Tier 1 visas

If you are planning on coming to the UK to further your work in the sciences or arts, or are intending to set up a business or invest in the UK, then you will need a visa under Tier 1 of the points based system.

Tier 1 represents perhaps the most selective visa category of the points based system, with the information kept on the UK Border Agency (UKBA) website in their High-value migrants section.

The eligibility criteria for these visas are very specific and will be impossible to meet for the average applicant. However, if you can qualify for one of these visas you are potentially able to take advantage of accelerated routes to settlement and citizenship.

There are now four categories of Tier 1 visas:

  1. Exceptional talent
  2. Entrepreneur
  3. Investor
  4. Post-study work

These categories all provide different rights in respects to settlement. Please check the details by category below for further information.

Exceptional Talent

Tier 1 (Exceptional talent) is for people who are internationally recognised as world leaders or potential world-leading talent in the fields of science and the arts, and who wish to work in the UK.

You must apply for an Exceptional Talent visa from outside the UK and you cannot switch into this category. If you are currently in the UK you must leave the country and apply from abroad.

Any application for an Exceptional Talent visa must be endorsed by a ‘designated competent body’. There are only four such competent bodies:

  1. the Royal Society
  2. Arts Council England
  3. British Academy
  4. Royal Academy of Engineering

There are a very limited number of endorsements available from these bodies; Between them the bodies only have 1000 places a year to assign.

In order to qualify for this visa you must be able to demonstrate that you can support yourself financially, you must register with the police and you cannot be employed as a doctor, dentist in training or a professional sportsperson or coach during your stay.

An Exceptional Talent visa provides entry clearance for three years and four months. If you are applying for further leave to remain it provides clearance for two years. This visa can lead to settlement after five years, subject to the following criteria:

  • you are still ‘economically active’ in your field
  • the designated competent body that sponsored your application does not oppose your application
  • you have spent all five years in the UK on a Exceptional Talent visa

Full details can be found in the Tier 1 (Exceptional talent) of the Points Based System - Policy Guidance (PDF, 457KB) which can be found on the UKBA website.

Entrepreneur

Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) is for non-European migrants who want to invest in the UK by setting up or taking over, and being actively involved in the running of, a business or businesses here.

To qualify for an Entrepreneur visa you must pass a points test. You must have either at least £200,000, or at least £50,000 provided by a UK Government department, a venture capital firm regulated by the FSA or seed funding competitions as detailed on the UK Trade & Investment website. You also have to keep this money in, and spend it in, the UK.

If you are already in the UK using a different visa category, and have invested money in a UK business, then you can count this money towards your application. You must have invested the money in the last 12 months, the money can’t include the value of residential accommodation or property development/management and it cannot be a director’s loan unless it is unsecured and subordinated in favour of the third-party creditors.

If you are not from an English speaking country and do not hold a degree taught in English equivalent to a UK bachelor’s degree then you must pass an approved English language test.

An Entrepreneur visa provides entry clearance for three years and four months. If you are applying for further leave to remain it provides clearance for two years.

In order to extend your stay as an Entrepreneur you must pass another, different points test. Points are scored based on the following criteria:

  • you have invested the money covered in the original application to enter in one or more businesses, directly, in the UK
  • you have registered as self-employed, or as director of a new or existing business
  • you are still engaged in business and within three months of application were registered as self-employed, or as director of a new or existing business
  • you have been directly responsible for creating at least two new jobs in the UK
You can go on to apply for settlement from this visa. You can take advantage of an accelerated route to settlement after three years residence if:
  • your business created at least 10 full time jobs for settled people
  • your new UK business has a revenue of at least £5 million in those three years
  • you have taken over or invested in a UK business which has resulted in a £5 million increased in revenue over three years.

During the continuous residence period, you cannot be outside the UK for more than 180 days in any 12 calendar months

Full details can be found in the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) of the Points Based System - Policy Guidance (PDF, 177KB) which can be found on the UKBA website.

Investor

The Tier 1 (Investor) category is for high-net-worth individuals who want to make a substantial financial investment in the UK. You do not need a job offer to apply in this category; your application is assessed based on your ability to invest £1,000,000 in the UK.

