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UK Business Visa Requirements

  • 8 minute read
  • Last updated: 24th October 2019

 

What are the UK business visa requirements? We look at the three main immigration routes for visa applicants from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland who are looking to come to the UK for the purposes of engaging in business activities.

 

This article covers:

 

Business visitor visa

If you are a non-EEA national but would like to come to the UK to undertake certain business activities on a short-term basis, you may be eligible to apply for a standard visitor visa. You can also use this visa for the purposes of tourism and leisure at the same time, such as visiting friends and family, although you will be required to set out the main purpose of your trip to the Home Office.

The rules relating to the standard visitor visa are set out under Appendix V of the Immigration Rules. These determine the UK business visa requirements for this category, including a long list of permitted and prohibited activities.

Permitted activities

Permitted business activities under the standard visitor visa include:

  • Attending meetings, conferences, seminars or interviews
  • Giving a one-off or short series of talks, provided these are not organised as commercial events and will not make a profit for the organiser
  • Negotiating, signing deals and contracts
  • Attending trade fairs for promotional work only, provided there is no direct selling
  • Carrying out site visits and inspections
  • Gathering information for employment overseas
  • Being briefed on the requirements of a UK based customer, provided any work for the customer is done outside of the UK

As an employee of an overseas-based company, you are also allowed to undertake the following corporate or intra-corporate activities:

  • Advising, consulting, trouble-shooting or providing training
  • Sharing skills and knowledge on a specific internal project with UK employees of the same corporate group, provided that no work is carried out directly with clients
  • Carrying out regulatory or financial audits as an internal auditor at a UK branch of the same group of companies as the overseas employer

There are also additional sector-specific activities that are permitted under a standard visitor visa, including obtaining funding to start, take over, join or run a business in the UK, albeit prohibiting actually establishing or running a business.

Prohibited activities

In addition to establishing or running a business as a self-employed person, there are also various other activities that are prohibited under the standard visitor visa. These include the following:

  • Taking employment in the UKDoing work for an organisation or business in the UK
  • Doing a work placement or internship
  • Directly selling to the public
  • Providing goods and services

Eligibility

To be eligible for a standard visitor visa, you must satisfy the following UK business visa requirements:

  • You will leave the UK at the end of your visit
  • You have enough money without recourse to public funds to support and accommodate yourself
  • You can pay for your return or onward journey
  • You have proof of any business activities you want to undertake in the UK, as permitted by the rules

It is inherent within these requirements that you are genuinely seeking entry for a purpose that is permitted by the visitor route and that you will not undertake any prohibited activities. Please note that if you are being paid by a UK company to visit as an expert in your profession, you should apply instead for what’s known as a permitted paid engagement visa.

Under this specific type of visa you can undertake a range of paid activities, including taking part in a selection panel as a highly qualified academic or giving lectures at a higher education institution, or arts or research organisation.

To be eligible for a permitted paid engagement visa you must satisfy the following UK business visa requirements:

  • You are 18 or over
  • You are visiting the UK for no more than 1 month
  • You will leave the UK at the end of your visit
  • You have enough money without recourse to public funds to support and accommodate yourself
  • You can pay for your return or onward journey
  • You are not in transit to a country outside the UK

Application process

An application for a visitor visa must be made online from outside the UK. You will need to provide your passport or valid travel document, together with documentation in support of your intended purpose for travelling to the UK, as well as to prove the other UK business visa requirements under this route.

You may also need to enrol your biometric information, ie; a scan of your fingerprints and digital photograph of your face, at a visa application centre.

The earliest you can apply for a visitor visa is 3 months before you travel, and you should get a decision within around 3 weeks. If your application for a visa is successful, this will usually be granted for a period of up to 6 months.

 

Start up route

The UK business visa requirements relating to the start-up visa are set out under Appendix W of the Immigration Rules. This route is for entrepreneurs looking to establish a business in the UK for the first time.

With applications for this type of visa having been accepted by the Home Office from 29 March 2019, the start-up visa has effectively replaced the Tier 1 (graduate entrepreneur) route that was exclusively for graduates.

Under the new start-up visa the opportunity to set up business in the UK is now open to a wider pool of prospective entrepreneurs, including non-graduates, where they meet the requirements of setting up a viable business. The list of approved endorsers also includes both universities and business sponsors.

The start-up visa is specifically aimed at non-EEA national entrepreneurs looking to set up business in the UK, whereby the new route provides that applicants and their business ideas are vetted by an approved industry body against set criteria, with no requirement to have initial capital investment.

