UK immigration routes for entrepreneurs and investors

Written by Yulia Gutkovich, Immigration Advisor at Redfern Legal LLP 

Are you thinking about starting a new business in the UK or establishing a UK presence for your overseas company? This guide will help you identify the most suitable immigration route to the UK for entrepreneurs and investors from outside the-EEA and Switzerland.

Below I list the most common immigration routes for entrepreneurs and investors:

  • Sole representative of an overseas business: this route is suitable for a senior employee of a non-UK parent company who is planning to establish a company’s presence in the UK (open a registered branch or wholly owned subsidiary). The sole representative may work only for their employer while in the UK on this visa. They and their dependants may obtain permanent residency (ILR) in the UK after 5 years. Tip: do not incorporate the UK company before the Sole Representative enters the UK, however if you did, make sure that the UK entity remains dormant.
  • Tier 1 (Investor) visa requires access to at least £2,000,000 which must be invested in the UK’s government bonds, share capital or loan capital in active and trading UK registered companies. The investor does not need to prove English ability and may remain outside the country up to 180 days in any 12 months period. They are eligible for permanent residency after 5 years in the UK. An investment of £5,000,000 can lead to accelerated settlement within 3 years and investment of £10,000,000 within 2 years. Tip: note that you cannot invest mainly in property, property management or property development.
  • Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa is intended for those who want to set up or take over the running of business and work for it or be self-employed in the UK. Applicants must have access to £50,000 in investment funds from the UK government department (e.g., Department for International Trade) or FCA accredited investors, or have their own £200,000. After 5 years on Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa in the UK, you are eligible to apply for ILR. Tip: you may form an ‘entrepreneurial team’ with one other entrepreneur and share the same investment funds.
  • Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa is for exceptionally talented individuals in the fields of science, humanities, engineering, medicine, digital technology or the arts. They could be already internationally recognised or have just demonstrated exceptional promise. Prior to applying via this route, applicants should obtain an endorsement from a competent body.  An exceptional talent visa applicant does not need to prove English ability and may apply for ILR after being in the UK for 5 years. Tip: you can apply for endorsement even if you are not sure that you can be considered a “talent” – there is no limitation on the number of endorsement applications.


  • Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) visa is for UK graduates recognised by Higher Education Institutions or the Department for International Trade as having developed business ideas and entrepreneurial skills. You may spend a maximum of 2 years on this visa, which does not lead to UK settlement and then, if your business is successful, switch into a Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) route. Tip: this is a good opportunity to check whether your business idea is viable and if you can find investors. Tip: your stay on this visa will count as legal stay in the UK, which means that it would be counted toward an application for permanent residency after living for 10 years in the country.

A deep dive into Tier 1 Exceptional Talent for Digital Technology

The newest and one of the more interesting immigration routes for tech entrepreneurs is the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent (ET) Visa for Digital TechnologyAnchor.

The annual number of places available for the whole Tier 1 Exceptional Talent category is 1,000 per year. However last year less than 50% of the places were allocated. Tier 1 (ET) process consists of two stages:

  1. Endorsement stage: applicants should apply for endorsement by Tech City UK and enclose documents showing a proven track record of innovation in the digital technology sector as a director, founder or employee or recognition outside the immediate role as a contributor to the sector. Applicants should demonstrate that “exceptional promise” by providing examples of innovation brought to the digital technology space (e.g., patent application or evidence that applicants have gone beyond the day to day profession to engage in an activity that contributes to the advancement of the sector). This stage lasts up to 8 weeks and costs £292 (excluding any legal fees).
  1. Visa application: Once endorsed, applicants can make their visa application, which can take up to 3 weeks for applications made outside of the UK, and up to 8 weeks for in-country applications; the application fee is £293 plus £200 per year as a mandatory healthcare surcharge. If successful, the visa will be granted for 3 years, with a potential extension up to a maximum of 5 years and 4 months.

After 5 years in the UK, Tier 1 visa holders can apply for settlement, also known as Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR). ILR rules require no more than 180 days’ absence from the UK during each 12 months of the 5 year period, maintaining the Tech City endorsement and earning money in the UK as a result of employment or self-employment in the endorsed field of expertise.

I hope this guide helps you make a better informed decision about the right UK immigration route for you. If not, do not hesitate to contact me!

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances and no legal liability to any person is accepted by the author or Redfern Legal on the basis of this note.