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Immigration and visas

There are different types of visa and immigration requirements to consider as a business or individual who wants to relocate to or invest in Scotland. Find out what your options are if you want to move to Scotland to work or locate your business in Scotland.

Business visas in Scotland 

Scotland is governed by the same visa rules and legislation as the rest of the UK. There are a number of special business visa categories to ensure Scotland remains a competitive destination for investment. 
Depending on the reason for coming to Scotland, there are a number of options open to people who require a UK visa. 
Some options are short term and allow for visits to Scotland to search for investment and business opportunities. Other options are more permanent and allow for longer term permanent relocation of key investors and staff. 

Who needs to apply for a visa before travelling to Scotland? 

Some nationalities need to apply for a visa before travelling to Scotland.  

You can check if you need a UK visa opens in a new window  on GOV.UK.  

Visa applications are made at UK visa application centres opens in a new window .

There are more than 200 visa application centres worldwide. Priority processing is offered in over 100 of the centres and usually takes between three and seven days.  

A super priority visa service is also available in several countries – this provides a decision within 24 hours. 
Certain types of visa can, over time, lead to permanent residence in the UK – also known as indefinite leave to remain – or eventually British citizenship. 

Support from TalentScotland 

TalentScotland is a project run by Scottish Enterprise, Scottish Development International and Highlands and Islands Enterprise. For companies planning to relocate to or set up in Scotland, TalentScotland can offer support and guidance on the visa options available to businesses, including employing or transferring international talent. 

Business visas for overseas businesses and investors

The Visitor visa route allows you to visit and take steps in relation to your future business. As a business or investor in Scotland, you can obtain a short-term visitor visa for business purposes. This can include: 

  • Arranging and negotiating business deals
  • Meeting suppliers and contacts
  • Viewing potential sites or premises
  • Negotiating contracts 

As a holder of a Visitor visa, you can usually stay a maximum of six months in any 12-month period, though they are not designed for holders to stay more than a few weeks at a time. However, the visa does not allow you to work (either paid or unpaid) in Scotland or the rest of the UK while you're visiting. 

Those coming to the UK as a visitor may need a visit visa in advance, depending on where they're travelling from. Nationals of the countries on the list available here opens in a new window must apply for a visit visa in advance. Those who do not require a full visit visa in advance are still required to comply with the permitted activities for visitors.

The UK is implementing an Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) scheme for nationalities not on the list above who currently do not require to apply for a visitor visa in advance of travelling to the UK. This is being rolled out across 2023 and 2024.

Qatari nationals will be the first to be able to apply for an ETA in October 2023 and they will need an ETA for travel to the UK from 15 November 2023. The ETA scheme will then be rolled out to further nationalities. 

It's usually recommended that those travelling to the UK as a visitor obtain a letter in support of their visit to the UK, outlining the specific tasks that they'll carry out in Scotland. This can be submitted as part of the visa application (where necessary) or showed on entry at the UK border. 

TalentScotland may be able to provide support about what to include in this letter (which would normally be issued by the business hosting you in Scotland). Get in touch for more information. 

Find full details about the Visitor visa on GOV.UKopens in a new window  

The Start-up category was for high-potential entrepreneurs who are seeking to start up a business in the UK for the first time.

This immigration route is closed to new applications but will remain open to applicants who have been issued an endorsement from an approved Start-Up Endorsing Body up to and including 12 April 2023.

Those with such an endorsement can continue to apply for their Start-Up visa for as long as their endorsement letter remains valid (usually around 3 months from the date it was issued). the last date to apply under the Start-Up Route is 12 July 2023 (and the relevant date may be earlier for some applicants as all Start Up applicants must ensure that they apply whilst their enforcement letter is still valid).

The Start-up visa will be issued for a period of two years. Towards the end of this period, applicants will be able to apply to switch into another category of visa, such as the Innovator or Skilled Worker category.

Find full details about the Start-up visa on GOV.UK opens in a new window

This route closed to new applicants from 13 April 2023.

Applicants who had received an endorsement letter from an Innovator Endorsing Body up to 12 April 2023, can use this endorsement to apply under the Innovator Founder Route for as long as the endorsing letter remains valid, and they otherwise meet the requirements of the Innovator Founder Route.

Towards the end of an individual's existing Innovator visa, they will need to either apply to settle in the UK (if they qualify), or meet the requirements of, and switch into the Innovator Founder route, or another visa category.

