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How to get a business visa in the UK: common FAQs answered

The UK is an attractive market for many businesses and entrepreneurs, in part because it offers a range of immigration options to allow overseas business representatives to come here to live and work. Those who want to come to the UK to do business will generally need a visa, and while the wealth of options means you have a better chance of securing the right visa, it can also make it difficult to determine which one you need and how exactly to get it. The complications of the UK's business immigration rules can make this even more challenging - for example, it is vital to get the timing right, but this can introduce problems if the application is rejected when you first submit it.

The expert immigration solicitors at Latitude Law can help. Our team has a wealth of experience in helping businesspeople to decide which visa route is right for their particular circumstances, and supporting them at all stages of the visa application process to give them the best chances of success. Here, we answer some of the most common questions posed by clients about the UK's business visa options, to help you understand your options, make your decision, and approach your application correctly.

If you need bespoke advice tailored to your specific circumstances, contact our team today for assistance on 0300 131 6767 or fill in the contact form and we will get back to you to start your journey towards working in the UK.

What types of business visas are available in the UK?

The UK offers several types of visas that may be considered "business visas". Each is appropriate for different circumstances, carries its own restrictions and enables only specific activities. Among the visas upon which we can advise clients who are interested in carrying out business activities in the UK are:

  • Standard Visitor visa (permitted activities for business visitors): This visa is often suitable for those undertaking short-term business activities such as attending meetings, conferences, seminars, interviews, signing contracts, and conducting site visits. It is not for long-term business activities, and is only valid for up to 6 months at a time.
  • Innovator Founder visa: Aimed at more experienced businesspeople who are looking to set up a new company in the UK, the Innovator Founder visa was introduced to effectively amalgamate the Start-up and Innovator visa categories. Applicants need to show that they have a viable, innovative, and scalable business idea that is endorsed by an approved endorsing body. The visa initially allows applicants to come to the UK for three years, although it can be extended and lead to settled status if certain criteria are met.
  • Global Talent visa: This visa category is for leaders or potential leaders in academia, research, arts and culture, or digital technology. To apply, you need an endorsement from a recognised UK body, which is assessed based on your success in your chosen field. You may need to show evidence of your achievements, including publications, awards or other recognition of your work. While this visa can be difficult to attain, it offers flexibility in terms of employment and the possibility of settling in the UK. Unlike other visa categories, you do not need a job offer to secure this type of visa.

If you want to come to the UK to work but do not necessarily intend to set up your own business, there are further visa options that may be available.

  • Skilled Worker visa: This is designed for individuals who have been offered a job in the UK by a Home Office-approved employer. It allows certain skilled professionals to come to or stay in the UK to do an eligible job with a business that holds a valid sponsorship licence.
  • Senior or Specialist Worker visa (Global Business Mobility): This UK immigration category is designed to enable senior managers, specialists workers, or other employees of multinational companies to be transferred to a UK branch of their organisation for a temporary period. This visa category is one of the UK's ‘Global Business Mobility’ routes, which were introduced to facilitate various business-related activities that support the UK economy while ensuring that transfers within international companies can occur smoothly and efficiently.
  • UK Expansion Worker visa (Global Business Mobility): Designed for workers who want to open a UK branch of an overseas business, this visa route is another of the Global Business Mobility categories. It is designed for senior managers or specialist employees who are being transferred to the UK to supervise the expansion of an existing business into the UK market. It is only suitable for businesses that do not yet have a trading presence in the UK and are looking to establish one; the Senior or Specialist Worker visa can be used if the relevant business already has a UK presence.
  • Tier 1 (Investor) visa and Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa: These visas are no longer available to new applicants, but people living in the UK on the basis of these visas can still apply to have family members join them as dependants.

This is not a comprehensive list of the visas that are available, and it is important to speak to a legal expert for advice on the visa route that will best meet your requirements. While some visas can lead to settlement in the UK, others are strictly temporary, so it is also crucial to take into account your overall objectives and ensure you make the best decision to achieve your goals.

What are the requirements for UK business visa applications?

