Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment
The UK encourages foreign direct investment. With a few exceptions, the government does not discriminate between nationals and foreign individuals in the formation and operation of private companies. The Department for International Trade actively promotes direct foreign investment, and prepares market information for a variety of industries. U.S. companies establishing British subsidiaries generally encounter no special nationality requirements on directors or shareholders. Once established in the UK, foreign-owned companies are treated no differently from UK firms. The British Government is a strong defender of the rights of any British-registered company, irrespective of its nationality of ownership.
Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
Foreign ownership is limited in only a few national security-sensitive companies, such as Rolls Royce (aerospace) and BAE Systems (aircraft and defense). No individual foreign shareholder may own more than 15 percent of these companies. Theoretically, the government can block the acquisition of manufacturing assets from abroad by invoking the Industry Act 1975, but it has never done so in practice. Investments in energy and power generation require environmental approvals. Certain service activities (like radio and land-based television broadcasting) are subject to licensing. The Enterprise Act of 2002 extends powers to the UK government to intervene in mergers and acquisitions which might give rise to national security implications and into which they would not otherwise be able to intervene.
The UK requires that at least one director of any company registered in the UK must be ordinarily resident in the UK. The UK, as a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), subscribes to the OECD Codes of Liberalization, committed to minimizing limits on foreign investment.
While the UK does not have a formalized investment review body to assess the suitability of foreign investments in national security sensitive areas, an ad hoc investment review process does exist and is led by the relevant government ministry with regulatory responsibility for the sector in question (e.g., the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy who would have responsibility for review of investments in the energy sector). To date, U.S. companies have not been the target of these ad hoc reviews. The UK is currently considering revisions to its national security review process related to foreign direct investment. (https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/national-security-and-infrastructure-investment-review ).
The Government has proposed to amend the turnover threshold and share of supply tests within the Enterprise Act 2002. This is to allow the Government to examine and potentially intervene in mergers that currently fall outside the thresholds in two areas: (i) the dual use and military use sector, (ii) parts of the advanced technology sector. For these areas only, the Government proposes to lower the turnover threshold from £70 million (USD 92 million) to £1 million (USD 1.3 million) and remove the current requirement for the merger to increase the share of supply to or over 25 percent.
Other Investment Policy Reviews
The Economist’s “Intelligence Unit”, World Bank Group’s “Doing Business 2018”, and the OECD’s “Economic Forecast Summary (May 2019) have current investment policy reports for the United Kingdom:
The UK government seeks to facilitate investment by offering overseas companies access to widely integrated markets. Proactive policies encourage international investment through administrative efficiency in order to promote innovation and achieve sustainable growth. The online business registration process is clearly defined, though some types of company cannot register as an overseas firm in the UK, including partnerships and unincorporated bodies. Registration as an overseas company is only required when it has some degree of physical presence in the UK. After registering a business with the UK government body, named Companies House, overseas firms must register to pay corporation tax within three months. The process of setting up a business in the UK requires as few as thirteen days, compared to the European average of 32 days, which puts the country in first place in Europe and sixth place in the world for ease of establishing a business. As of April 2016, companies have to declare their Persons of Significant Control (PSC’s). This change in policy recognizes that individuals other than named directors can have significant influence on a company’s activity and that this information should be transparent. More information is available at this link: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-the-people-with-significant-control-requirements-for-companies-and-limited-liability-partnerships . Companies House maintains a free, publicly searchable directory, available at this link: https://www.gov.uk/get-information-about-a-company .
The UK offers a welcoming environment to foreign investors, with foreign equity ownership restrictions in only a limited number of sectors covered by the Investing Across Sectors indicators. As in all other EU member countries, foreign equity ownership in the air transportation sector is limited to 49 percent for investors from outside of the European Economic Area (EEA). Furthermore, the Industry Act (1975) enables the UK government to prohibit transfer to foreign owners of 30 percent or more of important UK manufacturing businesses, if such a transfer would be contrary to the interests of the country. While these provisions have never been used in practice, they are still included in the Investing Across Sectors indicators, as these strictly measure ownership restrictions defined in the laws.
