The recent history of the UK has been an eventful one, encompassing such landmark developments in the past decade alone as three general elections, four changes of Prime Minister, one change of monarch, and consequential referendums on Scottish independence and European Union membership. However, throughout that time of sweeping transformation, at least one thing about the UK has remained much the same: its attractiveness to international business.
The statistics tell their own story on that score: despite such dramatic pressures in recent years as the extended Brexit process and the COVID-19 pandemic, the British economy’s gross domestic product of £2.2 trillion in 2021 made it the fifth-largest economy in the world for that year, behind only the United States, China, Japan, and Germany.
The past year has seen much focus turn to concerns about inflation and the cost of living and the cost of doing business. Nonetheless, according to Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures, UK business investment went up by 9.9% in 2022, following a 0.9% rise the previous year.
On such a backdrop, it cannot be a great surprise that the UK continues to be a magnet for ambitious businesspeople from around the world. Such attractiveness is further helped by a broad range of appealing visa routes that are oriented towards the needs of entrepreneurs and business. But what are your own visa options for the UK, and what are the other factors that continue to drive so much business talent to this part of Europe?
What are the benefits of doing business in the UK?
As an entrepreneur or businessperson who might have many jurisdictions to choose from around the world when seeking a place to do business, there are many great reasons for you to opt for a visa application for the UK.
Those reasons include:
- A strong and stable economy. Even amid recent challenges like the Brexit process and coronavirus disruption, the UK has retained its position as one of the world’s most alluring marketplaces. The UK has a resilient and diverse economy, with a strong record of wealth creation.
- An advantageous geographical location. The UK sits at a crossroads of major international trade routes, with a well-developed transport infrastructure that allows for efficient business trips both within and beyond the UK’s borders. Many businesspeople from the United States and Asia, for instance, are drawn to the UK because it offers easy geographical access to wider Europe, but also the convenience of an English-speaking country.
- A highly skilled base of workers. The UK’s workforce is highly educated, skilled and specialised, with the more than 30 million adults in the country’s labour market making it one of Europe’s biggest talent pools. So, you can count on being able to recruit the right people to help grow your business in the UK.
- A socially liberal and responsible, safe country with respect for rule of law. If you are seeking out somewhere that is comfortable and safe to live – thereby enabling you to concentrate more fully on the running of your business – you could scarcely better the UK. The country’s judicial system is independent of the executive branch, so you can also expect legal cases here to be handled impartially.
- Political stability. This might seem a curious inclusion on our list, given that the UK changed Prime Minister twice during 2022 alone. But adopting a longer-term historical perspective beyond the largely momentary turbulence of last year, the UK has long been known for stable government and – just as importantly – relative stability of legislation and policy. This enables businesspeople in the UK to have some confidence that the country’s trading conditions will remain broadly predictable, even during times of swift changes in occupancy at 10 Downing Street.
- A clear, fair, and competitive tax system. The UK has a single company tax – Corporation Tax – that any company resident in the UK is required to pay on its profits. An overseas company that sets up a UK branch or office is required to pay UK Corporation Tax on company profits arising in the UK. At the time of typing, the UK’s Corporation Tax rate is 19%, which is the lowest in the G20; although this rate is due to go up to 25% from 1st April 2023, even this rate will still be the lowest in the G7.
The above is, of course, a far from exhaustive list of the many great reasons to move to the UK in order to do business. We could have also cited such factors as the access the UK gives you to the four countries of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as the central time zone, and simply the all-round ease of doing business here.
How to apply for a business visa to the UK
The exact process for applying for a UK business visa will naturally depend in part on the exact visa route that you choose; we have outlined the currently available visas further down this page.
However, the broad steps of applying for a visa to the UK are as follows:
- Choose a visa. The specific visa that you decide to apply for might not be determined solely by business matters. The UK visa routes that are open to or appropriate for you will depend on factors like where you are coming from, why you wish to come to the UK, how long you wish to stay in the UK, and your personal circumstances and skills. You should also check at this stage whether you will actually need a visa in order to visit or transit through the UK, as this can vary depending on nationality.
- Put together your visa application. It is possible to apply and pay for most UK visas online. The earliest you can apply for a UK visa is usually three months before your intended travel date if you are applying for a visit visa, or three months before your employment start date if you are seeking a work visa. If you have dependants who wish to accompany you to the UK, they will need to make their own applications, and pay separate fees to the Home Office.
- Prove your identity. At the visa application stage, it will be necessary to prove your identity and supply documents to show your eligibility. The exact process for this will depend on where you are from and the type of passport you have. You can expect to either use the ‘UK Immigration: ID Check’ smartphone app, or attend an appointment at a visa application centre, and you will be told exactly what you need to do when you start your visa application.
- Wait for a decision on your visa application. You will receive a letter or email setting out the outcome of your application. This communication will also explain what you need to do next. If your visa application was successful, you will be given a sticker (‘vignette’) for your passport, or access to view your immigration status information online. In the event of your visa application being unsuccessful, the letter or email will explain the reasons for this decision by the Home Office. The refusal letter will also state whether you have a right to an administrative review or an immigration decision appeal.
Our experts at Cranbrook Legal can help make the process of applying for a UK business visa less overwhelming and intimidating, including by helping to ensure you meet all the Home Office’s requirements. Please call 0208 215 0053 to find out more about becoming one of our clients.
What types of business visa are there in the UK?
If you are interested in coming to the UK in order to do business, you will be pleased to know that there are a number of visa categories that might be well-matched to your needs.
Those who intend to come to the UK for a short period of time in order to carry out a business-related activity should look at one of the two below options under the visitor category:
- The Standard Visitor visa, which allows someone to visit the UK for up to six months to do business activities such as attending interviews, negotiating and signing deals and contracts, and/or attending trade fairs
- The Permitted Paid Engagement Visitor visa, which enables someone to visit the UK for a paid engagement if they have been invited as an expert in their profession by a UK-based organisation or client. This covers visits to the UK for up to one month.
As for if you are looking to start a business in the UK, you should consider one of the following:
Both of these visa routes are aimed at those who wish to set up an innovative business in the UK. It is crucial that the business is something that is different from anything else on the UK market.
The UK also offers a number of visa options under the Global Business Mobility banner, designed to help overseas businesses that wish to establish a presence or transfer staff to the UK. These include:
It is also important to note that there are several popular business-focused visa categories in the UK of recent years that are now closed to new applicants. These include:
- The Representative of an Overseas Business visa
- The Entrepreneur visa (Tier 1)
- The Investor visa (Tier 1)
- The Turkish Businessperson visa
In order to make a successful application for any of the visas that are currently open to new applicants, you will need to meet the specific eligibility criteria set out by the Home Office.
Cranbrook Legal can help you get approved for a business visa to the UK
Our specialists in UK immigration law here at Cranbrook Legal can well understand that if you are interested in coming to the UK in order to do business, you will want to spend your time thinking about business, rather than how to navigate onerous visa application requirements.
That is why you might be interested in joining forces with our central London-based law firm. Our SRA-regulated legal professionals are skilled in navigating and keep up to date with the UK’s constantly evolving immigration laws and visa categories. We can therefore project manage your visa application to help maximise the chances of being approved for your choice of UK visa.
For further information, advice, and help in relation to this process, please contact Cranbrook Legal today by calling 0208 215 0053, or by sending us an email to arrange your free consultation.