities falling through.

As such it is more important than ever for non-EEA citizens to select the most appropriate route of entry for their specific circumstances – whether that is to work, invest or set up a business in Britain.

We look at some of the main visa options for non-EEA citizens looking to work or invest in the UK.

Tier 1 Entrepreneur Visa

The Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa is aimed at non-EEA nationals considering entrepreneurial opportunities in the UK.

A Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa will allow you to set up or take over the running of one business or more. You can work for your own business as a self-employed individual, provided the work meets the criteria for being self-employed.

You are eligible to apply for a Tier 1 Entrepreneur Visa if you satisfy the following criteria:

  • You want to run or set up a business in the UK.
  • You are from outside the EEA and Switzerland.
  • You are at least 16 years old.

As part of your application you will need to demonstrate:

  • You have access to at least £200,000 investment funds to apply. If you are switching into the Tier 1 Entrepreneur category from the Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur category, or if your investment funds come from an FCA-registered venture capital firm investment or UK government department, the investment threshold is reduced to £50,000.
  • You have the skills, qualifications and experience necessary to establish a viable business in the UK.
  • You have an acceptable command of the English language.
  • You have sufficient funds to cover your initial costs after relocating to the UK.

Under a Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa you can come to the UK for a maximum of three years and four months. During this initial three year period, you will be required to establish a business (or multiple businesses) in the UK, invest the full £200,000 (or £50,000), and create at least 2 full time jobs for resident workers that exist for at least 12 months.

As a Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa holder, you are not allowed to carry out any work outside your business, or be employed by another business. Also, you cannot claim UK public funds.

You are permitted to bring family members and dependants with you.

You can apply to extend this visa for another two years if you are already in this category and three years if you are switching from another category.

You may be able to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain after five years in the UK. In the event that you create ten new full time jobs for resident workers, or if your business achieves a turnover of £5 million, you may be eligible to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain after 3 years.

Read more about the Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa.

Tier 1 Investor Visa

A Tier 1 Investor visa allows holders to invest £2,000,000 or more in UK government bonds, share capital or loan capital in active and trading UK registered companies.

Investor visa holders are permitted to work, study or engage in business activities in the UK.

You are not however allowed to invest in companies mainly engaged in property investment, property management or property development, work as a professional sportsperson or sports coach, or claim UK public funds.

You are eligible to apply for a Tier 1 Investor visa if you satisfy the following criteria:

  • You want to invest £2,000,000 or more in the UK.
  • You are from outside the EEA and Switzerland.
  • You are at least 16 years old.

As part of your application you will need to demonstrate:

  • The money for investment belongs either to you, your spouse or civil partner.
  • The funds must be held in one or more regulated financial institutions.
  • The funds are available to be transferred to and invested in the UK.

Entry into the UK under a Tier 1 Investor visa is for a maximum of three years and four months. You can apply to extend this visa for another two years.

You can apply to settle permanently in the UK after two years if you invest £10 million, after three years if you invest £5 million, or after five years if you invest £2 million.

Any dependent family members that you bring with you must wait five years before they are eligible for settlement.

Read more about the Tier 1 Investor visa.

Tier 1 Exceptional Talent

The Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa is designed to enable ‘exceptionally talented’ individuals from outside of the EEA to gain preferred entry to the UK.

The visa specifically covers talent from science, humanities, engineering, the arts, and tech and digital. Applicants must be endorsed as ‘exceptional in their field’ by the relevant sector organisation (for example The Royal Society, the British Academy, the Royal Academy of Engineering, Arts Council England and Tech City UK).

Holders of the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa can either be self-employed, or work for any employer in any sector at any level.

Dependants can also accompany the applicant if they meet the relevant requirements.

There is a two-stage application process for the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa. First, apply to the relevant organisation for endorsement; second, make an application to UKVI for the visa.

Applicants must meet mandatory criteria for endorsement, including:

  • A proven track record of innovation working in one of the specified sectors as director or founder of a company, or an employee working in a new field or concept; or
  • Proof of recognition for work outside of your immediate occupation that has contributed to the advancement of the sector (e.g. by mentoring, advising, teaching or participating in clubs and societies).

Applicants must also meet at least two of four qualifying criteria:

  • Significant technical, commercial or entrepreneurial contribution in the digital technology sector as either an entrepreneur, director, or founder of a digital technology company;
  • Recognised as a world leading talent in the digital technology sector;
  • Undergone continuous learning / mastery of new digital skills (commercial or technical) throughout your career;
  • Demonstrated exceptional ability in the field by making academic contributions through research (e.g. journals or awards).

If an applicant cannot meet the qualifying and/or mandatory criteria, but has evidence demonstrating potential to do so in the future, they can apply as a ‘candidate with exceptional promise’.

Fast-track applications are also available where:

  1. Applicants are planning to make a contribution in Hull, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield or Sunderland.
  2. Applicants have specific skills that are particularly in need in the UK.
  3. Applicants are part of a team of five or more.

Once endorsed, an application should then be made to the Home Office, who will consider whether there are any general grounds for refusal.

The usual requirements of maintenance and sufficient English language do not apply to this visa.

The visa is granted for a maximum of five years, after which an applicant can apply for settlement. Note however that to extend leave or apply for settlement, applicants will need to demonstrate they have worked in their field of speciality during their stay.

Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur Visa

The Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur visa is aimed at international students with a viable idea for a UK business.

Under the visa, successful applicants can extend their stay in the UK after graduation to establish one or more businesses as either a sole trader, partnership or limited company.

