On 11 April 2022, amidst one the biggest overhauls to the UK immigration system, the Home Office closed the Sole Representative visa. At the same time the UK closed the Sole Representative visa, it also ushered in its place the new immigration route: Global Business Mobility – UK Expansion Worker.

Overview of the Expansion Worker Visa

The UK Expansion Worker Visa is in many ways a revamped version of the Sole Representative visa as it allows senior managers and specialist employees to be assigned to the UK temporarily to undertake work related to the expansion of an overseas business in the UK.

The UK Expansion Worker route can only be used when the UK business has not yet started trading but, is required to have a UK "footprint" such as a UK business premises or that it is registered with Companies House as either an overseas company branch or a subsidiary of the overseas linked business. It is important to note that if the business is already trading in the UK, applicants should apply for a Global Business Mobility – Senior or Specialist Worker Visa instead.

To qualify for the UK Expansion Worker Visa, applicants must be:

  • Currently working for a business or organisation that is linked to their UK sponsor by common ownership or control
  • Have worked outside the UK for the linked business or organisation for a cumulative period of at least 12 months, unless they earn at least £73,900 per year or are a Japanese national (the exemption is facilitated by the UK-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement)
  • Have a valid Certificate of Sponsorship issued by the UK branch or subsidiary
  • The job the applicant is planning to do is genuine
  • The job the applicant is planning to do is skilled to at least RQF Level 6 (graduate equivalent)
  • The applicant's salary will at least be £42,400 per year or the 'going rate' for the job

To apply for the Expansion Worker visa, an online application must be completed and submitted along with supporting documentation. After which, the applicant will need to attend an appointment at a visa application centre to give their biometric information such as photographs and fingerprints. If the application is made outside the UK, one can expect to get a decision within 3 weeks.

Often, many assume that this route is only available to CEOs or managers, but there are hundreds of job titles that qualify for the UK Expansion Worker. For instance, this visa is eligible to investment bankers, physical or biological scientists, engineers, programmers and software developers, medical professionals, nurses, midwives, teaching professionals, solicitors, surveyors, librarians, and so on. If you are unsure if your job qualifies for this route, we suggest reaching out to experts to gain clarification.

Overview of the Sole Representative Visa

The former Sole Representative of an Overseas Business visa allowed foreign businesses to send a senior employee to the UK in order to set up a branch company and expand into the UK market. To qualify for this program, there were specific requirements for the applicant and the overseas company had to meet. The overseas company had to be:

  • An active and trading overseas business
  • Have and intend to maintain its headquarters and principal place of business outside the UK
  • Have no other active branch, subsidiary or representative in the UK
  • Intend to establish a registered branch or wholly owned subsidiary in the UK that will actively trade in the same business activity as the overseas business
  • Not appoint the sole representative mainly for the purpose of facilitating the entry or stay of the sole representative in the UK

Separately, the applicant for this route was required to demonstrate that they:

  • Are a genuine representative of an overseas business
  • Are an existing senior employee of the overseas business
  • Have the skills, experience and knowledge of the business necessary to establish an overseas presence
  • Have full authority to negotiate and take operational decisions
  • intend to work full-time as a representative of the overseas business
  • Do not intend to engage in business of their own or work for any other business
  • Do not have a majority stake in, or otherwise own or control, a majority of the overseas business, whether that ownership or control is by means of a shareholding, partnership agreement, sole proprietorship or any other arrangement
  • Can show English language ability to at least CEFR Level A1

Reasons for Replacing the Sole Representative Visa

The UK government has not issued an official statement as to why the visa was replaced however, the new Global Mobility Routes are intended to contribute to the government's New Plan for Immigration to attract more foreign talent.

With the introduction of the Expansion Worker visa, five employees can now be brought to the UK compared to just one under the Sole Representative visa hence, allowing UK businesses to bring more highly skilled people to the UK.

Additionally, the Expansion Worker visa requires employees to be paid a minimum salary respective of their job title which means that these jobs will be a competitive option for employees, further attracting global talent.

What are the key differences?

There are several key changes to the program that interested applicants should take note of.

  1. Permanent residency – Unlike the Sole Representative visa, the Expansion Worker visa is not a route to UK permanent residency and the time spent on this route does not count towards the length of stay required for permanent residency. However, once the company has begun trading as a UK entity employees can then switch to a Skilled Worker visa which does lead to settlement.
  1. Length of Stay - With the Sole Representative visa, employees could stay for a total of five years. Under the UK Expansion Worker visa, employees can now only stay for an initial 12 months with the option of a 12-month extension. The maximum length of stay on this visa is only 2 years.
  1. Sponsorship - Whilst its predecessor was an unsponsored route, anyone applying for a UK Expansion Worker visa must have a valid Certificate of Sponsorship from the UK branch or subsidiary. This means that the new business in the UK will need to apply for, and be granted, a sponsor license before any applicants can apply for this visa.
  1. Number of workers – The UK Expansion Worker visa allows overseas businesses to send up to five workers at any one time which is significantly different from the Sole Representative visa which only permitted a single worker.
  1. Ownership - The requirement that representatives must own less than 50% of the shares in the overseas company has been removed.
  1. Employee Salary Requirements – With the Sole Representative visa, the applicant's salary merely had to be appropriate for a senior employee in the business and relatively higher than other employees' salaries. However, the new route requires applicants to be paid a minimum of £42,400 per year or the 'going rate' for their job (whichever is higher).
  1. Employee minimum terms – Applicants under the new route must show that they have worked for the overseas parent company for at least 12 months before the application is made unless they earn over £73,900 or they are a Japanese national doing work for a Japanese company that is expanding to the UK.

With several notable changes to the program, it is important to ensure any interested parties seek professional legal advice on the program. If you are a senior employee or an overseas business looking to expand into the UK market and would like further advice or information on how to obtain a sponsorship license or the UK Expansion Worker, please contact us.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.