Can Visa Dependants Start a Business in the UK?

Can dependants start a business in UK?

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Dependant visa holders are generally permitted to start and run their own business in the UK, provided they have lawful status and remain eligible under their visa conditions.

In this guide, we explain the rules on setting up a business if you have a dependant visa.

 

Who are visa dependants?

Visa dependants, or dependant visa-holders, refer to either the spouse, partner or dependent children of the principal applicant or primary visa-holder on one of the many points-based routes under the UK’s Immigration Rules.

There are various immigration routes under the UK’s points-based system on which the qualifying partner or dependent children of the principal applicant or primary visa-holder can accompany or join them in the UK. This could be where a partner or parent has permission on the Student route although, in most cases, this will be where the partner or parent has permission on one of the many sponsored or unsponsored work routes.

The routes on which dependants can apply to accompany or join their partner or parent in the UK include the Skilled Worker, Scale-up, Global Talent, High Potential Individual, Graduate or Innovator Founder routes. There are also several routes under the Global Business Mobility (GBM) umbrella, together with various Temporary Worker routes. In limited cases, dependants can also join their partner or parent on the Student route, although recent changes to the rules have significantly restricted where this is possible.

When it comes to what constitutes a qualifying partner under any one of these routes, the rules under Appendix Relationship with Partner provide that a dependent partner, provided they are over 18, can include a spouse, civil partner or unmarried partner in a durable relationship of at least 2 years. While a fiancé(e) or proposed civil partner are not included in the definition of partner, they may meet the requirements for a durable relationship.

It is worth noting that when it comes to what constitutes a “durable relationship”, there is no requirement for a couple to have been living together for at least 2 years before the date of application, as long as the relationship is similar to a marriage or civil partnership.

When it comes to dependent children applying to accompany or join their parent in the UK on either the Student route or one of the many work routes, under Appendix Children of the Immigration Rules, the applicant must be under the age of 18 when they apply. The only exception to this rule is where the applicant was last granted permission as the dependent child of their parent or parents, where they may be aged 18 or over on the date of application if applying for further leave to remain on an applicable route.

However, regardless of age, the applicant must not be leading an independent life. This essentially means that they do not have a partner and are living with their parent, except where they are at boarding school, college or university as part of their full-time education.

 

What type of work are visa dependants allowed to do?

As a dependant visa holder, the conditions placed on work activity are relatively narrow. There are no restrictions on any category of dependants undertaking work during their grant of leave in the UK, either through employment or self-employment, with the exception only of working as a professional sportsperson or coach.

 

Visa dependants starting a business in the UK

As a visa dependant is able to undertake both employment or self-employment in the UK, there is nothing in the Immigration Rules preventing them from starting their own business. This therefore means that in answer to the question “Can dependants start a business in UK?”, much will depend on factors such as financing and logistics, rather than any immigration restrictions.

Starting a business in the UK can be a complex and challenging process, from deciding what business structure to use to knowing what type of tax needs to be paid, where it is best to seek expert advice from various professionals. In broad terms, however, the following steps will need to be carefully considered before embarking on a new venture:

  • Deciding on a legal structure: first and foremost, a decision will need to be made as to the type of legal structure under which the UK business will be run. This will depend on the nature of the business, as well as whether the dependant is setting up on their own or with someone else. Most businesses are registered on either a sole trader, standard partnership or limited company basis, where there are different benefits and drawbacks to each type of business arrangement. Importantly, the dependant’s partner or parent may not be permitted to undertake any additional work, depending on the conditions of their leave, which may prevent any plans to make them a salaried partner or director.
  • Preparing a business plan: a business plan will typically be needed if a dependant is looking for finance or investment to fund their start-up. This can also be a useful exercise to help the dependant ascertain a clearer idea of their strategic goals and initial start-up costs from the outset. The business plan should set out in detail the dependant’s strategy and marketing plan, including pricing, production costs and advertising spend, so at least a rough prediction can be made of any profits and predicted growth.
  • Securing funding: there are various ways to raise finance for a start-up, from business loans through to external investment, such as angel investors. These are high net-worth individuals who provide financial backing for small start-ups, typically in exchange for a percentage ownership equity in the business. However, securing funding can be difficult, especially as a foreign entrepreneur, where there can be stringent requirements and considerable risks involved. Seeking expert help when exploring funding options, as well as when preparing a business plan to support any finance application, can pay dividends.
  • Putting insurance in place: the type of business insurance needed will depend on the business, where securing the right kind of cover can help to protect a business from a range of risks and liabilities. As such, careful consideration must be given to the different types of insurance cover necessary to protect the new business. This could include, for example, insurance to cover buildings and contents, public liability, professional indemnity, employers’ liability, product liability, as well as for commercial legal protection.
  • Paying the right tax: having set up a new business in the UK, the type of tax that must be paid, and how and when this is paid, will depend on the legal structure of the business. For example, as a sole trader or partner, there will liability to Income Tax on any profits, plus Class 2 and Class 4 National Insurance Contributions (NICs). These earnings will need to be declared through self-assessment with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). In contrast, for a limited company, there will be a responsibility to file a company tax return with HMRC, as well as annual accounts and a confirmation statement with Companies House. Corporation Tax will then become payable on the company’s profits, with Income Tax and NICs payable on any salaried income as a director through the company’s payroll.

