UK Attracting More International Female Entrepreneurs


Year-on-year growth in the number of women applying for the UK Tier 1 Entrepreneur Visa – Home Office figures

An analysis of recent Home Office statistics* suggests increasing numbers of international female entrepreneurs are setting up or investing in businesses in the UK.

According to the figures obtained by DavidsonMorris under an FOI request, between 2015 and the end of 2017, there was a 63% increase in the number of non-EEA women applying for the UK’s Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa, against a 51% increase in male applicants during the same period.

The numbers show male applicants continue to far outnumber female applicants. Between 2013 and the end of June 2018 (where current records finish), 69% of entrepreneur applicants were male and 31% female.

But the entrepreneurial gender gap could be showing signs of closing, as the percentage of female applicants making up the visa route has been increasing year on year, from 26% of applications in 2013 to 38% in 2018.

The 2015 fall in the overall number of Tier 1 entrepreneur applications followed a change in UK immigration rules in November 2014, when the minimum investment threshold for the entrepreneur visa doubled to £1million. Since the initial drop however, application numbers have since been steadily rising each year, with a greater proportion of applications coming from women each year.

With an average refusal rate of 50%, the entrepreneur visa remains a challenging route for applicants, with stringent eligibility requirements and an extensive application process. The figures suggest that female applicants are tending to fare better in the process than their male counterparts, with an average entrepreneur visa approval rate of 55% for women against 45% for men between 2013 and 2018.

Encouraging – but some way to go to achieve gender equality 

Commenting on the Home Office statistics, Anne Morris, Immigration Solicitor and Managing Director at DavidsonMorris, said:

“The figures paint an encouraging picture, that internationally, the UK is increasingly being regarded as a haven for female entrepreneurship.

“This certainly resonates with my own experience. I’ve been advising on the Tier 1 route since it was introduced in 2008 and I can see from our own workload that more and more women from overseas are looking to set up business or to make investments in existing enterprises here in Britain.

“It seems women are recognising a cultural movement towards equality in the UK and are seizing the opportunity to be a part of this shift through global mobility. That this may be permeating internationally can only be a good thing for the UK economically, socially and culturally, creating more UK-based female role models for others to look up to and emulate.

“That said – Britain very much remains a work in progress in respect of attaining equality for women in business. Only a third of all entrepreneurs in the UK are women and fewer than one in five UK SMEs are led by women.

“So it would be a mistake to be complacent and expect the trend in overseas appeal to continue of its own accord. The UK has to take steps to fuel its relevance and appeal to a broader segment of women entrepreneurs across nationalities and targeting market sectors.

“We’re working with women business owners in sectors as diverse as tech, sports, education, fashion and retail. Looking specifically at tech – despite the ambitions and expectations of Government on tech companies to contribute to economic growth and global competitive position, as a sector it’s still way behind in terms of female entrepreneurship and senior business representation. Per 100 tech jobs in the UK, only 19 are held by women, despite 49% of the UK workforce being female.

“I’m calling for a UK Women in Tech Visa. Let’s go out there and actively invite and welcome women from across the globe who have the talent, means and vision to contribute to a successful and sustainable future for UK tech.”

About the Tier 1 Entrepreneur Visa

The Tier 1 entrepreneur visa enables nationals from non-EEA countries to enter the country to establish or invest in a UK enterprise. Entrepreneur visa holders may also become eligible to apply to settle in the UK where they meet the qualifying criteria.

To be eligible for the entrepreneur visa, applicants must have access to £1million to place into the UK in an approved form of investment. Applicants must also be able to evidence the source of funds and that their enterprise will result in a minimum of two full-time jobs for UK resident workers.

Since the route was opened in 2008, entrepreneur visas have been issued to individuals from countries across the globe, including Pakistan, China, the USA, India and Russia.

The application process is extensive and onerous on applicants, who must have their funds placed in a qualifying UK financial institution, the investment opportunity lined up and also prove that they satisfy the general grounds for admission – all without any guarantee of securing their visa. The result is a high refusal rate, with around half of applications rejected.

A further push in attracting the entrepreneurial minded is expected if the mooted UK Start Up launches next Spring, offering relaxed eligibility criteria for a broader range of applicants – including non-graduates. The detail has yet to be announced.

Editorial note

* Figures have been taken from the Home Office’s response to an FOI request (information provided limited to female and male gender identification terms) and from publicly available immigration statistics


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 500and 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.

Legal Disclaimer

The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct at the time of writing, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.

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