The Home Office has announced the closure of the Sole Representative (formally known as the Representative of an Overseas Business) visa route. The new visa for overseas businesses wanting to establish a presence in the UK is called the UK Expansion Worker visa, and although it is similar in various respects to the Sole Representative route, there are some key differences.
1. Although the company must not already have a trading presence in the UK, it must have a “footprint” - being either a Companies House registration or an agreement for business premises (previously, either of those was optional - having at least one of these is now a requirement).
2. The maximum stay in this category is 2 years - after that, the individual will either need to switch to a different visa type (e.g. ICT/Skilled Worker) or leave the UK. This visa does not lead to permanent residence.
3. It is possible to have up to 5 Expansion Workers at any time - this is a significant difference from the Sole Representative visa, which could only be held by one person.
4. There is an individual minimum salary of £42,400 per year - or higher if the job code for the particular role requires.
5. It is necessary (aside from some exceptions) to evidence the overseas business has been actively trading for the 3 years prior to the application - by way of annual accounts, bank statements, contracts for goods/services, etc.
6. Full operating costs projections for the first 12 months must be provided, together with evidence of the funds available to cover those costs.
7. It is necessary to apply for a “Provisional” Sponsor Licence from overseas prior to any individual being able to apply for their Expansion Worker visa.
For businesses, unfortunately, there is little (if any) benefit to this route over and above the previous Sole Representative system. Instead, some quite substantial additional evidential and administrative requirements have been put in place. From the Home Office perspective this is in an effort to ensure that only genuine businesses can apply for this visa type. The potential perception may be that there is an improvement by now having up to 5 migrant workers on this visa type. But in reality, since it is necessary to obtain the Provisional Sponsor Licence first and request additional Certificates of Sponsorship for further workers (beyond the first individual), this is not a particular upgrade compared with the situation previously in which the Sole Representative would obtain a Sponsor Licence in the UK and then sponsor other expatriates under either ICT or Skilled Worker.
The other negative of this new route from the migrant’s perspective may be the fact that it will not lead to permanent residence. To obtain permanent residence it will be necessary to switch into, for example, the Skilled Worker category - but the time spent on the Expansion Worker visa will not count towards the required 5 year period for permanent residence on that route.
For Japanese businesses, there are some additional benefits, as a result of the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement. Primarily these relate to the removal of some, relatively minor, burdens. For example, in relation to the removal of the 12-month previous service requirement for an Expansion Worker, and the removal of some of the evidence requirements concerning the previous trading activity of the overseas business.
At 3CS we have substantial experience in guiding our clients through complex visa requirements - as well as advising on alternative options where those may be better suited to the circumstances.
For any further assistance please contact a member of our team.