There are a number of visas, enabling non-EU individuals to live and work in the UK, that are less well known than the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) Visa and Tier 2 (General) Visa. 

  • This article considers these options, which include: 'Representative of an Overseas Business Visa', 'Tier 2 Sponsor Licence', 'Van der Elst Visa' and 'Short-Term Business Trips'. A number of these visas can lead to Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK.

This article starts with the shortest timescale option, and then considers other visa choices which provide longer term opportunities to live and work in the UK.

Short-Term Business Trips

Individuals visiting the UK on this basis can do so for up to 6 months, with a Business Visitor Visa.  

  • Individuals who are citizens of certain countries, such as Australia, St Kitts and Nevis and the US do not normally need to apply for a Business Visitor Visa prior to coming to the UK. They can just ask at the UK border to be admitted as a business visitor and no cost will be involved.
  • Citizens of other countries, such as India, South Africa, and Turkey will generally be required to apply for and have a Business Visitor Visa in their passport before they can travel to the UK. The visa application fee starts at £93 and a decision normally takes a maximum of 3 weeks.

There are a number of restrictions on what business visitors can and cannot do. For instance they cannot work (paid or unpaid), but they can usually:

  • attend meetings, conferences, seminars, interviews;
  • attend trade fairs for promotional work only, provided the visitor is not directly selling;
  • carry out site visits and inspections;
  • advise and consult;
  • troubleshoot;
  • provide training.

It is important that business visitors are aware of the restrictions imposed by the Home Office, including the types of payment they can and cannot receive from a UK source. If the UK authorities are of the view that a UK business is employing a business visitor, a civil penalty of up to £20,000 could be levied on the UK business.

Van der Elst Visa

Non-EEA/Swiss nationals lawfully working for an EU company that is based in the EU, will generally be able to come to the UK to work temporarily, to provide a service. It is necessary to apply for this visa, which will usually be granted for the length of the contract of the UK service. The processing time varies, but a decision will usually be made within 3 weeks.

Slightly different rules apply to non-EEA/Swiss nationals working for Swiss companies, and their visas will only be granted for up to 90 days.

EU-based businesses generally prefer this visa option over the business visitor route as it is free to apply for and there are less restrictions than with a Business Visitor Visa. It is also usually possible for family members to apply to come to the UK as dependants.

The Van der Elst Visa is a concession, following a European Court decision, and the UK may choose to remove this option post-Brexit.

Tier 2 Sponsor Licence

This option allows a UK based organisation with a Tier 2 Sponsor Licence to "sponsor" individuals to come to the UK to work, longer-term.

A Sponsor Licence is applied for online, with the UK based organisation sending supporting documentation to the Home Office. The Home Office can take up to 8 weeks to make a decision, but it is usually much quicker. Costs vary between £536 and £1,476, depending on the size and type of organisation. Once an organisation receives a sponsor licence it can start to take measures to recruit foreign nationals to work in the UK.

Within the Tier 2 category of the points-based system, there are various categories under which an individual can be sponsored, including Tier 2 (General) and Tier 2 (Intra-company Transfer).

Generally, an individual can only be sponsored to carry out skilled-work in the UK if the role is at graduate level or above, and the individual will be paid a minimum gross annual salary. This minimum salary will be dependent on the specific job code. It is possible for family members to apply to come to the UK as dependants.

Tier 2 (General) Category

The individual:

  • will usually need to be paid a minimum salary of at least £30,000, depending on the job code;
  • may be paid a minimum income of at least £20,800 if an exception to the above applies, and depending on the job code;
  • can change employer once in the UK;
  • can work in the UK for up to 6 years;
  • may eventually be eligible to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) after 5 years.

Tier 2 (Intra-company Transfer)

If an overseas organisation can show a common link/ownership to a UK based entity, the Tier 2 (Intra-company Transfer) category might be applicable. This category is suitable to transfer staff working in the overseas business, to the UK entity, and can be broken into two sub-categories: Graduate Trainee and Long Term Staff. Unlike the Tier 2 (General) category, individuals coming to the UK on the Tier 2 (Intra-company Transfer) category are not eligible for ILR, and cannot change employer in the UK.

Under the Tier (Intra-company Transfer) Graduate Trainee sub-category, the individual:

  • needs to be a recent graduate and have worked in the overseas organisation for at least 3 months;
  • can be transferred to the UK branch for a graduate trainee programme for a specialist role, for up to 12 months;
  • will usually need to be paid a minimum salary of at least £23,000.

Under the Tier (Intra-company Transfer) Long Term Staff sub-category, the individual:

  • needs to have worked in the overseas organisation for a minimum of 12 months, unless he/she will be paid £73,900 or more a year to work in the UK;
  • can work in the UK for up to 5 years and 1 month;
  • will usually need to be paid a minimum salary of at least £41,500.

Representative of an Overseas Business Visa (Sole Rep Visa)

It is possible for a senior member of staff, who is not a major shareholder, to come to the UK to establish an overseas company's 'initial commercial presence'. The individual must have been recruited and employed outside the UK by a company with headquarters outside the UK.

Once in the UK, it is generally possible for the company to hire staff, including sponsoring individuals from abroad, under the Tier 2 category. It is also possible for family members to apply to come to the UK as dependants.

The visa application fee is £610 and a decision will usually be made within 3 weeks.

Individuals living and working in the UK under this visa category are usually eligible to apply for ILR after 5 years.

Other Options

Other options may be available to employees working abroad, depending on their specific individual circumstances. For example, if they or their partner are a British or EEA citizen, and/or if their parents/grandparents are/were British citizens.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.