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UK Self-employed Visas

Last updated: 1 September 2022

Under the current UK immigration rules, there is no self-employed visa route for overseas ‘freelancers’ who wish to come to the UK and work without an offer of sponsorship from a UK employer. However, there are visas available to overseas nationals who want to work in self-employment in the UK without holding a sponsored job, including the High Potential Individual visa and the Global Talent visa, but both of these routes have eligibility requirements to meet and limitations that applicants should be aware of. For overseas self-employed business owners who wish to launch and run a business in the UK, they can also consider Start-up visa and Innovator visa.

In the past, UK visas such as the Tier 1 Investor visa and the Entrepreneur visa provided self-employed opportunities. However, both routes are now closed to new applications. In this article, we will explain UK visas that you can consider as a 'self-employed' visa and their requirements.

High Potential Individual visa

The High Potential Individual (HPI) visa is for overseas nationals who have graduated from a top university3 outside of the UK in the last 5 years. Applicants must have graduated at the equivalent level of a UK bachelor’s degree, UK postgraduate degree, or UK Ph.D. or doctorate. While not a dedicated UK self-employed visa, the HPI visa allows holders to work, look for work, and be self-employed.

HPI visa applicants must meet the English language requirements and have sufficient support funds (£1270 held in their bank account for 28 consecutive days before they apply). The English language requirement will be met if your course was taught in English or if you have passed an approved English test at CEFR level B1.

If granted an HPI visa, you will be able to stay for 2 years (or 3 years if you have a Ph.D. or other doctoral qualification. It is not possible to extend an HPI visa (or apply for settlement), but you can switch to another visa, such as a start-up, innovator, or skilled worker visa, which will allow you to do so.

You can check more information about the requirements on our High Potential Individual Visa page

Global Talent visa

The Global Talent visa is for overseas nationals who are considered to be leaders or potential leaders in the fields of academia or research, arts and culture, or digital technology. Again, while not strictly a dedicated UK visa for self-employed individuals, the Global Talent visa allows holders to work or be self-employed.

Global Talent visa applicants must be endorsed as a leader or potential leaders by an approved endorsing body. Those with certain prestigious awards4 can also apply without endorsement.

If your Global Talent visa application is successful, you will be able to stay for up to 5 years, and this can be further extended. It is also possible to gain indefinite leave to remain (ILR) after 3 or 5 years as a Global Talent visa holder.

You can check more information about the requirements on our Global Talent Visa page

Start up visa

The Start-up visa is intended for self-employed overseas nationals who wish to come to the UK to establish a new innovative business. The business idea must be endorsed by an approved endorsing body1 as being innovative, viable, and scalable within the relevant intended business sector. Applicants must also:

  • Not previously established a business in the UK
  • Meet the English language requirements (read, write, speak and understand English to CEFR level B2), and
  • Have held at least £1270 in support funds in your bank account for 28 consecutive days before you apply.

Start-up visas are issued for a maximum of 2 years. However, they cannot be further extended. Start-up visa holders who wish to stay beyond 2 years may be eligible for the Innovator visa (see below).

You can check more information about the requirements on our Start-up Visa page

Innovator visa

The Innovator visa is for self-employed overseas nationals who want to establish and run an innovative business in the UK. Applicants must receive an endorsement that their business idea is new, innovative, and viable from an approved UK endorsing body2.

Applicants who wish to set up a new business in the UK must have at least £50,000 in investment funds (this is not necessary if you have already established your business as a Start-up visa holder). Innovator visa applicants must meet the English language and support funds requirements outlined above for the Start-up visa.

If you are successful in gaining an Innovator visa, it will be granted for 3 years, after which you can choose to extend your visa for a further 3 years or apply for indefinite leave to remain.

You can check more information about the requirements on our Innovator Visa page

Can you be self-employed with a Skilled Worker visa?

The Skilled Worker visa is for those with an offer of an eligible job from a UK employer with a sponsor licence. It may be possible, however, to carry out supplementary work as a self-employed person as long as you adhere to the Skilled Worker visa rules (or Tier 2 visa work restrictions).

The rules state that in addition to the job specified on your Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS), as a Skilled Worker holder, you can do extra work as long as it is:

  • In a job in the Shortage Occupation List or a job in the same occupation code as your sponsored job.
  • For no more than 20 hours a week.
  • Outside the working hours for your main sponsored job.

If you meet the requirements for supplementary work, you do not need to inform or gain permission from the Home Office. It is also important to note that you cannot start your own business and work for that business as a self-employed person, as this would breach the Skilled Worker visa rules. We recommend seeking the guidance of an immigration solicitor before taking up supplementary self-employed work as a Skilled Worker visa holder.

References

1 GOV.UK: Endorsing bodies for start ups

2 GOV.UK: Endorsing bodies for innovators

3 GOV.UK: HPI visa eligibility

4 GOV.UK: Global talent eligible prize list

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