To be eligible, applicants must:

  • Be from outside the EEA and Switzerland.
  • Be endorsed by a UK higher education institution, if it is an authorised endorsing agent, or by the Department for International Trade (DIT).
  • Hold a UK-recognised higher education qualification such as a Bachelor’s degree, Master’s or PhD.
  • Meet the English language requirements.
  • Provide relevant supporting documentation. The type of documents will be dependent on whether you have been endorsed by a higher education institution or by DIT.
  • Have access and be able to evidence sufficient maintenance funds. Under the visa you will not be able to access public funds. The level of funds required depends on where you are applying from; at least £1,890 if applying from outside the UK, and at least £945 for those applying from within. In both circumstances, you must have had access to the funds for 3 continuous months or more.

The visa allows holders to stay in the UK for up to 1 year. An extension is available on application for a further year.

You may bring dependants with you under the visa.

You can also apply to switch from one of the following:

  • Tier 4 student
  • Student
  • Student nurse
  • Student re-sitting an examination
  • Student writing up a thesis
  • Postgraduate doctor or dentist
  • Tier 2 (General) migrant

As part of the application, endorsement is required from either the Department of Industry and Trade or from the applicant’s university. Read more about the endorsement process here.

Note this is not a route to settlement in the UK. Seek advice if you are an entrepreneur looking to settle in the UK.

Tier 2 Visa

The Tier 2 visa provides temporary permission to non-EU citizens to work in the UK and fill temporary gaps in the domestic labour market.

The Tier 2 process can however seem highly involved for both employer and employee.

Employers must first apply for and maintain a Sponsor Licence.

Individuals are eligible to apply for a Tier 2 (General) visa provided they:

  • Have a confirmed offer of employment from a licensed UK employer (the ‘sponsor’).
  • Have a valid Certificate of Sponsorship.
  • Score 70 points under the points based system.

Applicants must demonstrate:

  • Suitability for the role
  • Their certificate of sponsorship reference number
  • An ‘appropriate’ salary for the role
  • The required level of English – usually at least CEFR level B1 or an academic qualification that was taught in English and is recognised by UK NARIC as being equivalent to a UK Bachelor’s degree
  • The required savings for you and any dependants if your fully approved (A’ rated) sponsor is not certifying maintenance

Once your Certificate of Sponsorship is received, you can apply for entry clearance to the UK from your home country.

Note that it is only for vacancies included on the Tier 2 Shortage Occupation List, will employers not need to demonstrate that a Resident Labour Market test has been carried out i.e. advertising the vacancy for 28 days and documenting the recruitment process as per Home Office guidelines to confirm that there are no suitable resident workers for the role.

Because the Tier 2 (General) visa can lead to Indefinite Leave to Remain, the category also makes provision for the spouses, partners and any dependent children to immigrate to the UK at the same time as the main Tier 2 applicant.

Read more about the Tier 2 visa.

Standard Visitor Visa

The Standard Visitor visa is issued outside the UK to non-EEA citizens who are subject to immigration control and require a visa to enter the UK, which includes visits for business-related purposes.

For example, visitor visa applicants will have to show as part of their application that they will be undertaking permissable business activity during their visit. Applicants will be required to comply with specific visa conditions during their stay. Breach of their conditions can compromise permission to stay or return.

Standard Visitor visas are valid for up to 6 months (or 180 days) per visit, but holders may re-enter the UK multiple times during this period, which may satisfy employer requirements of an assignee.

Applications can be made up to three months before the intended date of travel.

Applicants must also demonstrate within their application that they intend to stay for no longer than 6 months, and that they intend to leave the UK by the end of the visa period.

If a business visitor visa was granted for less than six months, the holder apply for an extension up to the maximum of six months.

Visitors must also show that they can fund themselves – and any dependants – without recourse to public funds; typically through financial support from their employer or spouse.

If an applicant needs to visit the UK regularly over a longer period, there are longer term visas available which last 2, 5 or 10 years, allowing the holder to stay for a maximum of 6 months on each visit.

Read more about the Standard Visitor visa for business.

Representative of an Overseas Business visa

The Representative of an Overseas Business visa allows a representative of an overseas company to set up a branch or subsidiary in the UK.

It also allows an employee of an overseas newspaper, news agency or broadcasting organisation permission to come to the UK on long-term assignment.

Under the Representative of an Overseas Business visa, individuals are permitted to work for their employer, full time. You are not however permitted to work for another company or on a self-employed basis, or stay in the UK if the sole representative status is ended by your employer.

To be eligible, applicants must:

  • Apply from outside the EEA
  • Have access to sufficient funds to support – there is no access to public funds
  • Meet the English requirement

Sole representatives in the UK must:

  • Be recruited and employed outside the UK by a company whose headquarters and principal place of business are outside the UK
  • Have extensive related industry experience and knowledge
  • Hold a senior position within the company (but not be a major shareholder) and have full authority to make decisions on its behalf
  • Intend to establish the company’s first commercial presence in the UK, eg a registered branch or a wholly owned subsidiary

You may also be eligible if the company has a legal entity in the UK that doesn’t employ staff or transact business.

Applicants can replace a previous sole representative a company has been working to establish a UK branch or subsidiary, but it is not yet set up.

Successful applicants can come to the UK for an initial period of 3 years, and have the ability to apply to extend the visa for another 2 years.

Holders are able to bring dependants to the UK. They can become eligible to apply to settle in the UK after 5 years.


It is more important than ever for overseas talent to select the most appropriate route of entry for their specific circumstances.

Application processes across the board are rigorous, and costly. To avoid delays or incurring lost fees, seek advice to select the most appropriate visa and for guidance with your application.