Sole Representative Visa

Was the UK Expansion Worker visa a replacement for the Sole Representative visa?

By Amer Zaman

on October 10, 2023

Read Time: 9 Minutes

There are two ways to answer the question of whether the UK Expansion Worker visa was a replacement for the Sole Representative visa; specifically, whether it was officially intended as such by the UK Government, but also whether it constitutes an effective and worthy replacement for the older (and now largely closed) visa route, as far as businesses and migrants are concerned.

The short answer to the first of those questions, is yes. In a move that represented one of the most significant transformations of the UK immigration system in recent times, the Sole Representative visa category closed to new main applicants on 11th April 2022.

On the very same day, the UK Expansion Worker visa was launched, under the broader “Global Business Mobility” banner. And to this day, if one navigates to the relevant page of the GOV.UK website for the Sole Representative visa, they will see a notice advising them that if they are a representative of an overseas business intending to establish its first UK branch, they should apply for a UK Expansion Worker visa instead.

This brings us neatly back onto the second question that we posed above; does the UK Expansion Worker visa adequately replace the Sole Representative visa for overseas nationals that wish to accomplish the above? To answer that, we need to consider both the similarities and differences between these older and newer visa routes.

What was the Sole Representative visa?

The Representative of an Overseas Business visa – often referred to as the “Sole Representative visa” – dated back to 1st October 2009. As its name indicated, it was a frequently used route for overseas businesses that were interested in sending a representative to the UK in order to set up a branch or UK subsidiary. It did not form part of the UK’s points-based immigration system.

Applicants who were successful in being granted the Sole Representative visa were entitled to live and work in the UK for three years. They also had the right to bring their dependants with them to the UK. It was a popular visa category among overseas companies that were attracted the idea of establishing a UK presence and “testing the market”, without having to incur the overheads that the setting-up of a branch office – and the associated hiring of local staff – would bring.

However, in order to get approved for the visa, applicants had to meet certain requirements – as did the overseas company. The overseas business, for example, needed to be an active and trading UK business, and it was expected that this company would intend to maintain its headquarters and principal place of business outside of the UK. As for the person applying for a Sole Representative visa, they were required to be a genuine representative of an overseas business – and not only that, but an existing senior employee of that business. The Home Office also expected the visa applicant to possess the necessary skills, experience, and knowledge of the business in order to establish an overseas presence.

What is the UK Expansion Worker visa?

Introduced in the spring of last year, the UK Expansion Worker visa resembles, in many respects, an overhauled version of the Sole Representative visa. So, it can hardly be surprising that this new visa route and the older, now largely closed visa category have drawn comparisons, particularly given that even the UK Government has encouraged this association.

The Expansion Worker visa (Global Business Mobility) enables the holder of this visa to come to the UK in order to set up a branch of an overseas business that has not yet begun trading in the UK.

Applicants for this visa must already work for the given overseas business, as either a senior manager or a specialist employee. They are required to have already worked for their employer outside the UK, and they must do a job that is on the Home Office’s list of eligible occupations. It is also expected that the visa applicant will be paid the minimum eligible salary required for their job.

If the applicant is successful in being approved for this visa, they will be permitted to remain in the UK on the visa for whichever is the shorter of the following: 12 months after the start date of the job on their Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS), or the time given on their CoS plus 14 days. Provided that they meet the relevant requirements, the holder of this visa can extend it by a further 12 months. However, the maximum time someone is permitted to stay in the UK on this visa, is two years.

How do the Sole Representative and UK Expansion Worker visas differ?

There are a number of significant distinctions between the Sole Representative visa and the newer UK Expansion Worker visa. These include:

  • The UK Expansion Worker visa being a sponsored route

While the Representative of an Overseas Business visa route did not require sponsorship, anyone who applies for the Expansion Worker visa is required to have a valid Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) from their employer.

With the sponsoring entity needing to be a UK branch or a wholly owned subsidiary of an established overseas business, the new business in the UK will be required to apply for and obtain a sponsor licence, before the first expansion workers can submit a visa application.

  • The UK Expansion Worker visa allows as many as five expansion workers per employer at any one time

This could be a highly beneficial change from the Sole Representative visa, which – as its name stated – only permitted one senior employee of the given overseas company to enter the UK for the purposes of establishing the new entity.