To qualify for an Investor visa you must either have £1,000,000 of your own money to invest in the UK or £2,000,000 in personal assets and a loan of at least £1,000,000 from a UK regulated financial institution for investment in the UK. These monies must be sterling, held in financially regulated institutions and be disposable in the UK.

An Investor visa provides entry clearance for three years and four months. If you are applying for further leave to remain it provides clearance for two years.

In order to extend your stay as an Investor you must pass another, different points test. Points are scored based on the following criteria:

  • you must still have an amount of money under your control, either £1,000,000 of your own money, or a loan from a UK institution if you have assets worth over £2,000,000
  • you have invested at least £750,000 in the UK in bonds, share capital or loan capital in active UK companies, not including those principally engaged in property investment. The remaining balance of £1,000,000 must be held in UK assets or a UK financial institution
  • The above investments were made within three months of your arrival to the UK

You can also take advantage of an accelerated route to settlement depending on the size of your investment.

The qualifying continuous residence period is 2 years if:

  • you have money of your own under your control in the UK amounting to at least £10 million; or
  • you own personal assets with a value (once any liabilities are taken into account) of at least £20 million, and you have at least £10 million under your control and disposable in the UK which has been loaned to you by a UK regulated financial institution.
The qualifying continuous residence period is 3 years if:
  • you have money of your own under your control in the UK amounting to at least £5 million; or
  • you own personal assets with a value (once any liabilities are taken into account) of at least £10 million, and you have at least £5 million under your control and disposable in the UK which has been loaned to you by a UK regulated financial institution.
The qualifying continuous residence period is 5 years if:
  • you have money of your own under your control in the UK amounting to at least £1 million; or
  • you own personal assets with a value (once any liabilities are taken into account) of at least £2 million, and you have at least £1 million under your control and disposable in the UK which has been loaned to you by a UK regulated financial institution.

Full details can be found in the Tier 1 (Investor) of the Points Based System - Policy Guidance (PDF, 570KB) which can be found on the UKBA website.

Tier 1 (Post-study work)

Tier 1 (Post-study work) will close to new applicants on 5 April 2012. After this date graduates will need to apply through Tier 2 (General) or the new Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) route which will come into use when the Post-study work route closes.

You should use the Post-study work (PSW) category if you are a non-EEA graduate who is hoping to stay in the UK to work after completing a course of study in the UK. You cannot get initial leave to enter the UK with PSW visas.

To qualify you must have completed a UK qualification at a UK institution in the last 12 months and you must have not have broken any terms of your visa until that point. The UK institution that you studied at must meet certain criteria as well.

You must have £800 of available funds if you are applying from inside the UK, and £2,800 if you are applying from outside the UK.

If you qualify for the visa you do not need to pass an English language requirement as this is demonstrated by your UK qualification.

You will automatically pass the points test for a PSW visa if you were a participant in one of the following:

  • International Graduates Scheme (IGS)
  • Science and Engineering Graduates Scheme (SEGS)
  • Fresh Talent: Working in Scotland Scheme (FT:WISS)

If you are given permission to remain in this category then you are given two years leave. You cannot extend your stay in this category - to remain in the UK you have to switch to another visa category. Time spent in the UK on this visa does not count towards the residence period for settlement. You also cannot apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) from this category.

If you have permission to stay on a PSW visa, however, you can look for work without needing a sponsor - this is a major advantage compared to Tier 2 visas. It is, however, expected that you will switch to another tier of the points based system as soon as you can.

Full details can be found in the Tier 1 (Post-study work) of the Points Based System - Policy Guidance (PDF, 354KB) which can be found on the UKBA website.

Closed categories

Tier 1 has been revised significantly over recent years. As part of this several application paths have been closed down. The full list of these closed routes is below.

If you are currently in the UK in one of these categories and you want to extend your stay then you must apply for a new visa under the current valid categories of the points based system.

If, however, you have been in the UK for 5 years or more under one of the closed categories then you may be able to apply for ILR. For more information click on the links provided in the list below.