Sole Representative Visa

How the tightened Sole Representative visa rules have impacted on the application process

By Amer Zaman

on May 17, 2022

Read Time: 10 Minutes

Updates To The UK Sole Representative of an Overseas Business Visa

In May 2020, the Secretary of State announced that there were going to be changes to the Representative of an Overseas Business visa – otherwise widely known as the ‘Sole Representative visa’.

This tightening of the rules took effect from 4th June 2020. The old system was open to problems with the way it was applied, and the new rules would make the process of trying to get approved for this visa even more difficult, not least by increasing the evidential burden on the sole representative.

It has been nearly two years since the updated application process was implemented. What have the changes done to the difficulty of applying for a Sole Representative visa, and what else does a would-be applicant need to know about the process now? Below, we have explored the key questions.

What is a Sole Representative of an Overseas Business Visa?

Businesses in certain parts of the world sometimes want to set up a branch of their company in other countries. This could be because of high sales in that country, or because it gives them access to other business opportunities.

The UK set up the Sole Representative of an Overseas Business visa to allow a representative of an overseas company to come to the UK to see if setting up a branch is feasible and to get the process started.

Under the old system, the burden of proof for the visa was largely with the organisation, and required certain criteria to be met for the visa to be issued.

What were the requirements before June 2020?

The Immigration Rules set out certain criteria that both the representative and the organisation had to satisfy before the visa would be granted. Here is a brief description of those criteria.

A. ) The overseas company had to prove the following:

  • The headquarters and principal place of business was outside of the UK
  • There was no branch, office or other representatives already in the UK
  • They intended to establish a branch or subsidiary in the UK, operating in the same type of business as the overseas business
  • They intended to maintain the centre of their operations outside of the UK.

B.) Proposed representatives needed to show the following:

  • They were a senior employee in the business
  • They were recruited outside of the UK
  • They had full authority to take operational decisions on the business’s behalf
  • They didn’t hold any more than 50% shares in the business
  • They didn’t intend to take any other employment in the UK
  • They had an English language competence level of at least CEFR Level A1 (speaking and listening)
  • They were able to maintain themselves and any dependants while in the UK

C. ) In terms of evidence, the overseas organisation had to provide:

  • A full description of the company’s activities, including information about the company’s assets and accounts and the company share distribution for the previous year
  • A letter stating that the overseas company intended to set up a wholly owned subsidiary or branch in the UK with the same business activity as the parent company
  • Details of the proposed sole representative including the salary, job description and employment contract
  • A letter stating that the sole representative had the power to take operational decisions without reference to the parent company
  • A notarised statement confirming that the proposed sole representative would be the overseas business’s sole representative in the UK

Under the old rules, the sole representative only needed to provide evidence of the English language level, and that they could provide for themselves and any dependents without recourse to public funds.

What changes were made to initial Sole Representative visa applications in June 2020?

Changes made to the Sole Representative visa application concentrated on the proof that was needed to fulfil the criteria.

The overseas parent company now needed to prove the following:

  • That they were an active and trading overseas business (emphasis on them being currently active)
  • The business had and continued to have its headquarters outside the UK
  • That they had no active branch or other representative in the UK
  • That they were intending to establish and operate a branch or wholly owned subsidiary in the UK that would be operating in the same type of business as the parent company and was not simply facilitating the entry and stay of the sole representative
  • That it intended to maintain the centre of its operations overseas

With regard to the Sole Representative, the following now has to be genuinely the case:

  • They must not have a majority stake in or otherwise control the overseas business they are representing in any way. This includes shareholding, a partnership agreement or any other arrangement
  • They must intend to be employed full-time as a representative of the overseas business
  • They must have the skills, knowledge and experience of the overseas business that is necessary in order to undertake the role of Sole Representative of that business in the UK
  • They must not engage in business of their own or represent the interest of any other business in the UK
  • They must have been recruited by the overseas company as an employee outside of the UK
  • They must be an existing senior employee of the overseas company
  • They must be competent in the English language to a minimum of CEFR Level A1 in both speaking and listening
  • They must be able to maintain and accommodate themselves and their dependents while in the UK

The spouse, civil partner, unmarried or same-sex partner of the Sole Representative now also has to meet the following requirement just like the Sole Representative:

  • They must not have a majority stake in or control the overseas business they are representing in any way. This includes shareholding, a partnership agreement or any other arrangement

However, there appears to be no rule that says they cannot have a majority share between them.

An increase in the burden of proof

With the introduction of the new rules, there has been an increase in the burden of proof for not only overseas organisations, but Sole Representatives as well.

In the ‘Representative of an Overseas Business’ document that was published on October 2021, it states that:

“You will not need to take these actions for most applicants and will only do so when you have some reason to doubt their eligibility”.

