SSW secures Sole
Representative success
amid pandemic

The Representatives of Overseas Business visa category, otherwise known as the ‘Sole Representative visa’, is a UK immigration route 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. Although this is a popular route for overseas businesses seeking to expand into the UK market, the Home Office places strict eligibility requirements on applications, which can often make it challenging for businesses to ultimately touchdown in the UK.

Applicants now face even more barriers due to recent tightening of the rules surrounding Sole Representative applications, coupled with the current COVID-19 pandemic leading to immigration guidance changing by the day.

Smith Stone Walters was recently commissioned to assist in a complex Sole Representative application for a Chinese national who had found himself stranded in the UK amid the pandemic. Despite the tighter rules and fast-changing guidance to navigate, SSW consultants Rob in London and Ming in Hong Kong were able to work seamlessly together to deliver a ‘WOW’ service to our client in the UK and his employer in China in this high-risk case.

Background to the case

In January 2020, our client arrived in the UK on a visitor visa. After travelling around the UK for several weeks, the outbreak of Coronavirus in China had led to lockdown measures and many of our client’s colleagues in China transitioning to home working.

Despite the best efforts of our client to return home to China, the worsening pandemic and subsequent travel restrictions meant that most flights were cancelled or delayed. Unable to secure a flight home, our client made the decision to follow government and public health guidance and remain in the UK until it was safe to leave. Staying with a friend in the UK, he was able to continue to liaise remotely with his Chinese employer, supporting himself financially with his salary and savings.

It was during this period that our client and his employer in China began discussing a business proposal for the company to expand into the UK market, after recognising the promising potential for their product offering in the UK. After internal discussions and compiling a business plan, the company agreed our client would be appointed as a Sole Representative to help the business establish its first UK presence.

Case instruction

On 28 May, the Smith Stone Walters team in London received an enquiry from our client for a consultation on applying for a Sole Representative visa.

During this initial consultation, the client was briefed on the Home Office’s new approach to assessing these case types, and made aware of the stricter requirements surrounding ‘genuineness’ for both the parent company and the employee.

Following in-depth discussions between SSW, the client and his employer in China, SSW were engaged to assist with the application on 10 June, using the COVID-19 concession to allow the application to be submitted in-country.

Preparing the application

Sole Representative applications require a substantial amount of supporting documentation, to demonstrate to the Home Office that the business has a ‘genuine intention’ to set up a branch or subsidiary in the UK, and that the application is not being submitted solely to facilitate the entry and stay of the applicant.

SSW consultant Ming, based at our Hong Kong office, worked closely with the parent company in China to advise them of the requirements and gather the necessary corporate documents to support the application.

Meanwhile in the UK, SSW consultant Rob was liaising with the employee to ensure he was kept in the loop and aware of the requirements placed on him as the applicant. In order to gain exceptional approval from the Home Office for the application to be submitted from the UK, Rob needed to obtain evidence to show the impact COVID-19 had on the client’s situation.

With this in mind, Rob was able to obtain a personal statement from the client to explain his situation, and also provided a letter from the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) Coronavirus Immigration Team confirming the client’s extended leave in the UK until 31 July 2020. This documentary evidence submitted alongside the application was critical to having the concession granted in this high-risk case.

As time was of the essence, Ming and Rob had to work quickly to prepare almost 50 evidential documents to build a strong argument that it was a legitimate business need for the employee to stay in the UK and establish the company’s UK operations as soon as possible, rather than returning to China to submit an entry clearance application. It was the success of this argument that resulted in a speedy approval for the application.

Once the application and supporting documentation had been submitted to the Home Office with a request for priority processing, our client attended an appointment in London to submit his biometric information on 11 September. Just four days later, we received notification from the Home Office that the application was successful, and the client’s Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) arrived the same week.

By 28 September, SSW had completed our post-visa grant consultation with the client and received resoundingly positive feedback.

24-hour ‘WOW’ service around the world

With offices in key locations around the globe including London, Hong Kong, New York and Mumbai, Smith Stone Walters is well positioned to provide support to our clients around the clock, no matter where in the world they are.

This case is a prime example of how our consultants are able to work as a team to tight deadlines, across continents and time zones to provide timely advice to our clients during uncertain times, enabling them to achieve their business goals with minimal risk.

Get support with your Sole Representative visa application

This case is just one of many successful Sole Representative applications Smith Stone Walters has helped our clients to secure.

Our immigration consultants are experienced in helping overseas organisations make their first steps into the UK market by setting up a UK branch or wholly-owned subsidiary using the Sole Representative route. No matter how complex the case, our team are here to guide you through the process to ensure your application is successful and stress-free.

For an initial consultation and discussion about your requirements, contact us today on or call 0208 461 6660.

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