Improved visa routes are an important way of attracting foreign investment into the UK but many of the government’s initiatives have proved expensive and onerous. So how will the Global Business Mobility visa fare? Fieldfisher’s head of immigration Joanna Hunt is optimistic but concerns linger over the sponsor application process.
From 11 April, the government is launching a new visa route for international businesses who want to relocate workers to the UK. The Global Business Mobility visa will create a single sponsored visa route that will bring together, reform and rebrand a number of existing visas.
One of the new categories within the Global Business Mobility category is the UK Expansion Worker route. It will replace the Representative of the Overseas Business visa (commonly known as the ‘sole rep’ visa), and will be the first port of call for companies looking to expand into the UK market and need to send specialist or senior workers to assist with set up.
The good news….
For anyone familiar with the sole rep visa, the good news is that the UK Expansion Worker visa does improve on it in a number of key aspects. Firstly, as the name suggests, the sole rep visa only allowed an overseas business to send one worker initially into the UK to help grow the business. Now, the UK Expansion Worker will allow a business to send a team of workers into the UK, provided they all meet the visa’s criteria, providing a company with much more flexibility and a potential higher rate of growth with more boots on the ground.
The sole rep visa was also quite a cumbersome visa application process, involving the submission of bundles of evidence demonstrating the company’s business case for its expansion plans and the sole rep’s skills and experience. In comparison, the eligibility requirements for the UK Expansion Worker are much more straightforward. The workers will need to have been employed overseas with the company for at least 12 months before they transfer into the UK, unless they are a high earner with a salary in the UK of at least £73,900. The job roles in the UK will need to be sufficiently highly skilled and the salaries for the roles will need to be above £42,400 or the going rate for the job whichever is the higher.
And the not so good news….
The streamlining of the application process comes at a price. Companies wanting to expand into the UK and use this route will need to apply for a sponsor licence before sending workers into the UK. Sponsorship is not a new concept to the UK visa system. Most of the work-based visas now require a UK company to have a licence before they can bring foreign workers into the UK. The sponsor licence application usually requires a company to make an application to the UK government demonstrating that they are a bona fide trading entity and presenting evidence of this, such as corporate bank accounts or VAT registration certificates.
The issue with the UK expansion worker is that a company looking to use the route will not have a presence in the UK so may have very little evidence to demonstrate that they have a footprint in the country. The success of the route therefore lies in what evidence a company, who is in the early stages of their expansion plans, will need to show to obtain their sponsor licence.
The government has in the past insisted companies have a UK FCA approved bank account to get a sponsor licence which often takes months to obtain. If evidence such as this is required for the UK Expansion Worker route it will stifle expansion plans significantly.
The Home Office has promised that the sponsor licence process for the UK Expansion Worker visa will be light touch and it is to be hoped that evidence required will not be too onerous or unrealistic. There should be further guidance on the sponsor licence application process released shortly.
The other major issue with the UK Expansion worker visa is the time limits placed on the visa holder. The Sole Rep visa was extendable and allowed a visa holder to apply for settlement after five years in the UK. The UK Expansion Worker in comparison will only be granted for one year at a time up to a maximum of two years.
The government’s thinking behind this is that two years should allow companies sufficient time to start trading, at which point the workers can move onto more long-term visa options such as the Skilled Worker visa which will allow settlement in the UK. The UK Expansion Worker sponsor licence should be easily transferable to these routes as well.
This time limit does place a significant amount of pressure on a business to sufficiently grow its trading presence to enable workers to move onto other visa categories when there could be other factors at play which may negatively impact growth plans. When the aim of the route is to encourage investment into the UK, this pressure seems rather unnecessary and may ultimately discourage businesses from deciding to set up in the UK.
More information is needed on the process and particularly the costs involved but if the sponsor licence application is as light touch as promised, then the UK Expansion Worker could make life easier for companies looking to invest into the UK. The ability to send teams into the UK is certainly more in step with the way modern businesses operate. There is therefore potential for the UK Expansion Worker to be a genuine success story rather than another example of a government visa rebranding exercise.