Although the UK government recently announced a plan to reduce net migration, many state policies still allow skilled tech workers and business leaders to immigrate or work in the country, recognizing their contribution to economic prosperity. In 2022 alone, the UK national statistic demonstrated around 268,000 grants to applicants on work visa. Moreover, according to a consulting company, RSM UK, almost 54,000 international workers applied to work in the UK’s technology sector. The number of tech and IT-related migrants has increased yearly since 2017, as the UK government favors skilled migrant influx, offering several visa categories to help foreign business leaders, talents, and specialists in the IT industry facilitate growth and innovation in the country.
With the wide range of visa options, navigating the UK's legal landscape can be overwhelming. Our guide simplifies this process, highlighting four key visa types tailored for tech professionals. As we cover the Global Talent Visa, Innovator Founder Visa, Skilled Worker Visa, and Senior or Specialist Worker Visa, we aim to ensure your visa selection process is straightforward, allowing for a smooth relocation to the UK.
The UK Global Talent visa opens doors for both established tech business leaders and innovative young minds to join the UK’s rapidly evolving tech and IT sectors. According to the UK official national statistics, as of September 2023, there was a 58% increase (+1,492) in Global Talent visas compared to the same month in the previous year. The total number of grants reached 4,046, a significant portion attributed to digital technology innovations. What makes this visa particularly appealing for tech entrepreneurs is the absence of a mandatory sponsorship or job offer requirement. This flexibility allows individuals to shape their professional journey and, upon successful settlement, may lead to naturalizing as a British citizen.
Your case may qualify for the Global Talent visa if you demonstrate concrete achievements in the digital technology field. There are two types of eligible applicants for the UK Global Talent visa:
Technical applicants for this UK work visa must demonstrate expertise in the latest technologies, such as building, deploying, or exploiting a technology stack, while business applicants must showcase commercial, investment, or product expertise in building digital products or leading investments in significant digital product businesses.
If you fall under one of the eligible categories, the UK Global Talent Visa allows two routes for applicants: Exceptional Talent and Exceptional Promise.
This pathway tends toward people with a career of 5 or more years in their field. To recognize the experience and talent in this case, the applicant must show that they have been recognized as a leading talent in the digital technology sector in the last 5 years and meet at least 2 of the following criteria:
If an individual is successful in being classified as Exceptional Talent, it would only qualify them to come and settle permanently in the UK after 3 years.
If you don’t have 5+ years of experience but have the potential to evolve as a leader and innovator in the tech industry, you may consider an exceptional promise route. In this case, you should display participation in an impactful project or a substantial contribution to the tech and IT sectors within the early stages of your career. Furthermore, you must fulfil at least two of the following criteria:
The application process for the Global Talent visa involves two distinct stages for individuals who are applying for the first time: Application for Endorsement and Application for Visa.
During this stage, an endorsing body evaluates your skills, abilities, and accomplishments, providing recommendations to the Home Office regarding your eligibility for endorsement. This phase typically requires up to 8 weeks for processing. If your application falls under the ‘Fast Track’ category, you may receive a final decision in as little as 3 weeks. To initiate this stage, you must apply for endorsement on the official Global Talent visa website. Additionally, you need to complete a Tech Nation Visa application form for assessment.
During the endorsement stage, you need to be sure to prove your qualifications at least 2 out of 4 areas:
Upon successful endorsement, the Home Office will send you an email containing a duplicate of your endorsement letter, which is essential for your visa application. It is crucial to initiate your visa application within three months of receiving the endorsement letter from the Home Office. However, successful endorsement does not automatically guarantee the issuance of a visa.
If you have received a qualifying award, you can proceed to apply for the visa directly without the need for an endorsement application.
For Stage 2, applicants must independently apply on the official Global Talent website within three months of receiving an endorsement from Tech Nation. The failure to do so in the mentioned time frame may invalidate the endorsement. To apply, submit a complete list of required documents listed on the official governmental website. After application, the Home Office assesses immigration-related aspects, including general grounds for refusal. If the applicant is already in the UK, the evaluation includes the possibility of switching to the Global Talent category. Processing times for Stage 2 are typically up to 4 weeks for applicants outside the UK and up to 8 weeks for those within the UK.
If your endorsement application is unsuccessful and you believe it’s due to an error, you can request a review by the Home Office through Tech Nation. The review process details, including submission guidelines, are available in the official guidance.
If you choose not to request a review, you can still consider reapplying through the same route, allowing you to add new evidence. However, be aware that this option requires paying the application fee again. Reflect on ways to improve your application based on feedback and previous decisions. Alternatively, explore other visa routes if you meet the criteria, but note that both options require a new application fee.
As of 2023, the application fee is £716.
If you’re seeking endorsement, the £716 is divided into two payments:
If you’re applying based on an eligible award, the full £716 is due with the visa application.
For each partner or child included in the application, an individual fee of £716 applies.