Find full details about the Innovator visa on GOV.UK opens in a new window

As of 11 April 2022, the Sole Representative of an Overseas Business visa is closed to new applicants.

However, those already in the UK under this visa route before that date may still be able to extend their visa to remain in the UK under this category. 

A new 'Expansion Worker' Global Business Mobility route has been introduced to replace the sole representative of an overseas business visa. Please see GOV.UK for further details on this route, including who's eligible. 

Find full details about the Expansion Worker Global Business Mobility Route opens in a new window  on GOV.UK. 

Find full details on extending a Representative of an Overseas Business visa opens in a new window  on GOV.UK.

You may be eligible for a Global Talent visa if you work in a qualifying field and meet the relevant criteria to get endorsement from an approved endorser. 

Each endorser will have their own criteria which explains how you qualify as either a recognised leader (exceptional talent) or an emerging leader (exceptional promise) in the following fields: 

  • Academia or research
  • Arts and culture
  • Digital technology 

Find full details about the Global Talent visa and approved endorsers opens in a new window  on GOV.UK. 

The Investor visa (Tier 1) closed to new applicants on 17 February 2022. However, the route does remain open for extensions for those already under the UK under this route. 

If you successfully applied for this visa before its closure and invested at least £2 million in qualifying share capital or loan capital in active UK companies, you may be able to apply to extend your visa to remain in the UK. 

Find full details about extending this visa opens in a new window  on GOV.UK.

Permanent residence

After you’ve been in Scotland for five years on the Investor visa, you can apply for indefinite leave to remain to settle permanently in Scotland. If you invested a higher amount of money, such as £5,000,000 or £10,000,000, you may be eligible to apply for permanent residency sooner than the standard five-year timeframe. 

Find full details about settling in Scotland opens in a new window  on GOV.UK. 

This route replaced the Start-Up and Innovator visa routes.

The Innovator Founder route is for those individuals with an innovative, viable and scalable business idea they have generated, or to which they have significantly contributed. You must have a business plan and have a day-to-day role in carrying out that plan. You must be the sole founder or an instrumental member of the founding team of the business.

Your business idea will require to be endorsed by one of the Home Office's recognised Endorsing Bodies. Under this new route, there is no requirement to show initial capital of £50,000 to invest in the business.

However, the business plan must be realistic and achievable based on your 'available resources' and the endorsing body will need to confirm that there are no concerns over the legitimacy of sources of, or mode of transfer of funds and that there is no reason to believe that you or the endorsed business may be the beneficiary of illicit or otherwise unsatisfactory explained wealth.

This visa would last for a maximum of 3 years initially. Towards the end of this period, you will have the option to apply for an extension for a further three years, or to apply to settle permanently in the UK. This visa would allow you to carry out additional work in the UK for third parties providing the work is at level RQF level 3 or above.

Find out more about the Innovator Founder visa on GOV.UK opens in a new window  

This route is for those who have a job offer from a growing UK business which is a qualifying UK scale-up and who will:

  • Doing a role which is an eligible occupation (roles which are highly skilled only)
  • Paid the relevant minimum salary or the going rate for the job, whichever is higher (the minimum salary for this route is £34,600)

Those with a Scale-up visa will be required to work in the qualifying role they are sponsored to do for their sponsor for a minimum of six months. After this initial six-month period, those with a Scale-Up visa are able to work for any employer in the UK at any skill or salary level.

However, to extend their visa or to settle in the UK, individuals must be able to evidence PAYE earnings of at least £34,600 per year for a prerequisite period or £33,000 per year if their certificate of sponsorship was assigned on or before 11 April 2023.

Bringing existing staff to Scotland

If you’re moving your business to Scotland, you may also be bringing staff with you. They’ll need their own visas to come here, and in some cases may need to be sponsored by you. The new sponsored Global Business Mobility Routes seek to assist overseas businesses looking to establish a presence in, or transfer staff to, the UK for specific business purposes.  

You can find out more about this visa route, as well as other available visa routes in our guide to understanding the immigration and visa process. This information will also be useful if you’re thinking of hiring international staff once you get to Scotland. 

Read our guide on visa routes and immigration 


Bringing your family with you 

You must apply for the required visa or permits before your family travels to Scotland and the UK in most cases. If they do not have the required documents, they can be refused entry to the UK. Immigration specialists can give you information on your personal situation.  

Check the GOV.UK page for the visa you’re interested in for more information about how to bring your family with you.  

Find out more about bringing your family with you 

Need help?

If you have any questions or want to talk with one of our advisers, we’re always ready to help.