Corporate and business immigration to the UK is largely (but not entirely) governed by the “points-based” immigration control system. The points-based system has been introduced by the UK Border Agency incrementally over the last few years and is a broad scheme that covers a range of working visas and study visas for overseas nationals. It is called the points-based system because visa applicants score points for satisfying the various requirements that each visa type has. Simply put, if an applicant scores sufficient points then they may qualify for the visa in question.
The points-based system consists of different sub-schemes or “Tiers”, which are: Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 4 and Tier 5, only some of which are relevant to corporate immigration.
Tier 1 includes “Tier 1 Entrepreneur”. This is a visa type for applicants who have funds available to invest and who wish to start up a business in the UK or join an existing business in the UK and are prepared to invest funds appropriately.
It also includes “Tier 1 Investor”, which is a rather different kind of visa which allows wealthy applicants to invest large sums of money of at least £1m into the UK. They may invest funds either into UK Government bonds or UK companies. Tier 1 Investors are allowed to work (either in a company they have invested in or elsewhere) but – differently from other more purely corporate visa holders – there is no requirement for them to work if they do not want to.
Tier 2 covers skilled and highly-qualified workers and managers, and replaces the old “work permit” system. Under Tier 2, such skilled people may apply to work in the UK for a UK-based company as a “Tier 2 General Migrant” or as a “Tier 2 Intra-Company Transfer Migrant”.
The former category is for potential employees who are overseas (non-EEA) nationals, living either in the UK or outside the UK, that a UK company wishes to employ. The latter category is for overseas nationals who already work as an employee for a multinational company outside the UK. If such a multinational company has a UK branch, and the company wishes to transfer the employee to the UK branch, then the employee should apply under the latter category, which is in some ways an easier category to apply under.
There is one other important corporate visa type which is not part of the points-based system: “Sole Representative”. This is a visa which allows a senior employee of an overseas company to come to the UK for the specific purpose of setting up a branch of the company in the UK and running the branch once it is set up. In this case, there must not be any already-existing branch of the company in the UK.
So if an overseas company wishes to set up a UK operation it may appoint a Sole Representative to come to the UK and establish it. Once the UK entity has been set up, it may then potentially be able to employ other overseas nationals as Tier 2 Migrants.
These are the visa types which are most relevant to corporate immigration, although there are some other visa categories (such as “Tier 1 Post-Study Work”, “Tier 5 Youth Mobility Scheme”, “Tier 1 General”, “Highly-Skilled Migrant Programme (HSMP)”) which enable the visa-holder to work without restriction in the UK and can thus be taken advantage of by UK employers and those they wish to employ. Some of these categories have been abolished or are due to be abolished, but people who have been granted these visas are entitled to work in the UK until their visa expires.
There is a possibility that such a person can “switch” to a different kind of visa before their visa expires so they can continue to work in the UK. Switching visas is allowed between certain categories of visa. For example, someone on a Tier 1 visa or a study visa may be able to swtich to a Tier 2 visa. If someone is allowed to switch they are able to make an application to the UKVI in the UK for further leave to remain in the new category without having to return to their country of nationality.