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Setting up a tech business: Visa options for the UK Tech Industry

Despite the fact that the Britain has now left the EU, the UK government remains keen to attract entrepreneurs to the country, both from EU and non-EU countries. And, it’s especially keen to attract those wishing to start a tech business. For that reason, there’s a tailored-made visa scheme designed for those wanting to launch their tech start up here.

In this article, we’ll answer your questions on setting up a tech business in the UK. 

Setting up a tech business in the UK

If you are planning to set up a tech business, the UK is a diverse and inclusive country so it’s a great choice. There are many business visa options for entrepreneurs as well as accelerated settlement opportunities for eligible business owners and investors.

Tech sector business visa options include:

  • The start-up visa – for new entrepreneurs.
  • The innovator visa – for more experienced entrepreneurs.
  • The global talent visa – for those who are recognised leaders or who show exceptional promise in their chosen field. This visa offers the flexibility of setting up your own tech or digital business or taking up employment.
  • The investor visa – if you have the funds to invest in the UK, you can enter on an investor visa and then set up a tech or other type of business in the UK.

How has Brexit affected my ability to set up a tech company in the UK?

If you’re a non-EU national looking to set up a tech sector business in the UK, such as a citizen of an EFTA country like Norway, you probably won’t see any difference in your ability to set up a UK tech business post-Brexit.

If you are an EU citizen looking to set up a tech business in the UK then you will see a massive difference in your ability to set up a tech sector business, unless you’ve already got Settled or Pre-Settled Status or already have Permanent Residence status.

If you are an EU national and none of the above scenarios apply to you, then you’ll need to apply for a UK business visa to set up a tech business.

If you have a UK tech sector business that you set up prior to Brexit, you can recruit overseas workers, but they’ll need to apply for a work visa under the UK points-based immigration system. Form more information you can read our article on the best ways to prepare for the UK points-based immigration system.

Planning for a tech sector business start up

Whatever business visa option you decide is best for you, our Business immigration solicitors will tell you that the key to a successful tech business visa application is proper planning.

Whilst you may have the most amazing idea and a history of overseas entrepreneurial success, that isn’t likely to impress Home Office officials assessing your business visa application unless you can support your visa application with a carefully worded application and business plan. It’s not enough to download a standard business plan off the internet or jot down a few business ideas. You’ll need to include details about how you will obtain finance, your projected turnover or business profit, and your expansion plans.

Creating a bespoke business plan isn’t as hard as you may think. You can work with a professional business plan writer, your UK accountant or business immigration solicitor to help you draw up it up. You just need to make sure that your tech sector expertise and entrepreneurial spirit is apparent in the plan, that it’s sufficiently detailed and clearly bespoke to you.

Do you need a sponsor to set up a tech sector business in the UK? 

Unlike with a Tier 2 (General) visa you don’t need a sponsor to set up a tech sector business in the UK.

However, with the three entrepreneurial business visas (the start-up visa, innovator visa and global talent visa) you will need endorsement from a Home Office approved Endorsing Body. Without it, you won’t be able to apply for the second stage of the business visa application process, namely approval of your visa application by the Home Office.

Who are the Endorsing Bodies for a tech visa?

The identity of the Endorsing Body for a tech visa depends on the type of visa application.

The Home Office has produced and updated lists of the relevant Endorsing Bodies.

Type of visaEndorsing Bodies
Start-up visaThe start-up visa Endorsing Bodies can be found on the government website
Innovator visaThe innovator visa Endorsing Bodies can be found government website
Global talent visaThere are currently six Endorsing Bodies for the global talent visa but only one Endorsing Body specialises in the tech and digital sector, Tech Nation
Investor visaNo endorsement required

How do you get endorsement for a tech sector business?