Some of the reasons that the Home Office may become concerned about an application would include any “overseas business [that] has only a small number of staff or trading premises” or “the overseas business only has a trading presence in one other country and no track record of international expansion”.

Another possible warning mentioned is if there is “little evidence of the overseas business’s trading presence and business activities (whether physical or internet-based)”.

Possible concerns are also listed against the Sole Representative if “the applicant has previous activity in the UK that is not related to the business they now represent, or there is some similar reason to doubt they will only work in accordance the conditions of their permission”.

However, the document does clarify that “These reasons will not automatically indicate a lack of genuineness in every case, and therefore are to be regarded as indicators of a need to obtain further information rather than as grounds for refusal in themselves. The above list is not exhaustive and if you have any other reasons to doubt eligibility then you should make additional enquiries”.

What changes were made to Sole Representative visa Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) applications from October 2021?

When the Immigration Rules were changed on 6th October 2021, there was an overhaul of the requirements for representatives of an overseas business that affected their qualification for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR).

Under the old requirements, Sole Representatives needed to show that:

  • They had spent the last five years before the application in the UK with permission as a Representative of an Overseas Business
  • They met the continuous residence requirement
  • The overseas company employer still required them to work for the company and would pay them the appropriate salary. They also need to be required by the company for the foreseeable future
  • They had an understanding of listening and speaking English to Level B1 of CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages), and met the Knowledge of Life in the UK requirement.

Under the new requirements, the prior eligibility requirements are still in force; however, there are now additional requirements that need to be satisfied. It is required that throughout the five-year period before application, the following was the case:

  • The overseas business has been actively trading and the headquarters has remained outside of the UK
  • They have been employed full-time by the overseas company or the subsidiary or branch in the UK
  • They have not taken any other employment with another company or engaged in any business of their own
  • They have not had a majority stake or majority control in the overseas business, whether by means of a shareholding, partnership agreement or other arrangement
  • The Sole Representative has established and supervised the registered branch or subsidiary of the overseas company, and the branch or subsidiary has been actively trading in the same type of work as the overseas company

Sole Representatives must be required by their overseas employer to continue in the same job role as their last period of permission, and they provide the following documents:

  • Evidence of their remuneration package and salary for the 12 months prior to the date of the application
  • Evidence that the UK branch of the company has generated business with other businesses in the UK since the last period of the permission was granted. This includes invoices, letters and the value of any transactions
  • A confirmation letter from the employer that the Sole Representative is still required by the company and will be for the foreseeable future
  • Evidence that the branch or subsidiary company is wholly owned by the overseas company. This can come in the form of a letter from the overseas company’s accountant or a copy of the share register

A confirmation letter that the overseas company has supervised the UK branch since the last period of the permission was granted

Less room for error under the new Sole Representative system

One thing that stands out with the new application process is that there appears to be less room for mistakes in the application.

If there has been any breach in the rules under the previous permission as a Sole Representative, then this is taken into account when the subject applies for ILR. This is still the case even if the applicant has solved the issue in the previous five years.

There is also no appeal allowed against the decision, so the only alternative is to apply for an extension and have another five years without any breach of the rules.

The new Global Business Mobility visa

A new Global Business Mobility visa is set to be launched in the spring of 2022. This new visa may give overseas companies a new way to get employees transferred to the UK.

The new visa will cover five types of temporary workers from overseas companies:

  1. A graduate trainee who is part of a training programme
  2. A service supplier to the UK in line with trade agreements
  3. A UK expansion worker who is going to establish a UK presence
  4. A senior or specialist worker going to meet specific business needs
  5. A secondment worker to UK firms in high-value contracts or investments

This new visa will effectively change the previous requirement under Sole Representative of an Overseas Business. Under the old rules, only one person could be sent to the UK as a representative of the overseas company. However, the new visa allows for a small team of employees to come over to the UK.

While this looks like a big boost for overseas companies, there are still few details about this new visa or its effect on other claims.

There could also be a change to the length of the visa. Under the Sole Representative of an Overseas Business visa, you could be granted for three years with a possible two-year extension. However, it may be that under the Global Business Mobility Visa, a person would be granted only two years. If they wanted to extend their stay, they may be required to switch to another visa type.

For tailored advice on your own circumstances and needs as a business or individual, contact our award-winning team in central London today, on 0208 215 0053.

How Can We Help You?

I would like to speak to Cranbrook Legal on the telephone.

0208 215 0053

I do not know what my immigration needs are and need to discuss my requirements.

Book A Free Consultation

I know what my immigration needs are, so I would to discuss my case.

Book An Appointment