The UK immigration system: options for overseas companies and entrepreneurs

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When free movement within the European Union ended on 31 December 2020, the UK Government introduced a revised points-based immigration system.

The new points-based system in some ways was transformational, as for the first time since the 1970s, EU nationals entering the UK for work and other purposes are now treated in exactly the same way as nationals from the rest of the world from an immigration perspective. Here we provide an overview of the main visa routes to allow individuals to live and work in the UK.

The points-based system includes several immigration routes allowing work in the UK. It caters for the most highly-skilled workers, skilled workers with a job offer, students, graduates, global leaders in their field, and innovators. 

Which visa route?

The table below is designed to help you assess what visa route might be best for you in order to move to the UK to set up or work for a UK company. In all cases, you will still need to carefully assess whether the relevant criteria are met, but this should help you decide which route(s) to focus on.

Immigration route WHo for?
Skilled Worker Skilled workers with a job offer from a licensed sponsor
Global Business Mobility Encompasses several visa routes allowing international employees of an overseas business to work in the UK temporarily 
Graduate International students from UK universities who wish to remain in the UK after graduation to work or look for work
High Potential Individual (HPI) A self-sponsored visa for recent graduates from eligible overseas universities
Global Talent Global leaders and ‘leaders of tomorrow’ in science, humanities, engineering, the arts and digital technology
Innovator Founder Entrepreneurs who intend to set up an innovative, viable and scalable business
Youth Mobility Scheme Individuals aged between 18 and 30 who wish to work and travel in the UK for up to two years
UK Ancestry Allows Commonwealth (and other limited citizens) with a British-born grandparent to live and work in the UK
International Sportsperson Internationally recognised sports people
Creative Worker Artists, musicians, and entertainers


Sponsor licence

Most of the main work categories operate on the idea of sponsorship – you must be licenced by the Home Office to allow you to recruit from overseas. A sponsor licence enables a UK employer to assign a certificate of sponsorship to non-British /Irish nationals provided the role meets the relevant skills and salary thresholds and domestic labour market testing requirements.

How can we help?

Our immigration experts can assess which is the best route for a company or individual looking to start a UK business or establish a UK presence. We always look at the ‘big picture’ to ensure we recommend the immigration route which aligns with your strategy and objectives. Working with our colleagues across the Group, we can provide holistic support encompassing international inward investment services, employment, banking, tax, company set-up and intellectual property.

Obtaining the most appropriate leave to enter the UK is a critical first step on your international journey. However, our support does not stop there – our team will remain alongside you as required to help you navigate the challenges of doing business in a new territory. 

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