When it comes to getting endorsement for a tech sector business it pays to:

  • Research and take advice on the Endorsing Bodies that endorse tech sector businesses to find out which Endorsing Body is likely to be the best fit for you. There are many different tech and digital specialist Endorsing Bodies and your choice may depend on their specialisms, either in technology or area in the UK.
  • Understand what criteria the Endorsing Body will be using to assess your tech sector business so that your business plan can address factors such as the innovative nature of your technology or the scalability of your business plans. To be a commercial success in the UK, your planned tech company can’t be so niche that there will only be a very limited market for your product. The Home Office guidance on Endorsing Bodies can be accessed in this handy Start-up and Innovator visa pdf.
  • Realise that the criteria for endorsement will vary according to the type of business visa that you’re applying for. For example, the start-up visa is for less experienced entrepreneurs as opposed to the innovator visa. If you’re looking for a Global Talent visa, you’ll need to demonstrate your leadership abilities or promise in the digital field. You should get specialist business immigration law advice on what business visa option best meets your experience and your UK settlement plans and goals.

Do I need investment money for a business visa to set up a UK based tech business?

Whether you need a set minimum amount to invest to secure your business visa will depend on the nature of your visa application. The position is summarised below:

Type of visaInvestment funds required
Start-up visaNo minimum investment
Innovator visa£50,000 minimum investment
Global talent visaNo minimum investment
Investor visaInvestment funds of at least £2 million. With an investment of £2 million you can apply to settle in the UK after five years whereas if you invest £5 million you can apply to settle after three years. If you have over £10 million to invest, accelerated settlement can be applied for after two years. Investment funds can only be made into specified approved investments.

Can I expand a tech sector business in the UK?

Yes, if you’ve already got a successful tech business and would like a business visa in order to expand into the UK, you’ll be encouraged to do so. If you can’t recruit UK workers because of skills shortages, then your business can look to recruit workers from overseas but your business will first need to apply for a Home Office issued sponsor licence to authorise you to sponsor workers.

Will setting up a tech business lead to settlement in the UK?

A tech sector business visa can lead to direct or indirect settlement in the UK. The table below summaries tech business visa settlement options:

Type of business visaIndirect settlementDirect SettlementAccelerated settlement
Start-up visaYes – you can switch to an Innovator visaNoNo
Innovator visa YesYes – in some categories
Global talent visa YesYes – for some visa holders
Investor visa YesYes – acceleration depends on the amount invested

If your main goal is to settle in the UK, then there a number of visa options open to you. For example:

  • If you’re not an experienced entrepreneur, your best option is to apply for a start-up visa rather than an innovator visa as you risk refusal. You can then apply to switch into the innovator visa category once your business is established and your start-up visa is due to expire.
  • If you are a high net worth individual with significant money to invest in the UK and you are willing to invest in UK approved investor visa investments, then an investor visa may be your quickest and potentially least bureaucratic route to UK settlement as it provides for accelerated settlement.

Securing your business visa is the first step in the UK settlement process. Once you have it, we recommend that you read up on the general and specific eligibility criteria for UK settlement. These include making sure you comply with all the rules for lawful and continual residence applicable to your visa

For more information on settling in the UK on a business visa read our guide to settling in the UK on a business visa. 

How to succeed in the UK with a new tech business

Thanks to our expert knowledge of the tech sector in the UK and the UK immigration rules, we know that becoming a successful tech entrepreneur isn’t just about having a genius idea – you’ll need to take care of more mundane things like legal and accountancy issues, such as:

  • Making sure you protect your business’ IPR such as patenting any technological advances and make sure any IP licenses are properly protected
  • Ensuring that you have the right corporate structure in place
  • Getting immigration and employment law advice so you can expand your business if global mobility is the key to your success
  • Obtaining commercial law advice so your contracts are watertight and fit for purpose
  • Drawing up a great business plan and reviewing and amending it as you expand 

About our expert

Fozia Iqbal

Fozia Iqbal

Senior Business Immigration Solicitor
Fozia has been practising in the field of immigration law for over 20 years, specialising in Business Immigration since 2015. Fozia has advised an array of businesses, from start-ups to multinationals, owner-managed businesses through to SMEs, as well as individuals looking for immigration solutions. With a range of experience across the board, it is unusual for her to come across an immigration issue that she cannot tackle. 

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What next?

If you are an entrepreneur and need advice on setting up a tech business in the UK then our teams of business immigration and commercial lawyers can help. Call us on 0800 689 1700, email us or fill out the short form below.

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