Can a Company Shareholder get a UK Business or Work Visa?
If you are an entrepreneur or part of a start-up business it is easy to get caught out by the UK immigration rules on company shareholdings and business and work visas. If you don’t think mistakes can be made on visa applications then look no further than the recent example of the tennis star, Novak Djokovic. As immigration rules are complex and applications are time consuming it is best to speak to your immigration solicitors about the complexities of company shareholdings and UK business and work visas.
UK Online and London Immigration Solicitors
Immigration and shareholdings
If you are seeking UK entry clearance on a work visa or business visa you’ll need to know if the immigration rules prevent you from owning shares, or limit your share ownership, in the UK based company that you are in business with or working for. Whilst no one is interested in whether you hold shares in Shell, Unilever or Tesco’s (to name but a few listed stock) it does become an issue if you are a shareholder in the company that you are going to be employed by on a skilled worker visa or where you are helping to set up the UK branch of the business on a sole representative visa.
You may think that job applicants won't get shares in an employer company but you would be surprised at how often entrepreneurs and start-ups use shares in the company as an inducement to get the best in the field skilled migrant workers to join them.
UK company owners need a Home Office sponsor licence to sponsor a skilled worker visa applicant. The visa applicant needs to have been offered a job that has a government standard occupation code and one that pays the minimum salary threshold to meet the eligibility criteria for the skilled worker visa. Offering shares at a later stage of employment won't help meet the minimum salary threshold. However, if the applicant already has a significant shareholding in the UK company that may flag up a question as to whether the job vacancy is really genuine.
The immigration rules on skilled worker visas don’t say that a visa applicant can't hold shares in an employer company. Some UK company owners and sponsor licence holders don’t realise this because under the pre-December 2020 work visa rules for Tier 2 (General) visa applications there was a limit of a ten percent shareholding in the sponsor licence holder company.
Sponsorship Licence lawyers say that whilst the strict ten percent shareholding rules don’t apply to skilled worker visas its best to head off questions if a job applicant holds shares in a UK company that plans to be their sponsoring employer so Home Office officials are satisfied that the job the shareholder is filling is a genuine vacancy.
A discussion with your Sponsorship Licence lawyers can help your immigration lawyer, and in turn the Home Office, understand the specialist skills or other attributes the shareholder enjoys and that make the shareholder attractive as a sponsored employee and justifies their skilled worker visa.
Start-up visas and innovator visas
The start-up visa and innovator visa are designed for entrepreneurs looking to set up business in the UK. If a start-up visa or innovator visa applicant doesn’t hold or plan to hold shares in a new company structure that they are using as the vehicle for their start-up or innovator visa business then that would raise questions about their commitment to their planned venture as it needs to be an innovative, viable and scalable business in the UK.
Sole representative visas
The sole representative visa is for relatively senior employees of overseas based companies that are looking to set up a subsidiary company or a company base in the UK. Immigration solicitors say they are receiving increased numbers of enquiries about the sole representative visa as EU and non-EEA companies are interested in setting up a base in the UK with the advantages of the UK being out of the EU but in close proximity to EU countries.
One of the sole representative visa eligibility criteria issues has historically been the senior employee chosen as the sole representative holding shares in the overseas parent company. That’s because, with many smaller or niche overseas companies, the chosen sole representative is a major shareholder as the company believes their UK sole representative needs to completely understand the overseas business to be able to replicate the model in the UK.
The sole representative visa eligibility criteria say the sole representative applicant should not hold more than a fifty percent shareholding in the overseas parent company. If the sole representative visa applicant holds any shares its best to take specialist legal advice from business immigration lawyers. That’s because the Home Office will want to be satisfied that the sole representative doesn’t control more than fifty percent of the overseas company, either through a trust arrangement or other structure or family arrangement.
In addition, if the sole representative successfully sets up a subsidiary company in the UK the shares in the subsidiary can't be owned by the sole representative. That’s because the shares have to be owned by the overseas parent company. That means the overseas parent company can't reward the sole representative with shares in the UK company for their hard work in the UK, although, depending on the size of their shareholding in the overseas parent company, there is potential for their shares in the overseas company to be increased.
Shares and visas
The immigration rules on shares and visas depend on your visa application but even specialist immigration solicitors say that the rules can be complicated and confusing if you aren’t used to the intricacies. If you are in any doubt about shares and immigration rules talk to the immigration experts and get legal advice on your immigration application.
UK Online and London Based Immigration Solicitors