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UK Business Visas & Shareholder Requirements

Our business visa clients often ask us whether they are allowed to hold shares in the company that they own and/or work for. In this post, we look at the various immigration rules on shareholding for those who wish to come to the UK for business or work purposes.

Share Ownership and the Sole Representative of an Overseas Business Visa

The Sole Representative of an Overseas Business visa category is for businesses that wish to send a senior employee to the UK in order to establish a commercial presence for the company in the UK.

Initial applications

In order to qualify for a Sole Representative visa, you will need to be a senior employee in the overseas business. The Home Office recognises that shareholding can often indicate seniority. However, the Immigration Rules state that applicants must not hold more than 50% of the shares in the overseas company.  For an initial application applicants must provide a copy of the parent company’s share register showing the distribution or ownership for the previous year.  For more information, please see our previous post: Can Sole Representatives Be Shareholders?

Even if you hold less than 50% at the point of your initial application (e.g. because you have sold some of your shares in the months beforehand), you will still need to satisfy the Home Office that you do not otherwise own or control the overseas business. This assessment looks at the nature of the relationship between the applicant and the overseas company. Therefore, even if you are a minority shareholder, you must not be part of an arrangement whereby you control more than 50% of the voting rights, or are effectively the main beneficiary of the business. You should provide evidence that the remaining shares are not held by a silent partner.

Additionally, if you wish to bring your dependant spouse, civil partner, or unmarried partner to the UK with you, then they must also not hold a majority stake in, or otherwise control or own the overseas business which you will be representing. The Home Office must be satisfied that the headquarters for the overseas company will remain outside of the UK.

Extensions of stay

In order to qualify for an extension of stay as a Sole Representative of an Overseas Business the UK company must be a branch or subsidiary which is wholly-owned by the overseas company. You will not be permitted to hold any shares in the UK company. 

Other Business Immigration Routes

The following business immigration routes permit applicants to hold as many shares in their company as they wish:

In the event that visa holders in these categories wish to transfer or sell shares to other individuals, there are no restrictions on who these individuals must be or how many shares may be transferred. 

Share Ownership and the UK Investor Visa

The Tier 1 Investor visa category is for individuals who are able to make a substantial financial investment in the UK. In order to qualify for a UK Investor visa you will need to have access to at least £2 million and be willing to invest your funds in actively trading UK companies.

In order to qualify for an extension of stay or indefinite leave to remain, you will need to have made the investment in the form of share or loan capital.  It is possible to invest in an active and trading business (or businesses) that you own.  However, as we looked at in a previous post, structuring such an investment will require careful planning.

Shareholding and the Start-Up & Innovator Visas

The Start-up visa and Innovator visa categories are for individuals who are seeking to establish an innovative, viable and scalable business in the UK.

Although there are no shareholding requirements for these routes, applicants should be aware that for the Start-Up and Innovator visas some endorsing bodies (see the lists here for Start-Up and here for Innovator) ask for a share of equity in the company before granting an endorsement.  If you do not wish to provide this, you should instead apply to an endorsing body which only requires the payment of a fee to join their mentoring scheme.

Entrepreneur Visa Shareholder Requirements

Although the Entrepreneur route is now closed to new applicants, when applying for an Entrepreneur visa extension of stay or indefinite leave to remain applicants have to demonstrate that they have genuinely operated their UK business and intend to continue to do so. Holding shares in the company will not be sufficient to demonstrate genuineness in itself.  Applicants should provide further evidence to show how they have met these requirements (e.g. correspondence between the applicant and other employees and/or clients).

Skilled Worker Visa Share Holding Rule

The Skilled Worker visa is open to individuals of all nationalities (except British and Irish) who have an offer of an eligible skilled job in the UK from a Home Office-approved sponsor.

Whereas the former Tier 2 General skilled migration route required migrants to not have a shareholding of more than 10% in their sponsoring company, the Skilled Worker route does not include this restriction.

However, when applying for a Skilled Worker visa, applicants must demonstrate that the job is a genuine vacancy and at an appropriate skill and salary level. This may be questioned if the applicant holds a large proportion of the shares in the business, or if the share value is high but the salary is low. Therefore, applicants should provide evidence beyond their shareholding of why they are needed for the role, and that it is suitable based on their qualifications and experience.  If the Home Office consider that the job offer has been created mainly so that the applicant can apply for permission to be in the UK, the required test will not be met. 

Contact our Immigration Barristers 

For expert advice and assistance with a UK business visa application, contact our business immigration barristers on 0203 617 9173 or complete our enquiry form below.


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