During LTW, international entrepreneurs and global tech companies looking to set up a business in the UK or expand operations here, will inevitably be looking at immigration options. Below are some of the key routes to consider.

Tier 1 Tech Nation visa

Introduced in November 2015, the Tech Nation visa scheme is an evolution of the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa. Under this route, Tech City can endorse up to 200 individuals per year from around the world to come and work in the UK’s digital technology sector. Those applying will have a track record in digital tech, which can be either technical expertise or digital marketing and business development experience.

Demand for the scheme continues to rise. Last year, India accounted for 21% of all Tech Nation visa applications, followed closely behind by the United States, with 20%. The most popular skill sets have been software engineering and software development.

By way of example, the Penningtons Manches team has recently assisted a successful app developer, a Fintech specialist, a Linux developer, a global CEO whose company was acquiring a failing UK tech company and a digital tech business development expert whose start-up combined football and tech.

More information on the eligibility criteria for this 'fit for purpose visa' can be found here.

Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa

This visa route is for non-EEA nationals wishing to invest in the UK through setting up or taking over, and being actively involved in the running of, one or more businesses in the UK. Those who apply under this category must demonstrate that they have access to £200,000 which they will invest in one or more businesses in the UK. A maximum of two individuals can apply as an entrepreneurial team.

The minimum funds threshold is lowered to £50,000 where an individual has secured funding via one of the following:

  • registered venture capital firms regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA)
  • UK seed funding competitions which are listed as endorsed on the Department for International Trade (DIT) pages of the GOV.UK website
  • UK government departments or devolved government departments in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland for the specific purpose of establishing or expanding a UK business.

Once the initial visa has been granted, the individual(s) must register themselves as either self-employed or as a company director and must create at least two full time jobs that have existed for at least 12 months.

Applications under this route are subject to a genuine entrepreneur test.

Further information about this route can be found here.

Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) visa

This route is for graduates whom UK Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) and the Department for International Trade (DIT) identify as having developed genuine and credible business ideas and the entrepreneurial skills to go on to establish one or more businesses in the UK.

Those who have obtained a successful endorsement can apply for an initial 12 month visa, which can be extended for a further 12 months. Once individuals have access to £50,000 they can apply to switch to the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa. The total number of endorsements available each year is 2,000 (1,900 for HEIs and 100 for DIT).

This visa category can prove useful for graduates looking to establish tech businesses and who require support and mentorship, which can be accessed through either the endorsing HEI or DIT. Further information about this route can be found here.

Tier 2 sponsor licensing and Tier 2 visas

Tech companies wishing to hire or transfer skilled migrants should consider Tier 2 sponsor licensing and Tier 2 visas.

Before a business which is established in the UK can sponsor (employ/transfer) foreign individuals into skilled jobs that it has been unable to fill from the resident workforce, the business will need to obtain a sponsor licence. A sponsor licence is valid for four years.

Tier 2 is broken into different subcategories:

Tier 2 (General) – is for workers who have an offer of a skilled job from an employer in the UK that cannot be filled by a settled worker. Most roles under Tier 2 (General) require advertising. However, digital tech roles on the shortage occupation list and which meet certain criteria are exempt from this requirement and therefore sponsors can fill vacant positions quickly.

Following the Migration Advisory Committee's review of digital tech roles, a process with which the TLA and Penningtons Manches were heavily involved, the following four digital technology roles are currently on the shortage occupation list:

  • product managers
  • data scientists
  • senior developers
  • cyber security specialists

Relocation of a high value business to the UK - Tier 2 sponsors are also exempt from advertising a role where a foreign worker is posted from an overseas firm to the UK in connection with the relocation of a high value business to the UK or a significant new inward investment project, where:

  • a company is an existing business registered in the UK within the last three years;
  • the company is the registered branch or wholly owned subsidiary of a business which has its headquarters and principal place of business outside the UK; and
  • the relocation or inward investment involves new capital expenditure of £27 million or the creation of at least 21 new UK jobs.

Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer) – is for an existing employee of a multinational employer who needs to be transferred by the overseas employer to a UK subsidiary or branchfor training purposes or to fill a specific vacancy that cannot be filled by a settled or EEA worker either on a long term basis or for frequent short visits.

Further information on Tier 2 sponsorship can be found here.

There may be other immigration routes open to companies or individuals operating in the tech space. Legal advice should therefore be taken to understand all the relevant immigration options.