Locate your business in the UK

UK immigration for business purposes

European Economic Area (EEA) and Swiss nationals may enter the UK and remain for an initial period of three months. If they wish to remain after three months of residence they must be employed, self-employed, or a student and be able to demonstrate they can support themselves and their immediate family without public funding for the duration of their residence in the UK

Family Members of EEA or Swiss nationals should apply for a family permit before entering the UK. Family members who are not EEA or Swiss nationals should apply for an EEA family permit before coming to the United Kingdom. The EEA family permit is similar to a visa and is issued by UK Visa Services.

Find out more about how European citizens and members of their families can enter, live in and work in the UK on the GOV.UK website.

Migration controls for non-EEA/Swiss nationals

Migrants from outside the EEA and Switzerland can apply to work or study in the UK through the new points-based system (PBS). Under the PBS all applicants from outside the EEA will need clearance to enter the UK.

Under the PBS, applicants will need to obtain a specified number of points to qualify for entry. Points will be awarded for a combination of skills and attributes.

The new PBS has replaced all previous routes to work, train or study in the UK. There are four tiers and applicants from these groups can apply for permission to enter or remain in the UK:

  • Tier 1 - highly-skilled workers, investors and entrepreneurs and post-study workers
  • Tier 2 - sponsored workers including elite sports people and coaches, airport ground crew and certain seafarers, ministers of religion and missionaries and members of religious orders in non-pastoral and non-preaching roles.
  • Tier 4 - students
  • Tier 5 - sponsored temporary workers including sports people and entertainers working for less than 12 months, voluntary workers, overseas government employees and workers entering the UK under a government approved exchange programme.

Please note that Tier 3 (limited numbers of low-skilled workers needed to fill temporary labour shortages) is suspended indefinitely.

To employ workers under Tiers 2 and 5 of the PBS, or to sponsor students under Tier 4, you need to register as a sponsor.

The UK Border Agency is starting to replace paper-based immigration documents, stickers and stamps with compulsory biometric identity cards. For more information you can read guidance on identity cards for foreign nationals on the UK Border Agency website.

Business visitors

If you want to visit the UK on business purposes, you must apply for one of the new business visitor visas. A business visitor is defined as someone who is employed abroad but who intends to visit the UK for short periods of time to conduct business on their own or on behalf of their employer. Business visitors:

  • should be based abroad and not intend to move their base to the UK, even temporarily
  • receive a salary from abroad (though they may receive reasonable travel and subsistence expenses whilst in the UK)
  • must not be selling goods or services direct to members of the public

Business visitor visas are only available to those who can prove that they are undertaking certain permissible activities. The list includes activities such as:

  • attending meetings or conferences
  • negotiating, arranging or signing trade agreements or contracts
  • carrying out fact-finding missions or promotional activities
  • conducting site visits or checking goods or details

Find information on permitted business activities on the GOV.UK website.

A business visitor visa will allow you to come to the UK on business purposes for up to six months. If you need to come to the UK frequently, you can apply for a visa that is valid for up to ten years. You can visit the UK as often as you like whilst the visa is valid providing each visit does not last longer than six months.

Find out whether you need a visa on the Visa services website.

You can also contact your nearest UK embassy for information on British Citizenship on the GOV.UK website.

Preventing illegal working

You should check the entitlement to work in the UK of every worker you plan to employ. If you fail to do this and employ someone who is found to be an illegal worker, you may face a civil penalty, an unlimited fine and/or a criminal conviction if you are found to be knowingly employing an illegal migrant worker.

See our guide on ensuring your workers are eligible to work in the UK.

You can also use our interactive tool to check if your workers are eligible to work in the UK.