The rules relating to business immigration changed once again in April 2022. In another alleged bid to simplify the immigration rules, the Home Office has introduced the Global Mobility visa which encompasses five categories, two of which replace existing routes. The feeling amongst many immigration practitioners is that this is simply yet another rebranding exercise which does not quite hit the mark.
One of the categories being replaced is the sole representative of an overseas business category.
Whilst the sole representative category may have been underused, it did facilitate UK expansion for overseas companies with no presence in the UK. The sole representative category was an unsponsored route and was relatively attractive in that it allowed dependent family members to join the main applicant and could lead to indefinite leave to remain in the UK (ILR) after five years.
The sole representative category has now been replaced by the UK Expansion Worker route. This is, quite inexplicably, a sponsored route. This means that the overseas business will need a ‘footprint’ in the UK in order to apply for a sponsor licence to bring an expansion worker to the UK. Applying at the right time, when a company has a footprint but no a trading presence, will be crucial.
An overseas business should be granted a provisional licence if there is no one in the UK able to run the licence, which presumably will quite often be the case where there is only a footprint. The proposed migrant themselves will then be responsible for maintaining the licence and assigning themself a Certificate of Sponsorship to support their visa application. Once the UK Expansion Worker is in the UK, they will need to request the licence to be upgraded from the provisional status. Following the success of this request, the overseas business will then be able to send a maximum of up to four further expansion workers to the UK.
Under the previous category, an overseas business was only ever permitted to have one sole representative in the UK. The Home Office therefore sees the increased number of permitted workers to be more generous. However, in practice, it is quite likely that the request to upgrade a licence will be subject to lengthy waiting times which may not support the business’ needs or the projections of a business plan.
There are stricter requirements in relation to the overseas business trading history and the proposed UK expansion, which must include establishing a UK trading presence within two years. If a trading presence is not established within two years, the business’ licence can be revoked. How the Home Office plans to keep track of a business’ progress is yet to be seen.
A significant disadvantage of the new route is that it is no longer a route to ILR. A UK Expansion Worker will only be granted immigration permission for a maximum of two years. If the business has established a trading presence, and applies for and is granted a Skilled Worker licence, the UK Expansion Worker could switch into this category if they met the relevant requirements. The Skilled Worker category is a five year route to ILR, though an individual switching could not rely on the time already spent in the UK under the UK Expansion Worker route.
It remains to be seen how attractive or effective the UK Expansion Worker route is for overseas businesses seeking to establish a branch in the UK.