Sadly, the UK closed entrepreneur and investor routes for new applicants in 2019 and 2022 respectively. Since then, the entrepreneur route has been replaced with the Innovator route, notoriously unpopular with immigration lawyers for its rigid supervision and endorsement requirements.
However, the lack of a wide road doesn’t mean there are no pathways.
Investment into the UK economy is still a most welcome gesture, although as such it does not lead to the right of residence or citizenship. If you are interested in residence in the UK, self-sponsorship may be an attractive option.
Creating a business in the UK or becoming a business owner may allow the investor to join the business as its employee. There are two possible alternatives – skilled worker or scale-up worker, of which the latter is more demanding but by far more attractive.
Self-Sponsorship in the Scale-Up Route
To be eligible for a scale-up sponsor license, a business has to show exponential growth, should have existed for at least three years, and had at least 10 employees at the beginning of the 3 year period before application.
The license is available only to ambitious fast-growing enterprises. But you don’t have to be the owner from the inception. It is possible to buy a business with the requisite growth figures and rely on its existent record.
For a successful acquisition you will need an experienced team of immigration lawyers, TUPE lawyers and accountants experienced in the transfer of undertakings.
If your aim is self-sponsorship, it is important not to fall into the same trap as many before you. Don’t look for a business with a sponsor license. You will have to apply for a new one once the ownership changes hands.
What is most important is that the business meets the criteria for a new sponsor license – having an existing license doesn’t mean that the requirements for a new one will necessarily be met. Here your immigration lawyers will come in handy to ensure all checks have been done beforehand.
The business has to have at least one senior employee who is a British citizen or settled in the UK who will act as the manager of the sponsor license. The business also has to have a genuine vacancy for your role and be prepared to pay you a salary appropriate for this role.
The advantage of the scale-up immigration option is its ultimate flexibility. After six months of sponsored work for the dedicated business, you are free to continue with other entrepreneurial activities. The sponsored work ends after six months and you have unlimited possibilities thereafter, provided you continue to receive an annual salary above a threshold prescribed by the rules.
The scale-up visa is initially granted for two years and can be extended for a non-sponsored second leg of another three years. At the end of this, you will be eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain and one year later you may apply for British citizenship and a British passport.
Self-Sponsorship in the Skilled Worker Route
The skilled worker route offers an easier option for self-sponsorship. To begin with, the business may be a start-up and does not have to have any requisite number of employees. It has to be trading in the UK, but once the business is registered and has an open bank account it is considered as trading.
Although you don’t have to be a UK resident to register a business in the UK, it is still preferable to buy an existing business with a bank account. Just make sure it doesn’t have any unexpected liabilities.
Again, it doesn’t matter if the business has a sponsor license since you will have to apply for a new one as soon as the business has a new owner.
Yet, the requirements for a skilled worker sponsor license are much less onerous than scale-up and you will not find it difficult to get a license provided you have expert legal help.
You will need a settled employee who will be responsible for sponsoring workers from abroad. And you will need a vacancy for yourself. You will have to pay yourself an adequate salary.
The disadvantage of the skilled worker route is that it is quite restrictive on the work outside the sponsored role. You will not be able to work as a freelance. If you invest in other businesses, you will not be able to draw any salary from them, although you can draw dividends if the business is profitable. You cannot work for another business either unless you have supplementary sponsorship for this work.
The skilled worker route also leads to settlement after five years.
Both options allow you to come to the UK with your partner and children under the age of 18.