Special Section on the British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies
The British Overseas Territories (BOTs) comprise Anguilla, British Antarctic Territory, Bermuda, British Indian Ocean Territory, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, Pitcairn Islands, St. Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, Turks and Caicos Islands, South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands, and Sovereign Base Areas on Cyprus. The BOTs retain a substantial measure of responsibility for their own affairs. Local self-government is usually provided by an Executive Council and elected legislature. Governors or Commissioners are appointed by the Crown on the advice of the British Foreign Secretary, and retain responsibility for external affairs, defense, and internal security. However, the UK imposed direct rule on the Turks and Caicos Islands in August 2009 after an inquiry found evidence of corruption and incompetence. Its Premier was removed and its constitution was suspended. The UK restored Home Rule following elections in November 2012.
Many of the territories are now broadly self-sufficient. However, the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) maintains development assistance programs in St. Helena, Montserrat, and Pitcairn. This includes budgetary aid to meet the islands’ essential needs and development assistance to help encourage economic growth and social development in order to promote economic self-sustainability. In addition, all other BOTs receive small levels of assistance through “cross-territory” programs for issues such as environmental protection, disaster prevention, HIV/AIDS and child protection. The UK also lends to the BOTs as needed, up to a pre-set limit, but assumes no liability for them if they encounter financial difficulty.
Seven of the BOTs have financial centers: Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, and the Turks and Caicos Islands. These Territories have committed to the OECD’s Common Reporting Standard (CRS) for the automatic exchange of taxpayer financial account information. They are already exchanging information with the UK, and began exchanging information with other jurisdictions under the CRS from September 2017.
The OECD Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes has rated Anguilla as “partially compliant” with the internationally agreed tax standard. Although Anguilla sought to upgrade its rating in 2017, it still remains at “partially compliant” as of April 2019. The Global Forum has rated the other six territories as “largely compliant.” Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Gibraltar and the Turks and Caicos Islands have also committed in reciprocal bilateral arrangements with the UK to hold beneficial ownership information in central registers or similarly effective systems, and to provide UK law enforcement authorities with near real-time access to this information. These arrangements came into effect in June 2017.
Anguilla: Anguilla is a neutral tax jurisdiction. There are no income, capital gains, estate, profit or other forms of direct taxation on either individuals or corporations, for residents or non-residents of the jurisdiction. The territory has no exchange rate controls. Non-Anguillan nationals may purchase property, but the transfer of land to an alien includes a 12.5 percent tax.
British Virgin Islands: The government of the British Virgin Islands welcomes foreign direct investment and offers a series of incentive packages aimed at reducing the cost of doing business on the islands. This includes relief from corporation tax payments over specific periods but companies must pay an initial registration fee and an annual license fee to the BVI Financial Services Commission. Crown land grants are not available to non-British Virgin Islanders, but private land can be leased or purchased following the approval of an Alien Land Holding License. Stamp duty is imposed on transfer of real estate and the transfer of shares in a BVI company owning real estate in the BVI at a rate of 4 percent for belongers and 12 percent for non-belongers. There is no corporate income tax, capital gains tax, branch tax, or withholding tax for companies incorporated under the BVI Business Companies Act. Payroll tax is imposed on every employer and self-employed person who conducts business in BVI. The tax is paid at a graduated rate depending upon the size of the employer. The current rates are 10 percent for small employers (those which have a payroll of less than USD 150,000, a turnover of less than USD 300,000 and fewer than 7 employees) and 14 percent for larger employers. Eight percent of the total remuneration is deducted from the employee, the remainder of the liability is met by the employer. The first USD 10,000 of remuneration is free from payroll tax.
Cayman Islands: There are no direct taxes in the Cayman Islands. In most districts, the government charges stamp duty of 7.5 percent on the value of real estate at sale; however, certain districts, including Seven Mile Beach, are subject to a rate of nine percent. There is a one percent fee payable on mortgages of less than KYD 300,000, and one and a half percent on mortgages of KYD 300,000 or higher. There are no controls on the foreign ownership of property and land. Investors can receive import duty waivers on equipment, building materials, machinery, manufacturing materials, and other tools.