Immigration Healthcare Surcharge (IHS)
Additionally, the healthcare surcharge must be paid as part of the application, typically £624 per person annually.
Important! Following an Immigration (Health Charge) (Amendment) Order 2023 of the UK government, the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) will increase from £624 per year to £1,035. The increase is set to come into effect on 16 January 2024.
The Global Talent visa offers flexibility, allowing you to:
Upon successful application, you receive a comprehensive list of permissible and restricted activities. Although you will be ineligible for most benefits or the State Pension, you may obtain UK permanent Residency and later, citizenship:
Securing UK Permanent Residency
You may secure indefinite leave to remain (ILR) after either 3 or 5 years, depending on your occupation and application method, and demonstrating continuous UK residence, with no more than 180 days outside the country annually. Also, you must prove your business’s success in meeting settlement endorsement criteria. This ILR status grants you the freedom to reside, work, and study in the country indefinitely, with the option to apply for eligible benefits.
Obtaining British Citizenship
After obtaining ILR through the UK Global Talent Visa, you can apply for British citizenship in two years, meeting specific criteria. To do so, you should prove limited absence from the UK (not exceeding 450 days in the last five years and 90 days in the past year) to the Home Office.
The British government introduced the Innovator Founder visa on the 13th of April, 2023, replacing and canceling the two previous visa options, Innovator Visa and Start-Up visa. The new immigration route is designed to allow tech-savvy business entrepreneurs to come to the UK and set up a business, offering a product or service not yet presented on the market. Although this visa is new, we may look at statistics of its predecessor, Innovator Visa, to demonstrate its appeal. From September 2022 to September 2023, the UK government granted Innovator or Innovator Founder visas to 520 international entrepreneurs, exceeding the numbers from the previous year by 107%, according to national statistics.
With booming success rates of the abandoned Innovator visa, the Innovator Founder path stands out as an excellent avenue for tech business people at various stages of their entrepreneurial journey. Whether you’re a seasoned entrepreneur with a wealth of experience or an aspiring business founder, this visa presents an opportunity to initiate and propel your endeavors within the dynamic tech and IT landscapes of the UK market.
To secure an Innovator Founder visa as a tech or IT entrepreneur, the applicant must navigate through three essential steps: meeting eligibility requirements, crafting a comprehensive business plan, and attaining the necessary endorsement.
Prior to visa application, the entrepreneur must meet the following requirements:
– Pass a Secure English Language Test (SELT) from an approved provider.
– Possess a GCSE, A level, Scottish National Qualification level 4 or 5, Scottish Higher, or Advanced Higher in English obtained through UK school study initiated before turning 18.
– Hold a degree-level academic qualification taught in English; if studied abroad, seek confirmation of equivalency through Ecctis (formerly UK NARIC) for a UK bachelor’s, master’s, or PhD degree.
To gain an endorsement, it is necessary to elaborate on your project ideas and goals in a business plan. The plan should include the following aspects:
A crucial element in the application process for a UK Innovator Founder visa is the requirement for an endorsement from an approved endorsing body in the UK for your current innovative business or new business idea. The endorsing bodies authorized to issue endorsements for Innovator Founder Visas include:
In evaluating endorsement applications, endorsing bodies assess various factors, such as the need for your business in the UK, your understanding of the market, realistic goals, and potential for growth. Consequently, the endorsement ensures that only businesses with a promising chance of success progress to the subsequent phase.
If the endorsement application is successful, you will receive a letter of endorsement for processing your Innovator Founder visa application.
When submitting your application, you must attach an ‘endorsement letter’ as proof that an endorsing body has assessed your business concept. Additionally, the following documentation is required:
As part of the application process, you must verify your identity. The method varies based on your nationality and passport type. You will either:
The specific instructions will be provided when you apply. If an appointment is necessary:
The UK Innovator Founder Visa opens doors to a wide range of opportunities for tech entrepreneurs, such as access to global venture capital, private equity firms, and accelerators. Beyond facilitating entry into the UK market, the visa exposes individuals to advanced technology and expert networks. An often underappreciated feature of the Innovator Visa is its flexibility. Unlike some other business visas, it allows entrepreneurs to take up employment outside their business venture. This flexibility can be crucial for maintaining financial stability while growing a new business.
This visa not only accommodates entrepreneurs but extends its benefits to their families, including spouses and children, ensuring access to top-tier healthcare and prestigious educational institutions for you and your family.
After establishing and managing your business in the UK for three years, you can attain Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR), granting permanent residency. Moreover, after five years, you may potentially receive British citizenship.
Are you a highly skilled tech or IT specialist with a job offer from a British employer? If the answer is yes, then you might be eligible for a Skilled Worker visa. This visa category is also available for the scarce occupations in high demand in the UK. The national statistics prove the visa appeal to highly skilled international minds: from March 2022 to March 2023, ‘Skilled Worker’ visa grants to main applicants have surged by 59% compared to previous year, reaching approximately 69,423. Thanks to abundant opportunities in the tech and IT sectors and a potential for British citizenship, the Skilled Worker visa is an attractive option for individuals seeking professional growth and international opportunities.
