The United Kingdom (UK) government actively encourages investment in the UK, and has created immigration categories specifically for individuals and their spouse, civil partner or unmarried partner and children under 18 years old (their Dependants) who wish to relocate to the UK on this basis.

The UK immigration categories set out below apply to non-British and non-Irish nationals who have no other route available, for example, as a result of a family connection to a British citizen, to enable them to come to the UK to live and work.

Investor route

This route is available to individuals who have substantial funds of their own to invest in the UK. It is the most flexible visa category in that it allows the applicant and their Dependants to undertake employment, self-employment, studies or be self-sufficient in the UK.

Individuals and their Dependants who remain in the UK under this category for a certain period (see below) may be eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain (ILR) (also known as permanent residence or settlement). However, there is no limit to the number of times an applicant may apply to extend their Investor status, provided they maintain the required investment. Furthermore, there is no residence requirement for extending under this route.

Initial requirements

In order to be granted initial immigration permission to come to the UK, the applicant must demonstrate that they have a minimum of £2m of their own money that they are able to invest in the UK and be able to show the source of these funds. They must also open a UK bank account for the purposes of making the investment.

There is no English language or maintenance requirement for the applicant or their Dependants at this stage. However, they will have to provide police clearance certificates for any country where they have lived for more than 12 months in the last 10 years.

Provided the application is successful, the applicant and their Dependants should be granted immigration permission valid for three years.

Extension

Once the initial application has been approved, the applicant must transfer at least £2m to the UK and invest at least £2m in qualifying investments within three months of their initial entry to the UK as an Investor migrant.

Qualifying investments include share capital or loan capital (such as corporate bonds) in active and trading UK registered companies, other than those principally engaged in property investment or management. If any of the qualifying investments are sold at a later date, the total (gross) proceeds of the sale must be reinvested in qualifying investments (irrespective of whether the investments rose or fell in value prior to the sale). Interest accrued and dividends declared after the date on which they purchased the qualifying investment, may be withdrawn. However, bank fees, transaction costs and tax payable cannot be paid from the £2m investment.

Provided the applicant invested and maintained £2m in qualifying investments, they should be able to extend their immigration permission for a further two years.

If the applicant invested £5m or £10m, they may be eligible to apply for ILR without having to extend their visa (please see below).

All Dependants must extend their visas, even if the applicant has already obtained ILR, and should be granted further leave to remain for two years.

ILR

If the applicant invested £2m in the UK, they may be eligible to apply for ILR after five years. Their Dependants may also apply for ILR at the same time.

If the applicant invested £5m or £10m in the UK, they may qualify for ILR after three years or two years respectively. However, their Dependants would still need to wait at least five years before they can apply for ILR.

In order to obtain ILR, the applicant and their Dependant Partner would need to meet the residence requirements, which are that they:

  • must not have been outside of the UK for more than six consecutive months; and
  • must not have been outside of the UK for more than 180 days in any continuous 12 month period during the two/ three/five year qualifying period for ILR.

It is important to note that for Dependant children to obtain ILR, both parents must also obtain, or already possess, ILR.

The applicant and their Dependants over 18 years old would need to meet the English language requirement and pass the Life in the UK Test in order to qualify for ILR.

Once the applicant has obtained ILR, they may withdraw their investment if they wish to do so.

Naturalisation or registration as a British citizen

If the applicant invested £2m in the UK, they may apply for British citizenship after living in the UK under this category for five years, including at least one year with ILR. This normally means that an applicant will become eligible after six years of living in the UK.

If the applicant invested £5m or £10m in the UK, they may be eligible to apply for British citizenship after five years of living in the UK, provided, again, this includes one year of holding ILR.

The Dependants would also be entitled to apply for British citizenship provided they meet these residency requirements.

There are stricter residence requirements for British citizenship applications than for ILR applications although they may be waived in certain circumstances, for example, if absences beyond the prescribed limits were due to business travel which was an unavoidable consequence of the applicant’s UK job role. The applicant and their Dependants would each need to satisfy the residence requirements, which are that they:

  • must not be absent from the UK for more than 450 days in total in the last five years before applying for British citizenship;
  • must not be absent from the UK for more than 90 days in the last 12 months before applying for British citizenship; and
  • must not be absent from the UK for more than six consecutive months in the last five years before applying for British citizenship.

After obtaining British citizenship, they may subsequently apply for their first British passports.

Innovator category

The Innovator category is for entrepreneurs who wish to establish a new business in the UK.

After three years under this category, the applicant can apply for ILR, provided certain requirements are met.

