It all ends in Tiers

It all ends in Tiers

Key points

What is the issue?

Many advisors have clients who are looking to relocate to the UK. Following the closure of the Tier 1 (Investor) route in 2022, the decision as to which visa to apply for is more client-specific.

What does it mean for me?

This article has a practical focus, enabling advisors to have an educated conversation with clients about current immigration routes.

What can I take away?

An overview of routes available to high-net-worth individuals wishing to relocate to the UK.


In the wake of the shock closure of the Tier 1 (Investor) route to new applicants on 17 February 2022, the question UK immigration advisors in the high-net-worth (HNW) space often find themselves being asked by other professionals is: ‘How can my client relocate to the UK now?’

The answer to that question is nuanced. There is no longer a one-size-fits-all solution to HNW immigration. For the vast majority of clients, however, there is a UK immigration solution that fits their individual needs. This article looks at five possible immigration routes and examines the type of individual for whom they may be most suitable.

Skilled Worker visa

The Skilled Worker route works best for two categories of high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs). First, senior executives relocating to the UK to take on a new role in a UK company and, second, business owners based overseas looking to relocate to take on a role within their UK entity.

The senior executive path is perhaps the most well trodden. The sponsoring UK company, which will likely already hold a Skilled Worker sponsor licence, will issue the senior executive with a Certificate of Sponsorship, which they will then use in support of a Skilled Worker visa application. If the senior executive wishes to relocate with their family then they can bring their partner and minor children as dependants. The Skilled Worker visa application process is efficient, with many visa application centres offering premium 24-hour processing. The route therefore provides expeditious means to relocate an individual whose presence in the UK is commercially critical.

Less well known is the ability to use the route to allow a business owner to work for their UK entity, provided that entity applies successfully for a Skilled Worker sponsor licence. To do so, the UK entity will need to have a UK-based employee or director who can take responsibility for the sponsor licence, in a role known as the authorising officer.

When the Tier 2 (General) route was replaced by the Skilled Worker route on 1 December 2020, the restriction regarding a sponsored worker’s shareholding in the sponsoring company was removed. Tier 2 (General) migrants were prevented from owning more than 10 per cent of shares in the sponsoring company unless they were classified as a high earner (i.e., they earned a gross salary of more than GBP159,600 per annum). In contrast, Skilled Worker migrants are unrestricted in terms of their shareholding within the sponsoring company. The requirement is simply to establish that the role the individual will be undertaking in the UK is a necessary and genuine one, and that the UK entity will be capable of complying with the Skilled Worker sponsor licence regime. For an individual with global business interests who wishes to relocate to the UK with their family, this can prove an excellent option.

The Skilled Worker route offers a route to settlement after five years, provided that the individual spends at least 180 days a year in the UK. This day count is calculated on a rolling basis.

UK Expansion Worker

The Expansion Worker route works best for HNW entrepreneurs who want to relocate to the UK to establish a UK branch or subsidiary of an overseas entity, but do not yet have an operational UK presence. The route allows the entrepreneur to be the ‘first feet on the ground’ in terms of establishing the UK entity. The real difference between this and the Skilled Worker route is that there is no requirement to already have a UK-based employee or director in order to obtain an Expansion Worker sponsor licence. Instead, the entrepreneur themselves can take on responsibility for the Expansion Worker sponsor licence, as the authorising officer, giving valuable flexibility.

An Expansion Worker can bring their partner and minor children to the UK as dependants. However, this route does not lead to settlement. In fact, the longest an individual can stay in the UK on an Expansion Worker visa is 24 months. The intention would usually be for the UK branch or subsidiary to apply for a Skilled Worker sponsor licence as soon as it is possible to do so, and for the Expansion Worker to switch into this immigration route.

HPI Visa

The High Potential Individual (HPI) visa route works best for next-gen clients who have recently graduated from a prestigious overseas university. The visa requires the HNWI to have been awarded a qualification, at degree level or higher, from an eligible university within the five years immediately prior to the date of application. The list of eligible universities is regularly updated.

The main advantage of this route is that it allows the client to come to the UK without a job offer and to pursue any economic interest in the UK, including self-employment. The route does not, however, lead to settlement and usually only permits the migrant to remain in the UK for up to 24 months. Those who obtained a PhD from an eligible university are permitted to stay in the UK for up to 36 months.

For a next-gen client who plans to establish a business during their time in the UK as an HPI, a switch to a Skilled Worker visa is a viable next step.

Innovator Founder visa

The Innovator Founder route works best for serial entrepreneurs looking to establish a new business in the UK. It allows an individual to come to the UK to put a new business idea into practice. The Home Office has effectively devolved oversight of the route to ‘business endorsing bodies’. These bodies confirm to the Home Office that the entrepreneur’s proposed venture is new, innovative, viable and scalable, and the Home Office grants the visa based on this endorsement. Whether a client is comfortable in engaging with the endorsement system is an individual decision that is often made in the context of relevant commercial sensitivities.

This visa offers the entrepreneur a three-year route to settlement; however, it is widely agreed among immigration practitioners that the criteria for settlement are often difficult to meet. If an individual is unable to meet the requirements for settlement within three years, they can apply to extend their visa for a further three years, in perpetuity.

An Innovator Founder can bring their partner and minor children to the UK as their dependants.

Global Talent visa

The Global Talent visa is an excellent option for individuals whose wealth has been generated through achievements in a particular sector; for example, internationally acclaimed actors and musicians or creators of successful digital products. Most commonly, this route is used by individuals in the arts, digital tech and academia sectors. The route relies on the individual applying for endorsement to an industry-specific endorsing body, which then confirms to the Home Office that the individual meets the criteria for exceptional promise or talent within that industry.

The route is highly advantageous as it allows the client to come to the UK without a job offer and pursue their interests within their field of talent, through employment or self-employment. Unlike the HPI visa, this is also a route to settlement within three years for those who have been endorsed as showing exceptional talent and within five years for those who have been endorsed as showing exceptional promise. Again, there is a requirement for the individual to spend at least 180 days a year in the UK, calculated on a rolling basis, should they wish to settle.

A migrant in this category can bring their partner and minor children to the UK as their dependants.


Considering the wide variety of options discussed above, the perennial question ‘How can my client relocate to the UK now?’ has hopefully been answered. The client will need to take UK immigration advice, but there is almost certainly an immigration route that will work, without the need to tie up GBP2 million in capital, while they work towards settlement in the UK.