By contrast, on the UK Expansion Worker visa route, the given employer is able to sponsor up to a maximum of five UK Expansion Workers. This could be advantageous in that it enables the employer to send a team of senior employees with varying, but complementary skillsets in order to carry out the expansion work.

  • The UK Expansion Worker visa’s eligibility requirements are stricter than those for the Sole Representative visa

This situation can be attributed to one of the distinctions we set out above – the new visa being sponsored, whereas the older one wasn’t.

Such more demanding criteria include the UK Expansion Worker needing to do a job that is on the Home Office’s list of eligible occupations, in addition to being paid at least £45,800 per year, or the “going rate” for the occupation – whichever is higher.

This compares to the looser requirements for the Sole Representative visa route, which did not come with any prescribed list of eligible occupations and minimum salaries. Candidates for that visa were required, however, to hold a senior position within the business, as well as to possess the skills, knowledge, and experience enabling them to carry out the role in the UK.

  • A shorter length of stay applies to the UK Expansion Worker visa

As we referenced above, someone who relocates to the UK on the Expansion Worker visa will be granted a shorter allowed period of stay in the UK, compared to the situation with the Sole Representative visa.

Whereas the older visa allowed for someone to remain in the UK for an initial three-year period, and to apply to extend the visa for a further two years after that, the newer visa only grants an initial one-year stay. Holders of the latter visa can apply to extend the visa by a further year, but two years is the maximum total period they can remain in the UK on this route.

  • The UK Expansion Worker visa doesn’t provide a path to settlement

Holders of the Sole Representative visa were able to apply for “indefinite leave to remain” (ILR) status in the UK after five years. However, with the newer UK Expansion Worker visa being classed as a temporary work route, it does not lead to settlement in the UK.

Even in the event of the visa holder later switching in-country to another route that can lead to settlement – such as the Skilled Worker visa – the period of time they spent on the UK Expansion Worker visa will not count towards the qualifying period of stay required for ILR.

Is the Sole Representative visa still available?

The Sole Representative visa route – or to give its official name, the “Representative of an Overseas Business visa” route – has been largely closed to new applications since 9am (BST) on 11th April 2022.

However, as of October 2023, it is still possible for someone to apply as a representative of an overseas business if they are an employee of an overseas newspaper, news agency, or broadcasting organisation posted on a long-term assignment to the UK.

Those who are already in the UK as holders of the Sole Representative visa, also still have the option of applying to extend their stay.

Furthermore, the Representative of an Overseas Business visa category is not yet closed for dependants, merely for new main applicants.

So, if you finalised and submitted an application for the Sole Representative visa prior to the aforementioned April 2022 closure date, but you didn’t manage to arrange for your partner and children to come with you to the UK, this doesn’t have to be a problem. Your dependants can still apply to join you in the UK in due course, provided that they meet the eligibility criteria.

If your partner and/or child are successful with their own application for this visa as your dependant(s), their visa will usually end on the same date as yours.

Our specialists in UK immigration law can help you secure a visa – and so much more

In summary, then, the UK Expansion Worker visa can be very much regarded as a replacement (at least of sorts) for the Sole Representative visa. Indeed, the ability that it gives to send multiple employees of an overseas business to the UK – not just one for each business – could be a welcome change for many such firms that wish to establish a UK presence.

On the negative side, however, the newer visa does impose a greater administrative burden on businesses than its predecessor, given that they will need to apply for and maintain a UK sponsor licence before they will be able to send any Expansion Workers to the UK.

Meanwhile, the lack of a path to settlement on the Expansion Worker visa might be a discouraging factor for the prospective migrant to the UK, at least if they aspire to a longer-term future in the country.

Would you like to discuss your requirements as an overseas business or non-UK national with our team in central London? If so, you are very welcome to give Cranbrook Legal a call today, on 0208 215 0053, or to complete and submit our online application form to ask for a free consultation. We can advise and assist, so that you can be confident of selecting the most suitable pathway for your preferences and needs. Furthermore, we can provide comprehensive project management of applications for sponsor licences and UK visas alike.

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