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Last week I had the privilege of addressing 100 or so members of the UK's growing tech community. It was a really interesting and energised group, working on everything from virtual reality to innovative marketing.

It was also diverse in terms of experience. The larger portion of the audience consisted of tech whizzes from outside the EU, trying to understand how they can stay in the UK and ply their trade. We also had company founders, HR managers and investors.

The question then was -- how can you help a diverse group understand the visa system, whether in a ten-minute slot or in this blog? I decided to use the investment life cycle, a useful chart I found about six years ago.


Stages of the investment life cycle and immigration

The investment life cycle taught me that entrepreneurs start in what some call, ominously, the valley of death. Others call it sweat stage. This is where you are living hand to mouth, spending more money than is being brought in.

The UK visa system doesn't cater for every foreign entrepreneur during sweat stage. The government doesn't want to give free reign to everyone who can claim to have a good business idea. They do however cater for some with the Graduate Entrepreneur visa.

Graduate Entrepreneur status is available for two years to people who have completed their studies here and want to start a business. As always there is a control, and those young entrepreneurs need to be endorsed by a university. Can any university endorse them? No, but the list is pretty long.

Those who survive the valley of death can then move on to the Entrepreneur visa category. There are three main requirements here:

1. Funding: Normally £200k but you can rely on £50k from a prescribed investor (e.g. a seed competition) or from any legitimate source if you are switching from the graduate entrepreneur visa.

2. Genuineness: The Home Office does not want people masquerading as entrepreneurs to use the category. Be prepared to show your credentials and your business plan.

3. Job creation: Not an unreasonable requirement. The Home Office wants to see you are creating jobs before they extend your stay or give you a settlement.

As a company begins to scale up, possibly becoming a lifestyle business, it may need overseas expertise. That is where sponsorship comes in.

Companies can sponsor non-EU workers where there are no suitable resident workers available. First time around this can be a slow and cumbersome process -- to begin with you need a sponsor licence and the application can take one to three months to compile, submit and have considered. You are then looking at a two to nine weeks wait for a Certificate of Sponsorship or visa.

Once you have the licence things can move more quickly although you will normally need to advertise any permanent roles for 28 days before you can recruit from overseas. You might again need to wait two to nine weeks for a Certificate of Sponsorship and visa if the person is not in the UK.

Then we get to the people who really have made it, those who achieve a steep gazelle curve on the investment life cycle. If you are willing and able to invest £2,000,000 in the UK you can get an Investor visa and then permanent residence in five years. If you invest more it can be accelerated--£5,000,000 means permanent residence in three years, £10,000,000 gets you there in two years. 

Personally, I would just buy an island somewhere and create my own visa system.

Last of all we have the Tech Nation visa. This is for the most exceptionally talented people in tech, whether on the coding or the business side (or both).

I'll write more about tech nation next week -- it deserves a piece by itself. But, essentially, if you are a leading person in your sector or think you could be a leading person, you can apply for an endorsement from Tech City. If their experts agree you can then apply to stay in the UK on that basis.

The UK system doesn't capture everyone who wants to stay and work in tech. But you have a decent chance of finding an option if you understand where you are against the investment life cycle.

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