Is the UK still open for business? The real state of play of UK business immigration

9 November 2015 | Jonathan Martin

Immigration has dominated the UK headlines in recent months following the large number of votes won by the far right anti-immigration party, UKIP, in May’s General Election and the tragic scenes showing the Syrian migrant crisis in Europe.

However, what is the real picture in terms of employment related immigration? We analyse below what the real state of play is and examine the different routes that are available to employers to deliver their talent management plans.

What is the current situation in relation to UK immigration?

Since the election result the Conservative Government are standing by their election promises to reduce net migration to below 100 000 a year, increase penalties for illegal working and stop benefits for new EU migrants.  They have also revealed plans to introduce rules which will impact on skilled workers, business’s ability to bring in people from outside Europe, and make it more difficult for European workers to come to the UK.

Despite some of the heated political rhetoric the reality paints a very different picture. The continued growth of the UK economy, it’s positioning as a destination of choice for investors, entrepreneurs, wealth and job creators, students and those with talent that address skills shortage areas, demonstrates that, in fact, Britain is still very much open for business.

As evidence of this we only have to look at the available routes for incoming migrants in the Immigration Rules.

Routes available to incoming migrants

1. Incoming investors to the UK

  • There are accelerated routes to settlement available the greater the sum an individual investor has to invest (5 years for an investment of £2 000 000 and 2 years if you invest £10 000 000).
  • For those who can set up businesses the “Entrepreneur” route has received some adverse publicity, and the government department responsible for immigration is much more likely to look in detail at the business plans of applicants.  However, provided the applicant is genuine, this offers a route to the UK where there is no cap on the number of successful applicants.
  • Given that immigrants started 14% of new businesses in the UK up to March 2014, and are much more likely to do so than people already settled in the UK, this makes sound economic sense.

2. Exceptional talent in the technology industry

  • Exceptionally talented individuals in various industries can get endorsed by prestigious bodies and then apply for visas to work in the UK.  Such endorsements were difficult to get but the situation in the technology industry has become much more open following changes announced in October 2015.
  • Tech City (the body who endorse exceptional talent in the digital industry) have announced that they will help companies get the talent they need to grow quickly by fast-tracking applications to ease expansion.  That will be the case whether the expertise is needed to take the company to Initial Public Offering (IPO), focusing on a particular product to take it to the international market, or specific individuals are needed with specific talents in this field.
  • They will consider applications from individuals who demonstrate “exceptional promise”.  This will enable companies to recruit highly skilled individuals from all over the world to fill specific talent gaps, and lowers the threshold for applicants in the early stages of their careers.
  • 170 000 people now work in digital technology across the North of England and to support the further development of this talent pool applications will be fast tracked for the following cities: Hull, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Liverpool, Sheffield and Sunderland.
  • In recognition of the fact that technology businesses often need to recruit teams of exceptional talent, groups of five will be able to apply at once from November 12th 2015.
  • All of these changes are aimed at cutting down processing times for applications, prioritising skill shortages, and helping technology companies to grow.

3. Routes for established overseas businesses

Representative of an overseas business Visa

  • An established overseas business without a presence in the UK can send a senior employee to start operations in the UK, and there is also no cap on the number of these visas which can be issued.

Other employees of existing overseas businesses

  • Entry routes remain open under both Tier 2 and Tier 5 of the points based system in the Immigration Rules.  Whilst there is a cap on Tier 2 (General) migrants to the UK of 20 700 applicants per annum, this does not apply in all cases, and there are other routes under Tier 2 and Tier 5 where there is no cap.
  • General migrants are not counted against the cap if they earn over £155 300 or are in certain categories of “in country” application.  Despite this, the monthly allocation was oversubscribed in May 2015 for the first time since the cap was introduced in 2011, which does show that this is a popular route to attempt.
  • Outside Tier 2 (General) there are:
    • Tier 2 (Intra Company Transfers);
    • The chance to apply for shorter term Tier 5 visas in various sectors ranging from charity, creative, sports people and religious workers;
    • Different schemes for young people or pursuant to international agreements or under government authorised exchanges.

All but the last of these routes require a UK sponsor to employ the migrants but once the employment has been agreed the application process is relatively straight forward.


  • The government has cracked down on private colleges, placed restrictions on what work incoming students can do in the UK, and the ability to bring family members.  However, it remains true that for those completing a degree in an established University the UK is still a desirable place to come. While the Post Study Work visa no longer exists, there are routes that successful students can use to put what they have studied into practice in the UK employment market.
  • In addition to the worker, standard investor and entrepreneur routes, there are two routes for top students namely the Exceptional Talent visas, as mentioned above, and the Graduate Entrepreneur visas.  Under the latter route the individual needs to be endorsed by an educational establishment or UK Trade and Investment (a UK government department).

What about EEA migrants?

Much of the media focus on immigration has been on those coming to the UK from former Eastern bloc countries.  While the government is keen to reduce their numbers, changes for European Economic Area (EEA) migrants have not come into force yet and even if they do, they will not impact on European Union (EU) citizens’ rights to come and work in the UK.

What about business visitors?

For those wanting to visit the UK to look at, or further business relationships, the good news is that the visa process has been simplified.  The standard visitor visa now incorporates the old business visitor category and allows for many varied purposes of trips to the UK.

What does all this mean for my business

After examining the real state of play in UK employment immigration it is clear that the UK remains open for business and is keen to encourage skilled migrants.

Nevertheless, it is essential to properly select the correct route of entry and to submit an error free application to maximise your business’ chances of successfully delivering the talent it requires.  You should note in particular that recent changes mean it is no longer possible to correct any application errors on appeal.

How can we help?

Abbiss Cadres offers a unique blend of skills to enable global businesses to tackle complex talent management issues such as immigration and global mobility.

Our expert team can advise on:

  • Which is the best entry route into the UK.
  • Market appropriate compensation and benefits packages and contractual terms.

As well as assisting with:

  • Visa applications.
  • The physical move and relocation of your people to the UK.

Our unique service model incorporates all the expertise needed to help you manage the complexities of your employment and people issues.  As well as global mobility and immigration expertise our team includes employment, tax, compensation and benefits, pensions and communication specialists.

If you have any questions or to discuss how we can help you, speak to our team on +44(0)203 051 5711 or


Content is for general information purposes only. The information provided is not intended to be comprehensive and it does not constitute or contain legal or other advice. If you require assistance in relation to any issue please seek specific advice relevant to your particular circumstances. In particular, no responsibility shall be accepted by the authors or by Abbiss Cadres LLP for any losses occasioned by reliance on any content appearing on or accessible from this article. For further legal information click here.

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The author

Jonathan Martin
Senior Consultant
Business Immigration
Global Mobility
D: +44 (0) 207 036 8397
T: +44 (0) 203 051 5711
F: +44 (0) 203 051 5712

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