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Relocating to the UK as a senior executive

Posted on 7 March 2023

In recent years, the UK Government has made significant changes to its immigration system with the aim of attracting "the brightest and the best" to the UK.  

Categories such as the Tier 1 (Investor) and the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visas have now closed for new applicants. Last month, the Home Office published its ministerial statement on The Tier 1 (Investor) route, which confirmed the permanent closure of the route. Whilst the Home Office is still in the process of mapping out a replacement visa which supports investment-based migration, the UK nevertheless continues to offer a range of options for senior businesspeople who wish to relocate.

Where a senior executive wishes to relocate to the UK with the aim of joining an established branch of their business, or joining another business at a senior level, they may be sponsored for a visa. The main visa categories for sponsored employment in the UK are the Skilled Worker and Global Business Mobility: Senior or Specialist Workers ("GMB"). To sponsor a migrant under either of these categories, the company must first obtain a sponsor licence from the Home Office.

The Skilled Worker visa allows companies that are already established and operating in the UK to sponsor an applicant. The company must have already obtained a sponsor licence, allowing it to support Skilled Worker visas. Whilst this visa may be attractive for some executives and businesspeople who wish to concentrate on a single enterprise, it is worth nothing that it only allows the holder to work for the company that sponsors them.

The Global Talent route, on the other hand, can be attractive to senior executives from certain industries who require a higher degree of flexibility. This route allows leading individuals from a limited number of fields to apply for endorsement from a relevant organisation and, provided they are endorsed, obtain a visa for the UK. This visa then allows them to work in any role in the UK and for any organisation, provided it operates in the field of work for which they have been endorsed.

Whilst the Global Talent route is only available for individuals in a few, exclusive industries, it has already proven attractive to senior executives in the Digital Technology and the Film and Television industries.

Where an international company wishes to send a senior executive to the UK to expand the company's presence in the UK, the recently introduced UK Expansion Worker visa route may prove useful. This allows a senior manager or specialist employee to temporarily relocate to the UK in order to set up a UK branch of the business. If the senior individual wishes to remain in the UK for more than two years, however, they will be required to switch into another visa route (for example, the Skilled Worker visa).

The spiritual successor of the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa, the Innovator visa, can also be a viable option for entrepreneurs who wish to establish a new and innovative business in the UK. Unlike its predecessor, applicants must have their business or business plan assessed by a UK Government-approved endorsing body. The business must demonstrate that it is innovative, viable and scalable as part of the endorsement process. Applicants must also have access to at least £50,000 in investment funds, amongst other requirements. Once approved, the visa holder can only work for the business they have set up and are running in the UK.

Where an individual wishes to relocate to the UK, the earliest their application may be submitted is three months before their intended travel date. Additionally, it is also worth noting that the applicant's spouse and children may also relocate as the dependant family members of the visa holder on any of the above-mentioned routes.

Whilst the immigration categories listed above are currently the most relevant to senior executives, the UK Home Secretary has indicated that a new investment-based visa route will soon be launched. It is expected that this will form part of the Innovator visa category and place an emphasis on the applicant's track record as an investor in innovative businesses. The launch of this new route has been delayed by factors such as the war in Ukraine and changes in the Government. In addition, a further migration route for experienced businesspeople is expected soon..

Relocating to the UK carries significant practical consideration and requires personal planning. Specialist advice is recommended, particularly for employers and employees considering which visa route may be the most useful.


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