Changes to Sole Representative
visa route

The Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules released by the Home Office last week included tightening of the rules surrounding the Representatives of Overseas Businesses visa category, otherwise known as the ‘Sole Representative visa’.

These changes take effect from 4th June 2020 and could make this popular route into the UK more challenging for overseas companies to touchdown in the UK.

The Sole Representative visa category is open to employees of overseas businesses hoping to establish a presence for the company in the UK. Under this route, a senior representative from the company can seek to enter the UK for the purposes of setting up a branch or wholly owned subsidiary of the business in the UK.

What are the changes?

Some of the changes included in the statement simply aim to clarify existing criteria. For example, the rules specify that the overseas business must continue to operate once a UK presence has been established, maintaining its principal place of business outside of the UK.

With regards to representatives themselves, the statement confirms that an individual chosen to represent the company in the UK must be a senior employee and cannot engage in their own business or represent any other UK business. Both of these requirements were already in place, however it seems the Home Office is keen to reiterate these crucial points for applicants.

However, the update also includes the following amendments which may affect the viability of this route for future applicants:

  • ‘Genuine’ intention – Overseas businesses will not be permitted to send a representative to the UK where there is no ‘genuine intention’ to establish a branch or subsidiary in the UK.
  • Skills and experience – Applicants must now be able to prove they have the necessary skills, experience, knowledge and authority to represent the overseas business in the UK.
  • Tighter restrictions for business stakeholders – The rules will now prevent people using this route when they have a majority stake in, or otherwise own or control the overseas business. Previously, this rule applied only to majority shareholders.
  • Changes to dependent applications – An amendment being made will now prevent the sole representative from bringing in a spouse, civil partner, unmarried or same-sex partner if that partner has a majority stake or otherwise owns or controls the overseas business.
  • Changes to extension criteria – The extension criteria has been amended to clarify that the branch or subsidiary must have been established in the UK, and not overseas.

What does this mean for the future applications?

Many of the changes appear to clamp down on what the Home Office perceives as abuse of the Sole Representative route. Updated wording in the rules states that businesses must not establish a UK branch or subsidiary “solely for the purpose of facilitating the entry and stay of the applicant”.

These amendments would suggest future applications will be subject to increased Home Office scrutiny and more stringent evidence requirements to prove applicants are not using this route as a personal means of gaining entry to the UK.

However, some of the new criteria could be seen as subjective and open to interpretation for Home Office decision makers considering applications. What’s clear is that going forward, applications to the Sole Representative visa route will be required to provide increased evidence and documentation to prove applicants are using this route for the right reasons.

Get support with your Sole Representative visa application

Is your overseas business planning to expand into the UK?

For companies looking to set up a UK branch or wholly owned subsidiary in the UK, the Sole Representative visa is a popular route. However, there are strict eligibility criteria that both your organisation and the chosen individual must meet in order to qualify for the visa. With the UK tightening the rules around this route, getting your application right is now more critical than ever.

Smith Stone Walters is experienced in filing Sole Representative applications for a wide range of clients. Our friendly and knowledgeable consultants are on hand to provide up to date advice on the best route into the UK for your business. Contact us today to find out how we can help.

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