UK Expansion Worker
sponsorship requirements

On 11 April 2022, the UK government launched five new immigration routes for overseas businesses wishing to send workers to the UK for temporary assignments. These five visa sub-categories fall under the umbrella of the Global Business Mobility (GBM) route and consist of:

  • Senior or Specialist Worker
  • Graduate Trainee
  • UK Expansion Worker
  • Service Supplier
  • Secondment Worker

The above routes have rebranded and replaced several pre-existing categories, with the exception of the Secondment Worker visa, which is a new category under the points-based system and has no equivalent predecessor route. Employers transferring staff to the UK under these routes should be aware of the Home Office rules for sponsoring a Global Business Mobility worker. The Home Office guidance for sponsors can be viewed in full here.

In this article, we will be focusing on the UK Expansion Worker route, which has replaced the Sole Representative provisions of the Representative of an Overseas Business route. The new UK Expansion Worker route is for senior managers or specialist employees of an overseas business who are being assigned to the UK to establish a UK branch or subsidiary of the overseas business.

Businesses intending to use this route to expand to the UK should be aware of additional requirements they must meet in order to be granted a sponsor licence on this route.

What is the UK Expansion Worker route?

A UK Expansion Worker visa allows you to come to the UK to set up a branch of an overseas business that has not started trading in the UK yet. You must already work for the overseas business as either a senior manager or specialist employee.

To qualify for a UK Expansion Worker visa, you must:

  • Have a valid Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) from your employer.
  • Have worked for your employer outside the UK for at least 12 months, unless you are either:
    • Earning over £73,900
    • A Japanese national working for a Japanese company that is expanding to the UK.
  • Do a job that’s on the list of eligible occupations.
  • Be paid at least at least £42,400 per year or the ‘going rate’ for your job – whichever is higher.

A UK Expansion Worker can come to the UK for up to one year initially, with the option to extend their stay by up to a further year. Two years is the maximum continuous period a person can stay in the UK on this route.

UK Expansion Worker vs Sole Representative

So how does the UK Expansion Worker route differ from its predecessor, the Sole Representative route? The new route has brought with it several important changes that employers should be aware of.

Whereas its predecessor route was an unsponsored route, the UK Expansion Worker route requires the worker to have a UK sponsor. That sponsor will be a branch or wholly-owned subsidiary of an established overseas business.

Companies will also now have the ability to send a team of senior employees into the UK to undertake the expansion work. As the name suggests, the old Sole Representative route permitted only one senior employee of the overseas business to enter the UK with the intention of establishing the UK branch. The UK Expansion Worker route allows an overseas business to send up to a maximum of five employees, providing they meet the visa eligibility criteria.

Additional sponsorship requirements

Employers applying to sponsor workers under the UK Expansion Worker route must meet additional requirements to show that they have:

  • A UK ‘footprint’
  • An overseas trading presence
  • Credible plans to expand to the UK and establish a trading presence within 2 years.

UK footprint

Unlike other sponsored work routes, if you are applying for a sponsor licence on the UK Expansion Worker route, you must not already be actively trading in the UK. If you are already trading, you should apply on another route (for example, Senior or Specialist Worker, or Skilled Worker). You must, however, show you have a UK ‘footprint’. You can show this by:

  • Providing evidence you have UK business premises – for example, a lease agreement or documents showing you have purchased the premises.
  • Providing evidence that the business is registered with Companies House as either an overseas company branch or a new company that is a subsidiary of the overseas linked business – in this case, you need only provide your Companies House reference number, or numbers.

Overseas trading presence

The overseas business that is expanding to the UK must be active and trading overseas and, unless an exception applies, demonstrate they have been active and trading for at least 3 years before the date of application. You can demonstrate this by providing evidence such as:

  • Corporate bank statements
  • Audited accounts.

Appendix A to the sponsor guidance contains a detailed list of documents you can provide.

Credible expansion plan

You must show you genuinely intend, and are able, to expand to the UK and establish a UK trading presence within two years. To demonstrate this, you will need to provide evidence of your business planning and finances. The Home Office may also consider the size of your business, its previous activity and its potential.

The planned expansion must be in the same type of business that you conduct overseas, and cannot be a new business venture by the company. The business you are establishing in the UK must be either wholly owned by the overseas business or part of the same legal entity (such as a branch).

How long will your sponsor licence be valid for?

If your sponsor licence application is successful, your licence will be valid for 4 years, in common with other sponsored work routes. However, you will not be able to apply to renew your licence for this route at the end of the 4 years.

The Home Office expects businesses using the UK Expansion Worker route to have successfully established a UK trading presence within two years. If you fail to do so, you will no longer be permitted to sponsor any new workers on this route, your existing sponsored workers will not be permitted to extend their stay (even if they would otherwise be eligible), and you may lose your sponsor licence.

Once you have established a UK presence

Once you have established a UK trading presence, you can apply to add other routes to your licence (for example, Skilled Worker or Senior or Specialist Worker). Your sponsored workers can then apply to switch to these routes if they meet the relevant requirements.

You can choose whether or not to have your licence for the UK Expansion Worker route made dormant. In either case, it will automatically expire after 4 years and you will not have the option to renew it.

Advice on the new GBM routes

If you need advice on the UK’s new Global Business Mobility routes and how the changes could impact your business’s immigration plans, Smith Stone Walters can help. To speak to a qualified immigration advisor, please contact us today.

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