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overview of the UK immigration system

9 January 2018

Non-EEA or Swiss nationals must score a specified number of points to come and work, set up business, or study in the UK. Points are based on several criteria including skills; level of education; salary; English language proficiency; and whether the migrant would displace suitably qualified UK workers. We have set out below a summary of the most relevant UK visas:

Tier 1 – entrepreneurs and investors

  Purpose of visa Total stay  Processing time Cost
Entrepreneur for those who have access to at least £50,000 of disposable investment funds and want to set up or takeover a business in the UK 3 years 4 months extendable by a further 2 years 3 weeks £982 - £1228*
Graduate entrepreneur for graduates who have been officially endorsed as having a genuine and credible business idea 1 year extendable by a further year 3 - 8 weeks £349 - £474*
Investor for those who can invest at least £2m in active and trading UK registered companies 3 years 4 months extendable by a further 2 years 3 weeks £1,561*

* Migrants will also have to pay a health surcharge of around £200 per year of the visa.

Tier 2 – skilled workers

Skilled workers must be sponsored by a UK employer before they can enter the UK under Tier 2. The employer will first have to apply for a Licence to Sponsor and, if granted, the applicant can then apply for the visa. This route should only be used where there is a genuine vacancy which cannot be filled by a suitably qualified settled worker. The two most common Tier 2 visas are:

  Eligibility Total stay  Processing time Cost
Tier 2 (General)
  • role must be pitched at degree level or above
  • usually minimum salary of £30,000 per annum to be paid
  • must have required level of English language (i.e. pass an approved English language test or have a recognised academic qualification taught in English at bachelor’s degree or above) unless the migrant is a citizen of certain countries1
  •  must prove personal savings of at least £945 or employer certifies maintenance
  • pass a tuberculosis test
  • provide a criminal record certificate if working with vulnerable people
6 years 3 weeks £446 - £1,944*
Tier 2 (ICT)
  • has been working for the sponsor in their overseas branch for at least 12 months or is a graduate with at least 3 months’ experience with overseas branch. Those being paid more than £73,000 are exempt from this
  • the role can’t be filled by a new UK recruit
  • minimum salary of £41,500 per annum for long-term staff or £23,000 for graduates
  • must have proof of personal savings of at least £945 or employer certifies maintenance
  • pass a tuberculosis test.
  • 9 years for long- term staff if earning >£120,000 per year
  • 5 years 1 month for long-term staff if earning <£120,000
  • 12 months for Graduates.
3 weeks £463 - £1,944

* Migrants will also have to pay a health surcharge of around £200 per year of the visa.

1 For example, Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Dominica, Guyana, Jamaica, New Zealand, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago and USA.

Tier 4 – students

A Tier 4 (General) student visa is for those over 16 years old and who have been made an unconditional offer of a place on an approved course with an approved UK education establishment. The student will need to pass an approved English language test and have enough money to support themselves and pay for the course. This visa costs £335 (plus a health surcharge) and takes up to 3 weeks to process. Students can work in most jobs during the period of this visa.


Visitors to the UK for up to a maximum of 6 months for leisure or business can apply for a standard visitor visa. Visitors who are coming to the UK to review private medical treatment can stay for up to 11 months on a standard visitor visa. There are limitations on the type of business-related activities that can be undertaken - you cannot do paid or unpaid work but you can come here for a conference, meeting or training; to carry out site visits; or to negotiate and sign deals and contracts, for example. It takes up to 3 weeks to process this visa and costs between £89 - £767, depending on the length of the visa.

Those applying for a standard visitor visa must be able to demonstrate that they will leave the UK at the end of the visit and can support themselves and any dependents during the trip.

Right to work checks

All UK businesses must check and copy certain specified documents prior to an individual starting employment, in order to prove that they have right to work. Failure to do so could result in civil penalties of up to £20,000 per work and/or criminal penalties, including up to 5 years imprisonment.

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