Alternatively, if the applicant cannot meet the requirements for ILR, they may continue to extend their visa by another three years. There is no limit to the number of times they can extend this visa until they are eligible for ILR.

Although the applicant must be principally engaged in their UK business whilst under this category, their Dependants are free to undertake any employment, self-employment, studies or be self-sufficient in the UK.

Initial requirements

The applicant must first obtain an endorsement from an endorsing body. The applicant must demonstrate to the endorsing body that they have at least £50,000 to invest in the business, which can be from their own money or provided by a third party, and provide the endorsing body with a business plan which demonstrates that the business is viable, scalable and innovative. Some endorsing bodies also have additional criteria. If the endorsing body agrees to endorse the application, it will provide a letter in support of the application.

The endorsing body must keep in contact with the applicant and follow-up with the applicant at 6, 12 and 24 month checkpoints after their application is granted. It must inform the Home Office if the applicant has not made reasonable progress with their original business venture, the applicant is not pursuing a business venture or if the applicant misses any of these checkpoints without authorisation from the endorsing body.

The applicant must also show that they are able to communicate in English to the required standard and can maintain themselves and their Dependants whilst in the UK by showing that they hold a specified minimum balance in their bank account.

Provided the application is successful, the applicant and their Dependants should be granted immigration permission valid for three years.

Extension

In order for the applicant to extend their immigration permission, they must continue to be endorsed by an endorsing body. The endorsing body must be satisfied, and confirm in a letter, the following information:

  • the applicant has shown significant achievements when assessed against the business plan;
  • the business is registered with Companies House and the applicant is a director of the company;
  • the business is active and trading;
  • the business appears to be sustainable for at least the next 12 months based on its assets and expected income compared to its current and planned expenses;
  • the applicant has demonstrated that they are actively involved in the day-to-day management and development of the business; and
  • the endorsing body is reasonably satisfied that the applicant will spend their entire working time in the UK to continue developing their business.

Provided the application is successful, the applicant and their Dependants should be granted immigration permission valid for a further three years.

ILR

The earliest the applicant may apply for ILR is three years. It is important to note that the earliest their Dependants may apply for ILR is five years. In order for the applicant to retain this status, the applicant must obtain an endorsement letter from the endorsing body which contains the information set out above for the extension visa.

The letter must also confirm that the

applicant’s business meets at least two of the following:

  • at least £50,000 has been invested into the business and actively spent in accordance with the business plan;
  • the business has created the equivalent of at least five full-time jobs for settled workers that have an average gross annual salary of at least £25,000 (this includes British/Irish citizens, those who have settled status/Indefinite Leave to Remain or Permanent Residence, those who are resident under the EU Settlement Scheme, British Overseas Territories citizens and Commonwealth citizens who are in the UK under the UK Ancestry category);
  • the business has created the equivalent of at least 10 full-time jobs for settled workers;
  • the business has generated a minimum annual gross revenue of £500,000 in the last full year as shown in its latest accounts, with at least £100,000 generated from exporting overseas;
  • the business has generated a minimum annual gross revenue of £1m in the last full year as shown in its latest accounts;
  • the business has engaged in significant research and development activity and has applied for intellectual property protection in the UK; and
  • the number of clients the business serves has at least doubled within the most recent three years and must be currently higher than the mean number of clients for other competitive businesses.

The applicant and their Dependants over 18 years old must, again, meet the same residence requirements as for the other immigration categories above, satisfy the English language requirement and pass the Life in the UK Test.

Naturalisation or registration as a British citizen

Once an applicant has held ILR for at least one year, they may apply for British citizenship provided they have lived in the UK for at least five years and meet the residence requirements set out above.

The Dependants may also be entitled to apply for British citizenship provided they meet the same requirements. This means that they will normally become eligible after ILR after six years of living in the UK.

As stated above, it is important to note that there are stricter residence requirements for British citizenship applications, as compared to the requirements for ILR.

After obtaining British citizenship, they may subsequently apply for their first British passports.

Representative of an Overseas Business Route

The UK government created the Representative of an Overseas Business category to enable overseas businesses to expand into the UK, by allowing a senior representative of the overseas business to come to the UK to set up a UK branch or a wholly owned UK subsidiary. Although the applicant (the Sole Representative) must work full time for the company for the duration of their stay in the UK and cannot carry out any other work, their Dependants are free to undertake employment, self-employment, studies or be self-sufficient in the UK.

This category is particularly useful for those individuals looking to set up a UK entity of a business where they own less than half the business overseas since there is no minimum investment requirement. Please note that this category is only available if the business does not already have an entity established in the UK.