Falkland Islands: Companies located in the Falkland Islands are charged corporation tax at 21 percent on the first GBP one million and 26 percent for all amounts in excess of GBP one million. The individual income tax rate is 21 percent for earnings below USD 15,694 (GBP 12,000) and 26 percent above this level.
Gibraltar: The government of Gibraltar encourages foreign investment. Gibraltar has a buoyant economy with a stable currency and few restrictions on moving capital or repatriating dividends. The corporate income tax rate is 20 percent for utility, energy, and fuel supply companies, and 10 percent for all other companies. There are no capital or sales taxes. Gibraltar is currently a part of the EU and receives EU funding for projects that improve the territory’s economic development.
Montserrat: The government of Montserrat welcomes new private foreign investment. Foreign investors are permitted to acquire real estate, subject to the acquisition of an Alien Land Holding license which carries a fee of five percent of the purchase price. The government also imposes stamp and transfer fees of 2.6 percent of the property value on all real estate transactions. Foreign investment in Montserrat is subject to the same taxation rules as local investment, and is eligible for tax holidays and other incentives. Montserrat has preferential trade agreements with the United States, Canada, and Australia. The government allows 100 percent foreign ownership of businesses but the administration of public utilities remains wholly in the public sector.
St. Helena: The island of St. Helena is open to foreign investment and welcomes expressions of interest from companies wanting to invest. Its government is able to offer tax based incentives which will be considered on the merits of each project – particularly tourism projects. All applications are processed by Enterprise St. Helena, the business development agency.
Pitcairn Islands: The Pitcairn Islands have approximately 50 residents, with a workforce of approximately 29 employed in 10 full-time equivalent roles. The territory does not have an airstrip or safe harbor. Residents exist on fishing, subsistence farming, and handcrafts.
The Turks and Caicos Islands: The islands operate an “open arms” investment policy. Through the policy, the government commits to a streamlined business licensing system, a responsive immigration policy to give investment security, access to government-owned land under long-term leases, and a variety of duty concessions to qualified investors. The islands have a “no tax” status, but property purchasers must pay a stamp duty on purchases over USD 25,000. Depending on the island, the stamp duty rate may be up to 6.5 percent for purchases up to USD 250,000, eight percent for purchases USD 250,001 to USD 500,000, and 10 percent for purchases over USD500,000.
The Crown Dependencies:
The Crown Dependencies are the Bailiwick of Jersey, the Bailiwick of Guernsey and the Isle of Man. The Crown Dependencies are not part of the UK but are self-governing dependencies of the Crown. They have their own directly elected legislative assemblies, administrative, fiscal and legal systems and their own courts of law. The Crown Dependencies are not represented in the UK Parliament.
Jersey’s standard rate of corporate tax is zero percent. The exceptions to this standard rate are financial service companies, which are taxed at 10 percent, utility companies, which are taxed at 20 percent, and income specifically derived from Jersey property rentals or Jersey property development, taxed at 20 percent. VAT is not applicable in Jersey as it is not part of the EU VAT tax area.
Guernsey has a zero percent rate of corporate tax. Some exceptions include some specific banking activities, taxed at 10 percent, utility companies, which are taxed at 20 percent, Guernsey residents’ assessable income is taxed at 20 percent, and income derived from land and buildings is taxed at 20 percent
The Isle of Man’s corporate standard tax is zero percent. The exceptions to this standard rate are income received from banking business, which is taxed at 10 percent and income received from land and property in the Isle of Man which is taxed at 20 percent. In addition, a 10 percent tax rate also applies to companies who carry on a retail business in the Isle of Man and have taxable income in excess of £500,000 from that business. VAT is applicable in the Isle of Man as it is part of the EU customs territory.
This tax data is current as of April 2019.
The UK is one of the largest outward investors in the world, often protected through Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs), which have been concluded with many countries. The UK’s international investment position abroad (outward investment) increased from GBP 1,696.5 billion in 2017 to GBP 1,713.3 billion in 2018. By the end of 2018 the UK’s stock of outward FDI was GBP 1,713 billion, a 52 rise percent since 2002. The main destination for UK outward FDI is the United States, which accounted for approximately 23 percent of UK outward FDI stocks at the end of 2017. Other key destinations include the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, and Ireland which, together with the United States, account for a little under half of the UK’s outward FDI stock.
