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Taking the next step: UK immigration options for Indian businesses and entrepreneurs

Posted: 19/06/2018


A first of its kind initiative, UK-India Week (#UKIndiaWeek2018), is being held in the UK this week to promote bilateral trade and investments through a series of events attended by ministers and professionals from both countries.

The UK has a long history of international trade with India and, for many Indian companies with international aspirations, the UK remains the first stop on their journey of global expansion.

With its combination of trading history, world-class universities and strengths in key sectors such as technology, the UK continues to attract investment from all over the world. Its time zone, close proximity to Europe and the fact that English is still the common language of international trade are key factors in the UK’s continuing success in attracting and retaining international investment and talent.

During UK-India week, Indian companies and entrepreneurs looking to set up a business in the UK or expand operations here, will inevitably be looking at immigration options.

The type of visa(s) that a company will need to acquire for its individuals will depend upon the type of business and what the company wants to achieve. Before embarking on the visa obtaining process, a business should first consider whether an employee (or prospective employee) is eligible for a UK passport, eligible as a citizen of the EEA, or has other family or ancestral rights. If so, these options should be utilised to save significant time and cost.

Similarly, an entrepreneur or High net worth individual will also need to consider immigration options early to ensure that they are on the right track to settlement.

It is important to consider immigration options early to avoid any surprises or issues later on.

Pat Saini, the firm’s head of immigration, outlines below some key information about the most commonly used immigration routes for those intending to do business in the UK: 

Types of visas


Business visitor
For a short-term, temporary business visit, a business visitor visa may be obtained. Individuals will be allowed to enter the UK for business purposes (which includes attending meetings, negotiating or entering into contracts), but they are not allowed to undertake paid or unpaid work.

Individuals may be allowed to remain in the UK for a period not exceeding six months, although in principle it is not expected that applicants will remain in the UK for the full six months.

Business visitors from the India will be required to obtain entry clearance as a standard visitor in order to enter the UK as a business visitor.

Sole representative - representative of an overseas business
This route is often used by Indian companies who wish to set a UK branch, or a wholly-owned subsidiary of an overseas parent company and send to the UK a senior representative. The company should not already have established a trading presence in the UK.

A representative of an overseas business visa will allow an applicant to work for their employer full time (but no one else), and bring their spouse/dependants to the UK with them.

Special rules apply. The applicant must: be recruited and employed outside the UK by a company with its headquarters and principal place of business in an overseas jurisdiction; hold a senior position within the company, but not be a majority shareholder; and intend to establish the company’s first commercial presence in the UK.

An applicant may remain in the UK for an initial period of up to three years. The visa can be extended for another two years, after which, providing the applicant has remained in the UK for five years in total, they may apply for permission to settle permanently.

Sponsor licensing
Companies with plans to send or hire non-EEA nationals in the UK will need to consider obtaining a sponsor licence. The application is made directly to the Home Office and a licence is valid for four years.

There are two types of Tier 2 licence: the Tier 2 General licence for UK companies that want to hire new migrant workers; and Tier 2 ICT (intercompany transfers) for UK subsidiaries to transfer workers from one of their overseas entities to the UK. 

In order to obtain a sponsor licence, the organisation will need to demonstrate that it: 

  • has at least one employee who is permanently based in the UK
  • is a genuine organisation, operating lawfully in the UK
  • is run and managed by honest, dependable and reliable members
  • has systems in place enabling the organisation to carry out sponsorship duties, including (but not limited to) a responsible recruitment process, sensible human resources practices, recordkeeping and monitoring of employees
  • can offer genuine employment that meets the appropriate skill level and rate of pay.

It should be noted that the representative of an overseas business can apply for a sponsor licence on behalf of a company.

Digital tech and high growth companies
Within sponsor licensing, SMEs with between 20 and 250 employees which need to hire applicants with the appropriate experience in the following roles: product managers, data scientists, senior developers and cyber security specialists. Individuals who meet the criteria for these roles (which are on the shortage occupation list.) Can apply to register with the Home Office as a ‘digital tech’ company. These companies benefit from hiring applicants who meet the criteria without the need for a resident labour market test, and can therefore fill such roles more quickly. 

High growth companies
Tier 2 sponsors are also exempt from advertising a role where an applicant is posted from an overseas firm to the UK in connection with the relocation of a high value business to the UK or a significant new inward investment project provided that they meet the following conditions:

  • a company is an existing business registered in the UK within the last three years
  • the company is the registered branch or wholly-owned subsidiary of a business which has its headquarters and principal place of business outside the UK
  • the relocation or inward investment involves new capital expenditure of £27 million or the creation of at least 21 new UK jobs.