Initial requirements

The Sole Representative coming to the UK to set up a UK

branch or wholly owned UK subsidiary must:

  • be recruited and employed outside the UK by a company whose headquarters and principal place of business is, and will remain, outside the UK;
  • have extensive related industry experience and knowledge, hold a senior position within the overseas company and have full authority to make decisions on its behalf;
  • intend to establish the company’s first commercial presence in the UK and carry on the same business activity as the overseas company; and
  • must not be a major shareholder. This means that the Sole Representative can only have a maximum 49% shareholding in the business.

The applicant must also show that they are able to communicate in English to the required standard and can support themselves and their Dependants whilst in the UK.

Provided the applicant meets the requirements above, they, and their Dependants, should be granted immigration permission valid for three years.

Extension

Provided the applicant is still working for the business, has established the company’s first presence in the UK and the employer’s principal place of business is still outside the UK, the applicant and their Dependants should be able to extend their immigration permission for a further two years.

ILR

The applicant should be eligible to apply for ILR after five years provided they continue to meet the requirements stated above.

Furthermore, the applicant must meet the same residence requirements for ILR, as detailed above for the Investor category.

However, Dependants do not currently need to meet the residence requirements at the ILR stage.

The applicant and their Dependants over 18 years old must meet the English language requirement and pass the Life in the UK Test in order to qualify for ILR.

Naturalisation or registration as a British citizen

Once an applicant has held ILR for at least one year, they may apply for British citizenship. This means that normally they will become eligible for ILR after six years of living in the UK.

Their Dependants would also be entitled to apply for British citizenship after six years of living in the UK, provided they meet the requirements including having held ILR for one year.

Again, it is important to note that there are stricter residence requirements for British citizenship applications.

After obtaining British citizenship, they may subsequently apply for their first British passports.

Sponsored workers

Once a business has started trading in the UK, it may apply for a licence from the UK government to enable it to sponsor non-settled workers in the UK in skilled occupations. This is known as a sponsor licence.

There are two principle sponsorship categories.

  • Intra-Company Transfer (ICT) – this enables companies to transfer individuals who normally have been working for the company overseas for at least 12 months to the company’s UK entity temporarily.
  • Skilled Worker – this enables UK companies to sponsor non-settled workers who have never worked for the company previously and/or will be undertaking a permanent position in the UK.

Initial requirements

In order to qualify under the ICT category, the job must require skills at the Regulated Qualifications Framework(RQF) level 6 (equivalent to a UK Bachelor’s degree level). In order to qualify under the Skilled Worker category, the job must require skills at the UK’s (RQF) level 3 (essentially equivalent to UK A Levels). The role must attract a salary above the minimum threshold either for the category or for the position as determined by the UK government, whichever is the higher.

Applicants under the Skilled Worker route must show that they are able to communicate in English to the required standard and, applicants under the Skilled Worker and ICT categories, must show that they can maintain themselves and their Dependants whilst in the UK, although this can be certified by the sponsoring company.

Provided the application is successful, the applicant and their Dependants may be granted immigration permission valid for up to five years.

Although the applicant must work full time for the company for the duration of their stay in the UK, their Dependants are free to undertake employment, self-employment, studies or be self-sufficient in the UK.

Extension

An applicant, and their Dependants, may apply to extend their stay under the ICT and Skilled Worker categories, provided the applicant continues to be required for their role by their sponsor.

The maximum period that an applicant, and their Dependants, may remain in the UK under the ICT category is normally five years, although there are some exceptions. However, it is possible for an ICT Migrant to switch in-country into the Skilled Worker route.

ILR

The ICT route is not a category which leads to ILR.

Skilled Worker Migrants, and their Dependants, should be eligible to apply for ILR after five years, provided they continue to meet the requirements stated above.

The applicant, and their Dependants over 18 years old, must, again, satisfy the same residence requirements as under the Investor category, meet the English language requirement and pass the Life in the UK Test.

Naturalisation or Registration as a British citizen

Once an applicant has held ILR for at least one year, they may apply for British citizenship. This means that normally they will become eligible for ILR after six years of living in the UK, provided they satisfy the relevant criteria, including the residence requirements for British citizenship applications set out above.

Conclusion

Immigration is a politically sensitive issue in the UK and the UK government is constantly changing the law that applies to non-settled nationals who wish to obtain UK immigration permission to work and/or invest in the UK.

However, the UK does remain an attractive destination due to its geographic location, respect for the rule of law, dynamic business environment, renowned educational institutions and cultural diversity.