HNWI Immigration in the UK: Where do we stand? - Boodle Hatfield

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09 Apr 2024

HNWI Immigration in the UK: Where do we stand?

Despite the shock closure of the Tier 1 (Investor) route to new applicants in February 2022, the UK remains an attractive destination for HNW and UHNW migrants for a multitude of reasons, including its relative stability and access to high quality amenities such as schooling.

The closure of the Tier 1 (Investor) route came in the context of the Russo-Ukraine war and was widely considered to be motivated by the same considerations as the broader sanctions’ regime. In particular, the UK government cited concerns about the source of a number of Russian Tier 1 (Investor) migrants, including Roman Abramovich, who were granted Tier 1 (Investor) visas between 2008 and 2015, when the checks on source of wealth were far less rigorous. The closure of the route however, impacted HNW migrants of all nationalities.

The latest migration figures indicate an increase in the number of Russian migrants using the Skilled Worker route, suggesting the trend of Russian HNW migration to the UK, as well as migration from other regions including South Africa and the United States, is experiencing a resurgence. Whilst the Tier 1 (Investor) route offered a ‘one size fits all’ solution to suit a variety of HNWIs, migrants in the post-Investor landscape have to think carefully about which visa route is best suited to their individual circumstances. This article demystifies four possible immigration routes to settlement in the UK for HNWIs and their families.

Skilled Worker Visa
The Skilled Worker visa (formally the Tier 2 (General) route) allows HNWIs to come to the UK as sponsored employees. The HNWI will need to be sponsored by a UK entity with a Skilled Worker sponsor licence. This route works for senior executives relocating to the UK to take on a new role in a UK company. 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 route can also be used to allow a business owner to work for their own UK entity, provided that entity applies successfully for a Skilled Worker sponsor licence and can demonstrate that there is a role within the UK business for the business owner, which is central to its operations. To obtain a sponsor licence, 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.

The Skilled Worker route can lead 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
Unlike the Skilled Worker route, under the Expansion Worker route there is no requirement to already have a UK-based employee or director to obtainan Expansion Worker sponsor licence. Instead, the HNWI coming to the UK, can themselves take on responsibility of Authorising Officer, providing valuable flexibility.

The Expansion Worker route works best for HNW businesspeople 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 individual to be the ‘first feet on the ground’ in terms of establishing the UK entity. An Expansion Worker can bring their partner and minor children to the UK as dependants.

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 long-term trajectory is for the UK entity to apply for a Skilled Worker sponsor licence as soon as a UK employee or director is appointed, and for the Expansion Worker to switch into this immigration route.

Innovator Founder Visa
The Innovator Founder route allows an entrepreneur to come to the UK to put a new business idea into practice. This route requires an endorsement from a ‘business endorsing body’. These bodies confirm to the Home Office that the entrepreneur’s proposed venture is new, innovative, viable and saleable. The Home Office grants the visa based on this endorsement.

The route works best for serial entrepreneurs looking to establish a new business in the UK. An Innovator Founder can bring their partner and minor children to the UK as their dependants.

The Innovator Founder Visa provides 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 or until the settlement criteria are met.

Global Talent Visa
This route also relies on the applicant applying for an endorsement to an industry-specific endorsing body but provides significant flexibility, as a successful applicant can come to the UK without a job offer and pursue their interests within their field of talent, through employment or self employment.

This 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. They can bring their partner and minor children to the UK as their dependants. 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.

Specific considerations for Russian migrants
Visa processing for Russian migrants has not been formally suspended but applicants are likely to experience significant delays both in terms of availability of appointments, and increased processing times. These delays are affecting both entry clearance applications and in-country extension applications. For this reason, there is an increased need for forward planning when assisting Russian HNWIs with applications in any of the routes outlined above.

Whilst the closure of the Tier 1 (Investor) route had significant knock-on effects on HNWI immigration to the UK, there are a plethora of options available to HNW migrants wishing to capitalise on the UK’s attractiveness as a location for individuals and businesses from across the globe.

This article was first published in the Family Office Magazine in April 2024.