It is also worth bearing in mind that there may be various bars to starting a business for dependants under 18, including raising finance or opening a business bank account.

 

Should dependants apply to switch visa to run a business?

A dependant does not necessarily need to apply to switch to an alternative visa to be able to run their own business in the UK. This is because they are permitted under the rules to undertake both employment or self-employment as dependants on either the Student route or one of the various different work routes, with only very limited exceptions.

However, a dependant’s immigration status is reliant on the visa status of their partner or parent, where their permission to stay will be granted in line with that person’s permission. As such, where a couple have separated, the dependant’s leave may be curtailed. In these circumstances, a former spouse or partner will no longer meet the necessary relationship requirements under their existing points-based route. This is because a relationship under Appendix Relationship with Partner must be “genuine and subsisting”. It could also be where the primary visa-holder no longer qualifies themselves, perhaps if they lose their job, such that any dependants in the UK on the same route will also no longer be eligible.

In circumstances where a dependant’s leave is cut short, or they are not eligible to apply to extend their stay in the UK, they will need to consider their alternative options.

When it comes to starting a business in the UK, the main immigration route is the Innovator Founder route. This route is for overseas nationals seeking to establish a business in the UK based on an innovative, viable and scalable business idea that either they have generated or to which they have significantly contributed. However, an application for an Innovator Founder visa must be supported by an endorsing body, requiring substantial evidence to be able to prove each of the innovative, viable and scalable requirements under this route.

Alternatively, there are certain work routes which could provide the successful visa-holder with the flexibility to undertake any type of work in the UK, including starting a business. These include the Global Talent or High Potential Individual routes, although these are aimed at specific categories of applicant who meet certain stringent criteria. The dependant would also not benefit from the valuable business support available on the Innovator Founder route, where Innovators will receive ongoing support from their endorsing body.

However, when it comes to starting a business in the UK, the flexibility as a dependant visa-holder is difficult to match by having a visa in one’s own right. It is therefore important to bear in mind that once a dependant has started a new business, if their leave is curtailed because a couple’s relationship breaks down or the primary visa-holder no longer qualifies for leave to remain, this could affect the longevity of the dependant’s business.

 

Can family members run a business in the UK under a visitor visa?

The Visitor rules in the UK are strict when it comes to permitted activities, where anyone with a Visit visa, unless expressly allowed to undertake permitted paid engagements, will be granted a visa subject to the condition of “no work”. This means that even where a partner or dependent child has permission to visit an immediate relative in the UK for up to 6 months, they will not be allowed to undertake any paid employment or self-employment. This includes starting or running their own UK-based business.

There are certain business activities that a Visitor can lawfully undertake during their stay, although these activities relate to employment or self-employment overseas, including:

  • attending meetings, conferences, seminars and interviews
  • giving a one-off or short series of talks and speeches, provided these are not organised as commercial events and will not make a profit for the organiser
  • negotiating and signing deals and contracts
  • attending trade fairs, for promotional work only, provided they are not directly selling
  • carrying out site visits and inspections
  • gathering information for their employment overseas
  • being briefed on the requirements of a UK-based customer, provided any work for the customer is done outside of the UK.

Importantly, if an individual is currently in the UK as a Visitor, but would like to apply for permission to stay on as the partner or dependent child of someone on either the Student route or one of the many work routes, they cannot apply to switch into one of these routes. In these circumstances, to facilitate starting their own UK business, they would first need to leave the UK and apply for a suitable dependant visa from overseas.

 

DavidsonMorris are UK immigration specialists. For advice on your visa options, contact us.

 

Dependants starting a business in UK FAQs

Can I do business with dependent visa?

If you are in the UK with a visa as the dependent partner or child of someone with a student or work visa, you are free to work for yourself. This includes setting up a UK business.

Can a Tier 2 Skilled Worker Dependant start a business in UK?

The Skilled Worker route has now replaced the Tier 2 (General) work visa under the UK’s Immigration Rules, where dependants of Skilled Workers are permitted to undertake any type of work, including starting their own business in the UK.

Can a Tier 4 Student dependent visa holder start a business?

The Student route has now replaced the Tier 4 (General) student visa under the UK’s Immigration Rules, where dependants of Students are permitted to undertake almost any type of employment or self-employment, including starting their own business in the UK. Note that most student visa holders can no longer be accompanied by dependants under a change in the Immigration Rules in January 2024.

Last updated: 19 January 2024

Author

Founder and Managing Director Anne Morris is a fully qualified solicitor and trusted adviser to large corporates through to SMEs, providing strategic immigration and global mobility advice to support employers with UK operations to meet their workforce needs through corporate immigration.

She is a recognised by Legal 500 and Chambers as a legal expert and delivers Board-level advice on business migration and compliance risk management as well as overseeing the firm’s development of new client propositions and delivery of cost and time efficient processing of applications.

Anne is an active public speaker, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals

About DavidsonMorris

As employer solutions lawyers, DavidsonMorris offers a complete and cost-effective capability to meet employers’ needs across UK immigration and employment law, HR and global mobility.

Led by Anne Morris, one of the UK’s preeminent immigration lawyers, and with rankings in The Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners, we’re a multi-disciplinary team helping organisations to meet their people objectives, while reducing legal risk and nurturing workforce relations.

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