Tier 1 (investor)
This category is for high net worth individuals making a substantial financial investment in the UK. To be eligible, individuals will have to show that they have control of at least £2 million of their own funds, which must be held in a UK or overseas-regulated financial institution and be disposable in the UK. Under this visa, applicants may invest at least £2 million or more in UK government bonds, share capital or loan capital in active and trading UK registered companies.

This visa category allows individuals to either work or study. However, applicants will not be allowed to invest in companies which are mainly engaged in property investment, property management or property development, nor can they work as a doctor or dentist in training or a professional sportsperson or coach.

An applicant’s spouse and/or dependants can travel with them on this visa, but there is no entitlement to public funds.

Applicants will be able to remain in the UK for three years, after which, upon meeting the requirements for an extension, the visa can be extended for another two years.

Applicants can apply for expedited settlement (after two years if they invest £10 million or after three years if they invest £5 million). 

Tier 1 (entrepreneur)
This visa route is suitable for business owners and founders and allows applicants to come into the UK to set up or take over the running of an existing UK business.

Applicants must be able to show they have access to either £50,000 or £200,000 (depending on circumstances), which is held in a regulated financial institution and is disposable in the UK. They must also demonstrate that they meet the English language requirement.

Applicants will need to prepare a business plan to evidence how their background and skills relate to the proposed business. An applicant’s qualifications, experience and previous dealings will be considered during the assessment of eligibility.

Applicants will not be allowed to invest in companies mainly engaged in property investment, property management or property development, nor can they work as a doctor or dentist in training or a professional sportsperson or coach.

An applicant’s spouse and/or dependants can travel with them on this visa, but there is no entitlement to public funds.

The visa will entitle applicants to stay in the UK for three years, provided they meet the requirements for an extension. These include demonstrating, among other things, that the funds have been invested; applicants are registered as self-employed or as a company director; and the business in which they have invested has created at least two full time jobs for settled workers since the visa was granted.

The visa can be extended for a further two years, whereby applicants may become eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain (if they have remained in the UK for five years). In certain circumstances, settlement can be applied for after three years. 

Tier 1 (exceptional talent)
Two thousand endorsements (these are split between the five designated endorsing bodies) annually are available under this category. Applicants can apply for this visa if they have been endorsed as a recognised or emerging leader in their field in science, humanities, engineering, medicine, digital technology or arts.

Applicants will be allowed to work for an employer or be self-employed, change jobs, volunteer and travel abroad, returning to the UK to work as long as the work they are doing is within their field of expertise.

The application has two stages: an application to the relevant endorsing body for an endorsement as a leader or emerging leader in a particular field followed by an application for the visa once the endorsement is obtained.

After five years, applicants will be eligible to apply for settlement. Those who are endorsed as leaders in their field can be eligible for settlement after three years.

All applicants and their dependants will need to pay the NHS Health Surcharge. Processing times for the endorsement typically take about eight weeks from filing of the application. 

Digital tech specialists
Following an announcement in 2017 by the Prime Minister, the criteria for this category were amended to coincide with the launch of Tech Nation.

The category allows founders, entrepreneurs and highly talented digital tech specialists to obtain an endorsement from Tech City UK. Of the 2,000 endorsements available each year at least 200 are available to Tech City.

The UK’s membership of the EU has meant that nationals of the EEA and their dependants have been entitled to live and work in the UK freely under the principle of free movement. Companies have therefore been able to employ EEA nationals and their partners without the need for sponsorship. Following the UK’s decision to leave the EU, ‘free movement’ is likely to come to an end for the UK.

EEA nationals will still be allowed to come to the UK to live and work while the UK remains in negotiations about its withdrawal from the EU and during the transitional period. Once the UK has formally exited the EU, the UK Government will put in place a new immigration system for EU migrants.

About Penningtons Manches’ India group

Penningtons Manches has a dedicated India group which has been advising Indian corporates, high net worth individuals and entrepreneurs since the liberalisation of the Indian economy. It is recognised as an adviser of choice in the EMEA –India corridor. 

The group is headed by Rustam Dubash who has over 30 years commercial dispute resolution experience and represents several well-known Indian corporates, banks, high net worth individuals and their families. 

Pat Saini heads the immigration team at Penningtons Manches, and is also a key member of the India group. She has over 20 years immigration experience and her clients include large multinational companies and HNW individuals. 


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Penningtons Manches Cooper LLP is a limited liability partnership registered in England and Wales with registered number OC311575 and is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

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