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2019 was a year of great change for the visa routes which allow businessmen and women to stay in the UK long-term.  The Tier 1 Entrepreneur route was closed to new entrants in 2019, whilst restrictions were placed on the eligibility criteria for the Tier 1 Investor route.

The Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur route was replaced by the Start-up visa and Tier 1 Entrepreneur was replaced by the Innovator visa.

The limited effectiveness at present of the Innovator visa has increasingly led to us advise our clients to consider opening a UK branch and then obtaining a Tier 2 sponsor licence for the UK branch to sponsor the businessperson as a CEO.

If you are looking to establish a UK branch or subsidiary of your business in the UK, then an employee of your company can apply for a visa specifically to establish the business in the UK.  This visa is called Representative of an Overseas Business (ROB).

The Immigration Team at Truth Legal is at the forefront of advising people on the most appropriate route, tailored to their business and personal needs.

Business Visitor visa

But first, it is worth remembering that individuals looking to come to the UK to undertake short-term general business activities may be able to come to the UK under a General Visitor visa.

General business activities include attending meetings, conferences, seminars and interviews.

Under this visa, businesspeople can also undertake what are called ‘intra-corporate activities’.  This involves an employee of an overseas company undertaking activities on a specific internal project with UK employees of the same corporate group.

Further information regarding Visitor visas is available here.

Tier 1 Investor

The Tie 1 Investor route is for wealthy individuals who have at least £2 million to invest in UK companies.

This route can lead to settlement after five years.  However, there are ‘accelerated routes’ to settlement if a larger amount of money is invested.  An investment of at least £5 million can bring settlement after three years, and this is reduced to two years if the investment is at least £10 million.

This route has the added advantage, for many, that there is no limit to the number of times you can extend your visa and you are not obliged to apply for settlement after a given period.    This helps some people as normally, to apply for settlement, you will need to show you have spent the majority of your time in the UK.

The Tier 1 Investor route, therefore, allows overseas nationals the opportunity to spend as much or as little time in the UK as they like.

Changes to this route in 2019 mean that funds relied on for the investment must be held for at least two years prior to applying.   The option of investing in government bonds was taken away and investments must now be made in share or loan capital in active and trading UK registered companies.

Note that investments cannot be made in companies principally engaged in property investment, property management or development.

There are numerous technical requirements around this visa, and we have had success in highly complex investment arrangements.

Tier 2 sponsorship as a CEO

Following the abolition of the Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa we are increasingly advising businesspersons around obtaining leave under Tier 2 as a CEO of a company they own.

This route involves using a UK-based contact to set up a UK branch of your overseas company.  The UK company can then apply for a Tier 2 General sponsor licence.  The UK company can then sponsor you as CEO.  Provided that you will be paid at least £159,600, then it is permissible for you to own shares in the UK company over 10% (and up to 100%).

If you are paid less than £159,600 then you are not permitted to own more than 10% of the UK company’s shares.

If you can pay at least £159,600 then you are also exempt from having to run a Resident labour market test in respect of the sponsored CEO position.

Individuals can apply for up to 6 years’ leave in total in the Tier 2 category and can be eligible for settlement after completing 5 years’ leave in total.

Representative of an Overseas Business

The Representative of an Overseas Business route allows a representative of an overseas business company to come to the UK to establish and then run a UK branch of the business.  The individual must be experienced and hold a senior position within the company.

The individual is given an initial three-year visa which is extendable.  After completing five years in this category the individual can apply for settlement.

This route might not be suitable for the owners of many overseas companies, as an Applicant under this category cannot be a majority shareholder of the parent company.


The Start-up route is for individuals looking to establish a new business for the first time in the UK.

Individuals will need to show they have a business which is ‘innovative’, ‘viable’ and ‘scalable’.  You will need to be endorsed by a trusted UK body before you can apply for a visa.   The endorsing bodies tend to be universities or business accelerators and incubators.

The visa is granted for two years.  At the end of those two years the individual is expected to switch into the Innovator category, or some other category.

Unlike with its Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur predecessor, Applicants do not need to secure any initial funding.


The Innovator visa is aimed at more experienced businesspeople.  Applicants will normally need to have £50,000 to invest in their business.

Individuals will need to be endorsed by an endorsing body before they can apply for a visa.  The endorsing body will assess the business for innovation, viability and scalability.

Applicants are granted a three-year visa under this category which can be extended indefinitely.   This category leads to settlement.

If you are a businessperson and would like to discuss your visa options, book a consultation with us today.