UK: UK Immigration Rules

Last Updated: 10 September 1999

The UK Immigration Rules apply to everyone save for British citizens, Commonwealth citizens with the right of abode in the UK and (unless expressly stated to the contrary) European Economic Area ("EEA") nationals. This note provides a very brief summary of these rules.

Nationality - Birth

An individual born before 1 January 1983 has a right to British citizenship if he was:

    • born in the UK
    • born to a British father who acquired his citizenship by birth in the UK, registration or naturalisation.

An individual born after 31 December 1982 has a right to British citizenship if he was:

    • born in the UK to parents settled in the UK
    • born to a British parent who acquired his or her citizenship by birth in the UK, registration or naturalisation.

Nationality - Naturalisation

An individual may apply to be naturalised after:

three years' residence in the UK if married to a British citizen

five years' residence in the UK if not married to a British citizen.

The individual must intend to live permanently in the UK.

Visitors - for business

Visitors to the UK may "...transact business (such as attending meetings and briefings, fact finding, negotiating or making contracts with UK businesses to buy or sell goods or services)".

Employment and the production of goods or provision of services (especially to the public) are prohibited.

Business visitors should:

    • always carry an onward/return flight ticket
    • consider carrying a supporting letter from their overseas employer
    • ensure that their employment really is non-UK
    • consider applying for a short term work permit.

Work Permits

Work permits are issued by the Overseas Labour Service of the Department for Education and Employment. Basic requirements are degree level education and two years' relevant overseas work experience (one year for career development applications).

The application must normally be made when the prospective employee is out of the UK.

Work permits - Tier 1 applications

    • transfer of an existing employee within an international group (essential experience/career development)
    • board level appointment
    • pursuant to new investment in the UK
    • skills in short supply.

Work permits - Tier 2 applications

    • employee does not come within Tier 1 category
    • "keyworker" application
    • employee has held a training permit (see Training and Work Experience Scheme below) within preceding two years
    • employee has held career development permit (see Tier 1 applications above) within preceding six months
    • employee is in the UK.

A Tier 2 application requires:

    • advertisement in national press or trade/ professional journal, leaving four weeks for responses, or (by concession) enquiry by executive search consultancy, and detailed breakdown of responses (by nationality)
    • original employment references
    • copies of academic/professional qualifications.

Permits in either case are issued for a maximum of four years (three years for career development). After four years permit holders may be eligible for indefinite leave to remain/settled status; applications are made to the Home Office.

Training and Work Experience Scheme

Training permits may be issued for younger employees towards the beginning of their careers to acquire skills in the UK not available to them overseas. At the end of the training, these trainees should return overseas to apply those skills. Application must be made when the prospective trainee is out of the UK.

Trainees must not displace a local employee and cannot transfer immediately to full work permit status.

Trainees may be paid as much as UK residents undertaking similar work experience.

Permits are generally only granted for a maximum of one year or, if longer, the duration of a course leading to a recognised professional qualification. In exceptional circumstances the permit can be extended, but only if the need for more than one year's training is stated at the outset.

Self Employed Businessmen

Individuals may be permitted to enter the UK with this status if they can demonstrate:

    • a financial investment of at least £200,000 (waived in some cases - e.g. foreign lawyers)
    • a genuine need for investment and services
    • at least 2 UK jobs will be created
    • full-time involvement in business
    • an ability to maintain and accommodate themselves and dependants until profits are generated
    • the level of investment equates to their interest in the investment
    • they have a controlling or equal interest in the business
    • they share the liabilities of the business
    • they are not working as employees in the UK.

Sole Representatives

Representatives of a business which has no UK branch, subsidiary or other representative will be granted leave to remain in the UK provided that they:

have authority to bind the business in operational decisions by establishing and operating a registered branch or wholly-owned subsidiary

are employed full time and only by the overseas business

have the ability to maintain and accommodate themselves and their dependants without recourse to public funds.


An individual will satisfy the requirements of this category if:

    • at least £1 million is under his control and it is disposable in the UK
    • he has the intention of investing at least £750,000 in UK Government bonds or the shares or loan capital of UK registered trading companies
    • he intends to make the UK his main home
    • he is not employed in the UK; he may be self-employed or have business interests.

Domestic staff

By concession, domestic staff may be permitted to accompany their employers to the UK. If an employer is visiting the UK, the domestic staff must have been employed overseas for at least 12 months previously. This is increased to 24 months' employment where the employer has come to the UK for any other purpose.

Non-Employment Categories

There are various other categories of person who may be permitted to enter the UK. These are:

    • spouses, fiance´(e)s and other family members of applicants in main categories (and EEA nationals)
    • students
    • retired persons of independent means who can prove that they:
      - are at least 60 years old and retired
      - satisfy the financial qualification
      - do not intend to work in the UK
      - have a close connection with the UK
      - intend to make the UK their main home.
    • unmarried partners (by concession).

Entry clearance

Visa nationals require prior entry clearance (i.e. a visa) from a British Embassy or Consular Post abroad before travelling to the UK for any reason.

Non-visa nationals (including US nationals) require prior entry clearance before travelling to the UK for most purposes except as visitors, students or as holders of work/training permits.


Applicants who wish their spouses and dependant infant children to accompany them to the UK must seek prior entry clearance for them before travelling. (Spouses and dependants are free to work in the UK without further formalities during the currency of the main applicant's permission).

Those without a valid EEA licence must apply for a full British driving licence if resident in the UK for more than 12 months.

Tax and estate planning matters should be considered before travelling.

Extensions to permissions should be applied for before the expiry dates of the existing permissions.

Most of the employment-related categories will permit an individual who has lived continuously in the UK (and spouse and dependants) to apply for "indefinite leave to remain" (i.e. "settled status") in the UK after four years' continuous residence. After a further year, it is usually possible to naturalise as a British citizen.

If you would like any further information or specific advice please contact Robin Vos, Edward Reed, Helen Darling or Jane Davies.

This note provides a general outline of this subject at August 1999. Each case requires specialist advice depending on its own particular circumstances (and in particular on any taxation implications) and no responsibility can be accepted for the application of any principles contained in this note unless we have given such detailed advice.

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