The requirements are different for every category, although some eligibility requirements generally apply no matter which type of visa you apply for. For example, you will generally need a valid passport or other travel document to prove your identity, and you must attend a biometric enrolment appointment at a visa application centre in order to register your details. You may need to show that you have enough money saved to maintain you during your stay in the UK (which typically means meeting a set threshold). In many cases, the job you intend to take must also meet a minimum salary threshold, although the exact amount varies between the categories.

An additional financial consideration is that you will need to pay an application fee and an Immigration Health Surcharge for each year you intend to live in the UK. The application fee is different for each category, and usually needs to be paid not only by the main visa applicant but also by each dependant. If your application is unsuccessful and you decide to reapply, you will need to pay the application fee again. The Immigration Health Surcharge must also be paid by each applicant for each year of their stay. As of February 2024, this costs £1,035 per year for applicants over the age of 18, and £776 per year for applicants under the age of 18.

Applicants from particular countries may need to provide the results of a tuberculosis test. If you intend to start your own business in the UK, you might need to provide a business plan. Similarly, if you want to bring a spouse, civil partner or children to the UK as dependants on your visa, you may need to provide evidence of your relationships.

You should consult the UK government's website for official guidance on the eligibility requirements for your specific visa. It is also wise to seek advice from an immigration expert for the most up-to-date and detailed information that applies specifically to your situation and the type of business visa you are interested in.

How long can I stay in the UK on a business-based visa?

The duration of your stay depends on the visa type. A Standard Visitor visa allows a stay of up to six months, while the UK Expansion Worker visa offers up to 12 months and the Innovator Founder visa offers up to three years; the latter two can offer the possibility of an extension.

The Global Talent visa, Skilled Worker visa and Senior or Specialist Worker visa all offer up to five years with the ability to extend your stay at the end of the visa period. However, you may be unable to extend a Senior or Specialist Worker visa, as this comes with a maximum total allowed stay. It is vital to consider this when you apply for a visa, and to make sure you understand and comply with all of the relevant restrictions.

How long does it take to process a UK business-based visa?

Processing times vary by visa category, service selected and the country from which you apply. In general, for a standard service, you will receive a decision within 3 - 6 weeks if you apply from outside the UK, or 6 – 8 weeks if you apply from within the UK. This timeline begins once you have made your application, proved your identity and submitted any documents required. These processes may be done online, or you may need to attend an appointment at a visa application centre, which can take longer.

In some cases (including for the Standard Visitor visa and Senior or Specialist Worker visa) you can pay for a faster decision. You may also be able to start your application up to three months before you begin working for a business in the UK, which can help to account for any required documents you need to submit. This may include bank statements to show you have enough personal savings to maintain you, and a valid travel document that proves your identity.

Can I bring my family members with me on a UK business visa?

Dependants may accompany or join you in the UK on some business visas, like the Innovator Founder or Global Talent visas, but not on a short-term Standard Visitor visa for business. For applications made outside the UK, each dependant must apply separately, and will need to submit their own required documents along with their visa application form to prove their identity and their relationship to you.

Are there any English language requirements for a UK business-based visa?

English language proficiency is a requirement for most long-term visas, and you should check the eligibility criteria for your visa before you apply. To demonstrate your proficiency, you may need to pass an approved English language test, or show that you have a degree that was taught or researched in English.

There is no English language requirement to visit the UK under a short-term visa like the Standard Visitor visa, nor to move here under the Global Talent visa. However, if your ultimate aim is to settle in the UK, you will need to demonstrate proficiency in English when you apply for indefinite leave to remain.

What happens if my UK business-based visa application is rejected?

If your application is rejected, you will receive a letter explaining the reasons for the refusal. You may be able to apply for a review of the decision or address the reasons for refusal and make a new application. It is always best to get your visa application right in the first instance, as having the visa refused can be disruptive to your plans and may need to be declared in future applications. As such, working with a solicitor is always the best approach to give you the highest chances of success.

In some cases, the team at Latitude Law can provide a document review service, although this is not offered for all categories. Our team can check that everything is in order with your application and that the relevant eligibility requirements are met. If your application is refused, we can advise you on the possibility of challenging it by administrative review, support you to apply again or help you to choose a more suitable visa route to meet your needs.

For guidance on making a successful application for a UK business-based visa, advice about the Global Business Mobility routes or any other support during this process, contact Latitude Law today. Call us on 0300 131 6767 or use our contact form below to get in touch.

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