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UK immigration options for founders and senior executives

Posted on 19 July 2023

In recent years, the UK Government has made substantial changes to its immigration system, with several visa categories (such as the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) and Tier 1 (Investor) routes) closing. Nevertheless, the UK continues to offer a range of options for businesspeople who wish to relocate to the UK. In this article we explore the visa options available to founders and senior executives.

Global Talent visa

At the time it was introduced in 2011, the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa (as it was then called) was an under-used visa category. In 2020, the Home Office re-launched the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa as the Global Talent visa. A number of changes were introduced at this time to make the route more attractive. It has become a popular option for highly talented individuals who can apply for endorsement from a relevant organisation approved by the Home Office (known as Endorsing Bodies) and, provided they are endorsed, obtain a visa for the UK.

This visa allows individuals 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. It can also provide a quicker route to Indefinite Leave to remain in the UK (''ILR'', also known as settlement), as some visa holders have the ability to obtain ILR after three years, rather than the usual five-year period.

The Global Talent route is only available for individuals who can demonstrate that they are a leader or a potential leader in one of the following fields:

  • Digital technology
  • Academia or research
  • Arts and culture

This route allows qualifying family members to be included as dependants to the application. It may be an attractive option for certain founders and senior executives, as it allows a greater degree of work flexibility, and the possibility of an expedited route to ILR.

Skilled Worker visa

The Skilled Worker visa requires a job offer from a Home Office licenced sponsor in the UK. The role must be at a minimum skill level (Regulated Qualification Framework ("RQF") level 3 (equivalent to A-level) or above) and minimum salary level (minimum £26,200 per year but can be higher depending on job role).

Applicants must also be able to demonstrate their English language ability and meet the financial requirement (usually by showing that they hold savings of at least at least £1,270, but this can be certified by the employer). Other requirements may apply depending on the country of nationality and type of role. Having a shareholding in the business does not prevent sponsorship, and so the route can therefore be used for both founders and senior executives, provided there is a genuine vacancy for the role.

Successful applicants can only work for the company that sponsors them and can apply for ILR in the UK after five years. Qualifying family members may be included as dependants to the application.

Global Business Mobility – Senior or Specialist Worker

The Global Business Mobility – Senior or Specialist Worker ("GBM-SSW") can be used by organisations to transfer senior or specialist workers from their linked overseas entity to the UK.

The route also requires the organisation to have a sponsor licence in this category, and the role must meet the minimum salary (at least £45,800) and skill level (at least RQF level 6). There is no English language requirement under this route.

The GBM-SSW route is particularly suited to multinational organisations which need to second skills across their global network to the UK. This route allows individuals to remain employed with the overseas entity.

This route will therefore be relevant to both overseas founders and senior executives, who may need to enter the UK for specific projects, but who do not intend to remain in the UK long-term. Importantly, this route does not lead to ILR, so if there is any permanent requirement for any employee, they should be transferred to the UK using the skilled worker visa category. This route allows qualifying family members to be included as dependants to the application.

Innovator Founder visa

The Innovator Founder visa replaces the old Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa and is aimed at applicants who are seeking to establish an innovative, viable and scalable business, and take a day-to-day role in running their business in the UK.

Applicants will need to obtain endorsement from a Home Office approved Endorsing Body. Once endorsed, the applicant can apply for a visa. The Endorsing Body will stay in contact with the applicant over the lifespan of their visa and conduct two formal reviews knows as ''check points'' after 12 and 24 months where they will assess how the applicant is progressing against their business plan.

The Innovator Founder route also allows successful applicants to engage in other employment (in addition to working for their own business) if the skill level is above RQF Level 3 and the applicant is able to demonstrate that they are actively running the business for which their visa was granted.

Applicants can potentially apply for ILR after three years. This route allows qualifying family members to be included as dependants to the application.

Global Business Mobility – UK Expansion Worker

The UK Expansion Worker sub-category allows organisations to send senior or specialist workers to set up a UK branch of an overseas entity, which does not already have a trading presence in the UK. This visa route is specifically designed for senior executives of established overseas businesses, and it can also be used by founders to set up a subsidiary of their business in the UK.

The Expansion Worker route is aimed at senior executives of established overseas businesses, who intend on expanding to the UK. It can also be used by founders to set up a subsidiary of their business in the UK.

The applicant must have worked for the overseas business for at least 12 months, unless they are a high earner (they earn over £73,900 per year). Alternatively, a Japanese national, expanding a Japanese company into the UK, or a national/permanent resident of Australia expanding an Australian company into the UK are also able to apply under this route.

This is a temporary visa category which allows the applicant to stay in the UK for a maximum period of two years. If the applicant will be required in the UK longer than two years, they may be able to apply to switch to an alternative visa category to allow to remain in the UK. For most, they will be setting up the company and working towards applying for a Skilled Worker Sponsor Licence so that they may then switch into the Skilled Worker visa category. This route allows qualifying family members to be included as dependants to the application.


The UK immigration system continues to have numerous options for senior executives and founders who intend to move to the UK, either on a permanent or a temporary basis. It is important to seek tailored advice to ensure that the route meets the specific needs of the organisation and the individual.

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