Eligibility

To be eligible for a start-up visa, you must satisfy the following UK business visa requirements:

  • You are 18 years or over
  • You are from outside the EEA and Switzerland
  • You are looking to establish a new business in the UK
  • You meet the English language requirement
  • You have sufficient personal savings to support yourself while in the UK

Further, prior to submitting your application for a start-up visa, your business idea must be endorsed by an authorised body that is either:

  • A UK higher education institution, or
  • A business organisation with a history of supporting UK entrepreneurs

As part of the endorsement process, you must be able to show that your idea is new, innovative and viable. In other words, you cannot join or invest in a business that is already up and running. Further, your idea must be different from anything else that is on the market, with clear potential for growth.

Only bodies authorised by the Home Office for this immigration route can provide the required endorsement.

Application process

An application for a start-up visa must be made online from either outside the UK, or from within the UK if you are switching from another visa category. There are, however, only certain categories from which you can switch, including the Tier 1 (graduate entrepreneur) visa and the standard visitor visa.

In support of your application, you will need to provide your passport or valid travel document, together with documentation to satisfy the relevant UK business visa requirements under the start-up route.

In particular, you will need an endorsement letter from an approved body, together with documentary proof of the English language and maintenance requirements. To meet the English language requirement you must either be a national of a majority English-speaking country, or satisfy one of the following:

  • Have a speaking and listening qualification in English at B1 level or above of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), or
  • Have a degree that was taught or researched in English

To satisfy the maintenance requirement, you will need to provide documentary evidence that you have had a minimum of £945 in your bank account for 90 consecutive days immediately before you submit your application, with an additional £630 for each dependant joining you.

In addition to submitting your documentation in support, you may also need to enrol your biometric information at a visa application centre if applying from outside the UK, or a UK Visa and Citizenship Application Services (UKVCAS) service point if applying to switch to this category from within the UK.

Please note, because the start-up visa will last for more than 6 months, in addition to paying an application fee, you and any dependants joining you will also be liable to pay the immigration healthcare surcharge (IHS). The IHS will enable you to use the National Health Service while living in the UK.

The earliest you can apply for a start-up visa from outside the UK is 3 months before you travel, and you should get a decision within around 3 weeks. If applying to switch from within the UK you will usually get a decision within around 8 weeks.

If your application for a start-up visa is successful this will be granted for a period of 2 years, although this can be cut short if your endorsement is withdrawn. In these circumstances, you would need to re-apply with a new endorsement before your existing visa expires. However, any further period of leave granted would not exceed a total of 2 years.

 

Innovator route

The UK business visa requirements relating to the innovator visa are also set out under Appendix W of the UK Immigration Rules. In fact, both the start-up and the innovator routes have only recently been introduced, whereby the start-up visa is intended for prospective entrepreneurs whilst the innovator visa is for those with more experience in business to establish a business in the UK.

Nonetheless, the basis of the innovator visa is not too dissimilar to the start-up visa, not least in that you must have an innovative, viable and scalable business idea that has been assessed and supported by an approved endorsing body.

Eligibility

To be eligible for an innovator visa, you must satisfy the following UK business visa requirements:

  • You are 18 years or over
  • You are from outside the EEA and Switzerland
  • You are looking to establish a new business in the UK
  • Your business has been endorsed by an authorised body
  • You meet the English language requirement
  • You have sufficient personal savings to support yourself while in the UK

Under the innovator route, you must also have at least £50,000 to invest in a new business, although you may still qualify without the need for any investment funds where the business is already established and has been endorsed previously under the start up route.

Application process

As with the other types of business visa, an application for an innovator visa must also be made online, submitting the necessary fee and documentation in support, including documentary evidence that you meet all of the relevant UK business visa requirements.

As with the start-up visa, the earliest you can apply for an innovator visa from outside the UK is 3 months before you travel, and you should get a decision within around 3 weeks. If you are applying to switch from within the UK you will usually get a decision within around 8 weeks.

If you are successfully granted an innovator visa, you will be permitted to stay in the UK for an initial period of 3 years. You can also apply to extend your visa for a further 3 years, with no limit on how many times you can seek an extension.

Moreover, the innovator visa provides a direct route to settlement in the UK. In other words, having lived continuously in the UK for a period of 5 years, you can apply for indefinite leave to remain. As such, many applicants will switch to the innovator route from the start-up visa, progressing from a prospective entrepreneur to an experienced and permanent business owner in the UK.

 

Need assistance?

DavidsonMorris are experienced UK immigration specialists offering guidance and support to individuals in relation to UK Home Office applications. We can advise on the eligibility criteria you will need to evidence and the process you will need to follow for your application. We can also help where you have dependants applying with you.

For specialist UK immigration advice, contact us.

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