UK Immigration Routes – Key Concepts
UK immigration routes is a selection of suitable UK immigration categories, which allow you to come live and work in the UK.
UK immigration category is a type of visa, which has specific conditions attached to your rights to live and work in the UK.
Some UK immigration categories may lead to settlement, while others do not. Settlement is the right to remain indefinitely in the UK. It is also known as Indefinite leave to remain (ILR).
A number of notable changes took place throughout 2022 and 2023. One of the most significant ones is that the UK Investor visa is now abolished. Also Sole Representative of Overseas Business is now replaced with a Global Business Mobility UK Expansion Worker visa, which no longer leads to settlement.
You can no longer apply for Investor visa
Visit Investor Visa Archive to find out more about the UK Investor visa route, which is no longer available.
As the video below explains, making a substantial investment in the UK does not secure your UK visa status.
Video: “Your Investments in the UK and Your UK Residence Rights.”
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Major UK visa Categories
1. UK Sponsor Licence
With major categories closed for UK immigration, sponsor licence appears to be a necessity. Sponsor licence is issued to UK based businesses provided requirements are met.
Recent amendments in UK Immigration Rules means that fewer UK immigration categories are available that are able to stand alone.
All immigration categories introduced under Global Business Mobility heading require a sponsor licence in the UK.
It is no longer possible to come to the UK and secure your visa based on available investments alone. The idea is to contribute to the UK economy and employ the British workforce.
An interesting development was made with the introduction of the scale-up worker visa. Only highly successful businesses qualify for the scale-up visa category.
It appears to have been designed with an entrepreneur in mind. You only need to stay in a job with your sponsor employer for the initial 6 months. If you satisfy the criteria and this condition, then you are eligible to apply for your visa extension without the need for any employer to sponsor you.
If your UK business does not qualify for a scale-up visa sponsor licence, you are still eligible to apply for the regular sponsor licence.
2. Innovator Founder visa for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland
This UK immigration route is based on an idea for business and making a business investment. Your business idea will need to be approved by one of the very few dedicated business organisations who have the right to endorse your business idea to the Home Office.
This means that the first step is to get your business idea approved by one of the dedicated business organisations who have the right of endorsement with the Home Office. Your business idea will be assessed for novelty and scalability.
Only once you have secured the approval by one of these business organisations, will you be able to proceed with your UK Tier 1 Innovator visa application.
A number of wealthy individuals overseas are being approached by the individuals or firms who try to raise capital and investments for a particular business idea or investment.
You need to be well aware that an investment alone, even if it is several million in pounds sterling, will not secure your Innovator Founder visa if necessary visa conditions are not met.
3. British Global Talent visa
This visa option is secured to very few highly talented individuals worldwide. The individual is required to demonstrate their exceptional talent worldwide. Some prestigious prizes awarded are identified as sufficient.
It is a two-tier application process. The individual is expected to receive the endorsement by the respective endorsing bodies within very specific talent categories: arts and culture, architecture, fashion design, film and television, digital technology, science, engineering, humanities and medicine.
It is possible to fast-track the application. However, the approval of the specific endorsing body is a must for the application to be successful.
The duration of the initial visa if successful is 5 years. The applicant is eligible to settle (apply for the indefinite leave to remain) in the UK after 5 years of continuous residence if all requirements are met.
4. Graduate route open to graduates of British universities
Graduate route opened on the 1st July 2021. It is the answer to the government’s criticism where international students are expected to leave after completing their university studies in the UK.
This route is open to all students who completed their university studies in the UK and are eligible to receive their university diploma from 2021.
It should be noted that under the UK immigration rules, students who come to study in the UK under Tier 4 Student visa route, have no right to settle in the UK under the student visa.
It was argued that the UK was losing the brightest minds who were educated in the UK in some of the very best universities globally and by imposing the requirement to leave the UK after completing their studies the UK was responsible for its own brain drain.
Graduate route permits university graduates to remain in the UK for an additional 2 years. It allows these graduates to work in the UK without requiring the potential employer to obtain the sponsor licence.
Sponsor licence is the requirement applied to all UK based employers who wish to employ overseas people in the UK. Applicants under the graduate route are exempted from this requirement.
It should be noted that the 2 years spent in the UK under the Graduate route do not count towards the settlement in the UK.
5. Global Business Mobility – UK Expansion Worker Visa
Historically, the Sole Representative of Overseas Business visa was a very attractive UK immigration category, which allowed you to settle. This category closed on 11 April 2022 and new applicants are unable to apply and benefit from this visa category.
It is now replaced with Global Business Mobility – UK Expansion Worker visa. It is aimed at overseas business workers responsible for establishing UK business operations of an overseas company in the UK.
Although some of the requirements remain similar, the most disappointing feature is that this UK immigration route does not allow you to settle.
This means you are no longer eligible to acquire UK residence rights and remain in the UK for an extended period of time. You are expected to leave as soon as your job in the UK is done.
The Sole Representative of an Overseas Business was a serious contender to Tier 1 Investor visa. Personally, this was one of my favourite categories by far. It was understated and not very well known. However, the Investor and Representative of Overseas Business are now both terminated in early 2022.
6. You hold an EU (EEA/Swiss) passport
If you have not started your residence and have not met your residence requirements before 31 December 2020, then you are no longer able to benefit from EU free movement rights while in the UK.
You need to apply for the right UK immigration category just like everyone else. No more preferential EU Treaty protected rights for EU (EEA/Swiss) nationals apply.
If you are currently looking at the option to acquire a Malta or Cypriot passport, you need to know that after Brexit EU Treaty rights no longer apply in the UK.
You need to choose the right visa for you in order to come and live in the UK.
7. You hold a Caribbean or any other Commonwealth passport, which allows visa free travel to the UK
Citizenships that allow visa free travel to the UK, only allow you to visit the UK and not to live in the UK. If you are a passport holder of a country where the UK allows visits of less than 6 months in duration to the UK without having to apply for a visitor visa, you need to know that you are only allowed to visit and not to live in the UK. You are also expected to leave after each of your visits to the UK.
Therefore, if you are looking to relocate and live in the UK you need to apply for the suitable UK immigration route.
It is not advisable to overstay your visa or otherwise breach your UK visitor visa requirements if you want to continue to visit the UK or will be looking to apply for a residence permit in the UK in the future.
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I am an OISC regulated UK immigration adviser and I can help you to secure your British citizenship or an indefinite leave to remain (or settled status for EU/EEA and Swiss citizens) and help you with any UK immigration application, book a call with me.
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Saule Voluckyte, M.A.E.S, LL.B, FAIA
I have been working exclusively with UHNWI in Mayfair, London since January 2008. I built specialist knowledge and expertise required to serve ultra high net worth individuals investing, operating and relocating to the UK or Switzerland.
Within the industry, I am the single adviser who is able to traverse the different areas of expertise and bring a comprehensive approach across: global structuring, UK immigration, international taxation and FOREX to develop their global wealth strategy, while they build, grow and expand their wealth worldwide.
Previous experience as one of the senior advisors for the government, made me a go-to person when delicate and uncomfortable scenarios involving heads of state need to be handled with care and preserve privacy.