3 February 2021

One Door Closes and Another Opens: Brexit and the UK’s Tier 1 (Investor) Visa

The beginning of 2021 marks a new chapter for executives, employees and entrepreneurs from the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland (referred to as the “EU” for the purposes of this article) travelling to the UK to either live, work or conduct business.

What was the position before the end of the Brexit transitional period?

Before 31 December 2020, individuals from the EU would not have needed to consider obtaining a visa or the UK’s immigration rules generally. Instead, they could have freely entered the UK at any time and stayed without having to monitor their length of stay and their economic activities in this country, all because they could exercise their EU Treaty rights to freedom of movement.

What has changed?

1 January 2021 saw the end of the Brexit transitional period that had preserved such EU Treaty rights following the UK’s formal withdrawal from the EU in January 2020.

Going forward, all EU nationals will need to obtain prior immigration permission to travel to the UK in order to live, work and study here under a new ‘Points-Based’ immigration system.

What visas are available to EU businesspeople relocating to the UK?

Businesspeople based in the EU wishing to relocate to the UK to live or work now need to consider and assess what category of UK visa would be appropriate for them to achieve this.

Visas aimed at facilitating economic immigration including the Skilled Worker visa (previously known as the Tier 2 (General) work visa) and Representative of an Overseas Business visa would be the most traditional and obvious options.

Tier 1 (Investor) visa

The Tier 1 (Investor) Visa, however, may be a better option for those that have the financial resources to invest at least £2 million in UK share capital and loan capital in active and trading UK registered companies. It offers the most flexibility for individuals and their families wishing to stay in the UK, especially in terms of economic activity.

Any type of work or business enterprise in the UK is permitted under the visa (with the exception of working as a doctor, dentist or sportsperson) and unlike employment-related visas, the Tier 1 (Investor) Visa does not bind an applicant’s employment with a specific business. This makes the visa a safe haven for those who wish to avoid the risk of their family’s UK immigration positions being overly reliant on a business that may be at risk in tough economic conditions following the wake of COVID-19.

Neither does the visa limit individuals to working for one business only, which makes it particularly appealing for active business executives and entrepreneurs who may hold roles and directorships with numerous companies and multi-national organisations.

Can EU nationals still visit the UK for business without visas?

EU nationals may continue to visit the UK without requiring a UK visa before arrival, but they can only stay for up to six months at a time. Additionally, those visiting for business purposes will need to keep a watchful eye on their activities whilst in the UK.

The permissible business activities of visitors in the UK are quite limited, and this is often overlooked. Such visitors may attend meetings and conferences or negotiate and sign contracts in the UK, but they are prohibited from working in the UK. This includes making sales to the British public and providing goods and services. In practice, the lines can blur between what is permitted business activity and prohibited work, so advice should be sought if there are any areas of doubt.

What to remember

Pre-immigration planning is now an essential pre-requisite for EU nationals travelling to the UK to undertake any form of commercial enterprise or economic activity in this country.

Alfred Liu is a Senior Associate in the Private Client team.

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