To qualify for a Skilled Worker visa as a tech or IT specialist, you must meet the following conditions:
Starting from the Spring 2024, the minimum salary threshold will rise from £26,200 to £38,700, following the governmental ruling of December 2023.
To initiate your application for this type of UK work visa, you must apply online within three months of receiving your certificate of sponsorship. Ensure you have the following documents ready:
Proving your identity and demonstrating eligibility depends on your nationality and passport type. You can do this by attending an appointment at a visa application center or using the ‘UK Immigration: ID Check’ smartphone app. The specific method will be determined at the beginning of your application.
Once you’ve submitted your online application, completed the identity verification, and provided the necessary documents, you can typically expect a decision within three weeks if you’re outside the UK and eight weeks if you’re inside the UK.
Additionally, you must ensure adequate financial resources to:
If your partner and children apply to come to the UK with you, they have similar financial obligations. You will be informed how much you have to pay at the time of your application.
A Skilled Worker visa may allow you to engage in various activities, including working in an eligible job, pursuing educational endeavors, and bringing your partner and children as dependents if they meet the eligibility criteria. Furthermore, you are flexible to undertake additional work under specific circumstances, participate in voluntary activities, and travel internationally with the ability to return to the UK. Workers under this visa category also can change employers, but such actions require an application to the Home Office to update their visa, particularly in response to specific employment-related alterations. After residing in the UK for five years and satisfying other eligibility requirements, you can apply for permanent settlement, known as ‘indefinite leave to remain,’ and later, British citizenship.
Despite all the opportunities, the Skilled Worker visa is not without its limitations. It restricts the application for most benefits (public funds) and the State Pension. Additionally, changing jobs or employers is subject to approval through the visa update application process. Upon a successful application, you will receive a comprehensive list detailing the activities permitted and prohibited under the Skilled Worker visa.
Senior or Specialist Worker visa, a part of the UK’s Global Business Mobility route, is an option for senior managers and specialist employees taking part in a temporary assignment or project in the UK. The international worker must have an employer overseas, assigning them to a linked UK business. Allowing global tech specialists to work in the UK temporarily, this visa facilitates the movement of top talent in areas like software development, network security, and systems management. By allowing temporary relocation, Senior or Specialist Worker Visa plays a crucial role in the global exchange of cutting-edge skills and knowledge, vital for keeping pace with the rapidly evolving tech industry.
To be eligible for a Senior or Specialist Worker visa, you need to fulfill the following criteria:
When applying for the visa, you will need to collect the following list of documents:
Depending on your circumstances, you might be asked to provide:
For visa applicants needing to provide biometric information, ensure there is a blank page in your passport. You will be informed if this is necessary when you apply.
If your documents are not in English or Welsh, a certified translation is necessary.
If your annual earnings are less than £73,900, you may be required to demonstrate that you have worked for your employer outside the UK for at least 12 months. Provide evidence such as printed or online payslips, supported by a letter from your sponsor signed by a senior staff member, or bank statements.
For those earning £73,900 or more annually, there is no minimum time requirement.
Double-check the exact amount before submitting an application.
You must have at least £1,270 in your bank account.
Review financial evidence guidelines for detailed information on required funds and proof methods.
For individuals whose contract in the UK is extended, there is an option to easily renew the visa as long as the requirements are met. This flexibility enables skilled professionals to contribute to the British workforce over an extended period, fostering a mutually beneficial relationship between the individual and the host country. Still, the maximum duration an individual can stay under this visa route is 5 years in any 6-year period unless they are high earners with £73,900 or more in annual income.
Regardless of the duration of stay or financial status, the Senior or Specialist worker visa does not provide a direct pathway to settlement in the UK. Nevertheless, skilled professionals who wish to make the UK their permanent home may explore alternative immigration routes and switch to a different visa, such as the Skilled Worker, if they meet the eligibility criteria.
The visa options available in the UK, such as the Global Talent Visa, Innovator Founder Visa, Skilled Worker Visa, and Senior or Specialist Worker Visa, allow tech entrepreneurs and IT specialists to come to the hub of technological advancement and business innovation. Each visa caters to different needs and career stages, from the globally recognized talents seeking entry through the Global Talent Visa to the established professionals and entrepreneurs eyeing the Innovator Founder and Skilled Worker Visas. The Senior or Specialist Worker Visa further enhances this spectrum by providing a pathway for those in managerial or specialist roles within multinational companies. Ultimately, the UK’s visa options underscore its commitment to attracting and nurturing tech talent worldwide. This not only benefits the individuals who relocate but also significantly contributes to the vitality and diversity of the UK’s tech sector, fostering an environment where innovation thrives.
To explore your UK relocation options, you may:
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