Europe and the Americas remain the dominant areas for British FDI positions abroad, accounting for 16 of the top 20 destinations for total UK outward FDI. The UK’s international investment position within the Americas was GBP 401.9 billion in 2017. This is the third largest recorded value in the time series since 2006 for the Americas. The United States, at GBP 329.3 billion, continued to be the largest destination for UK international investment positions abroad within the Americas in 2017.
The UK offers a range of incentives for companies of any nationality locating in depressed regions of the country, as long as the investment generates employment. DIT works with its partner organizations in the devolved administrations – Scottish Development International, the Welsh Government and Invest Northern Ireland – and with London and Partners and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) throughout England, to promote each region’s particular strengths and expertise to overseas investors.
Local authorities in England and Wales also have power under the Local Government and Housing Act of 1989 to promote the economic development of their areas through a variety of assistance schemes, including the provision of grants, loan capital, property, or other financial benefit. Separate legislation, granting similar powers to local authorities, applies to Scotland and Northern Ireland. Where available, both domestic and overseas investors may also be eligible for loans from the European Investment Bank.
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation
The cargo ports and freight transportation ports at Liverpool, Prestwick, Sheerness, Southampton, and Tilbury used for cargo storage and consolidation are designated as Free Trade Zones. No activities that add value to commodities are permitted within the Free Trade Zones, which are reserved for bonded storage, cargo consolidation, and reconfiguration of non-EU goods. The Free Trade Zones offer little benefit to U.S. exporters or investors, or any other non-EU exporters or investors. Questions remain as to the UK’s use of Free Trade Zones in a post-Brexit environment.
Performance and Data Localization Requirements
As of May 2018, companies operating in the UK comply with the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The UK presently intends to transpose the requirements of the GDPR into UK domestic law after the UK withdraws from the EU. The potential impact of the UK leaving the EU on the free flow of data between the EU and the UK, and the UK and United States is unknown.
The UK does not follow “forced localization” and does not require foreign IT firms to turn over source code. The Investigatory Powers Act became law in November 2016 addressing encryption and government surveillance. It permitted the broadening of capabilities for data retention and the investigatory powers of the state related to data.
The UK Government does not mandate local employment, though at least one director of any company registered in the UK must be ordinarily resident in the UK.
Immigration policy is in the midst of sweeping reforms in the UK. Freedom of movement between the UK and EU member states is likely to soon come to an end and the government is looking at a post-Brexit system that will favour high-skilled migrants. New immigration rules (HC1888) that came into effect on April 6, 2012 have wide-ranging implications for foreign employees, primarily affecting businesses looking to sponsor migrants under Tier 2 as well as migrants looking to apply for settlement in the UK. In particular, the UK Government has introduced a 12-month cooling off period for Tier 2 (General) applications similar to the one that is currently in place for Tier 2 (Intra-company transfer). The effect of this is that, while those who enter the UK under Tier 2 (General) to work for one company will be able to apply in-country under Tier 2 (General) to work for another company, if they leave the UK, they will not be able to apply to re-enter the UK under a fresh Tier 2 (General) permission until twelve months after their previous Tier 2 (General) permission has expired.
These provisions represent a significant tightening of the Tier 2 requirements. One of the consequences is that, where an individual is sent to the UK on assignment under Tier 2 (Intracompany transfer), and the sponsoring company subsequently wishes to hire them permanently in the UK, they will not be able to apply either to remain in the UK under Tier 2 (General) or leave the UK and submit a Tier 2 (General) application overseas.
This change will mean that employers will have to carefully consider the long-term plans for all assignees that they send to the UK and whether Tier 2 (Intracompany transfer) is the most appropriate category. This is because, if the assignee is subsequently required in the UK on a long-term basis, it will not be possible for them to make a new application under Tier 2 (General) until at least twelve months after their Tier 2 (Intra-company transfer) permission has expired.