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Changes to the UK Sole Representative Visa

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For advice on UK sole representation visas or any aspect of immigration law, call the expert London immigration lawyers at OTS Solicitors on 0203 959 9123 or contact us online.

The Home Office has made a number of significant changes to the UK sole representation visa, now making the process of obtaining an overseas business visa even more challenging for applicants.

Our expert business immigration lawyers at OTS take a closer look at the impact of these changes and how they might affect those taking on the visa application process.

What is the sole representative visa?

The sole representative visa is more properly known as the representative of an overseas business visa. This is a popular immigration route for senior employees of overseas companies looking to move to the UK to start a branch or set up subsidiary business operations.

Why is the sole representative visa changing?

Recent changes to immigration rules that came into effect on 4 June 2020 have been tightened even further following a new statement of changes on 6 October 2021.

The Home Office’s new rules, brought in under what many consider stealth and short notice, introduce subjective “genuineness” assessments which could now see refusal rates soar.

The new rules substantially change the requirements to qualify for indefinite leave to remain in the UK, demonstrating a notable shift away from the old visa route towards the new Global Business Mobility Visa, due to be launched in Spring 2022.

How has the representative of an overseas business visa changed?

Under the new Immigration Rules, the existing validity and suitability requirements remain the same. However, some very significant changes have been made to the eligibility requirements.

Whilst the existing eligibility requirements remain, additional and more rigorous criteria have been added, affecting those applying for an initial visa or a visa extension.

Key changes to the Rules include:

  • Applicants must be genuinely recruited from outside of the UK to establish the UK branch or subsidiary. This “genuineness” assessment is designed to assist the Home Office/UKVI in a subjective assessment of whether or not the applicant is “genuinely” meeting the rules.
  • The overseas business must be active and trading with the intention of maintaining their principal place of business outside the UK. The branch or subsidiary should not be established solely as a means of obtaining entry and stay of an applicant.
  • The applicant’s relevant skills, knowledge and experience of the business will be assessed by the Home Office based on specified evidence provided.
  • Partners of someone with a majority shareholding will no longer be able to apply for a sole representative visa. This rule is intended to prevent overseas business owners employing spouses or partners as the sole representative and, therefore, circumventing immigration rules.

What will the impact be on applicants for the sole representative visa route?

Applicants for a sole representative visa will be required to provide substantial documentary evidence in support of their applications which will be subjectively assessed by officers to determine whether criteria are met.

The documents required will include:

  • Company information and supporting documents including:
    • A business plan for the UK operations to demonstrate they are genuine and well considered
    • A letter outlining plans for establishing either a wholly owned subsidiary or registering and starting a branch
    • Company finance documents relating to accounts, assets and shareholdings
    • A job description, employment and salary details of the UK sole representative
  • Individual information and documents including:
    • Passport
    • Photo ID
    • Paperwork to demonstrate the sole representative can financially support themselves (and dependants) without recourse to UK public funds
    • A contract of employment with employment terms and salary or wage slips or bank statements
    • Details about accommodation and living arrangements
    • Proof of the English language requirement

With power to subjectively assess applicants, immigration lawyers are concerned that the Home Office will increase their refusal rates, as demonstrated in the now closed Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa route which saw over half of applications declined.

Who is eligible for a sole representative visa under the new rules?

To apply for a visa under the new rules, a sole representative of an overseas business must be either:

  • The sole representative of an overseas business with plans to set up a UK branch or a wholly owned subsidiary
  • An employee of an overseas newspaper, news agency or broadcasting organisation posted on a long term assignment to the UK

Eligibility criteria that must be met includes:

  • Having enough money to financially support themselves (and dependants) without assistance from public funds
  • Meeting the English requirement (by proving knowledge of the English language)

Sole representative applicants must:

  • Be recruited and employed outside the UK by an active and trading business with headquarters and the principal place of business based outside of the UK
  • Have the necessary skills, knowledge, experience and authority for the role
  • Hold a senior employee position in the business, having full authority to make decisions on its behalf
  • Not have a majority stake in, own or control the overseas parent company whether by shareholding, partnership agreement, sole proprietorship or any other arrangement
  • Have the intention to establish the first commercial presence of the overseas business in the UK, either as a registered branch or a wholly owned subsidiary
  • Genuinely intend to be employed as a full-time sole representative of the business, not committing to any other business or employment in the UK

Applicants may also be:

  • Eligible if the business has a legal entity in the UK but does not do any business or employ any staff
  • Able to replace a previous sole representative if their overseas employer has been working to establish a UK branch or subsidiary which is not yet set up

What alternatives are there to the sole representative of an overseas business visa?

The Start Up Visa, Innovator Visa or Global Talent Visa routes offer alternative overseas business visa options for entrepreneurs looking to establish a business for the first time in the UK. The new UK visa routes allow entrepreneurs from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland to set up an innovative, viable and scalable business in the UK.

Having replaced the now defunct Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur Visa, applications for Start Up, Innovator or Global Talent Visas will be subject to the same rigorous and subjective assessment by the Home Office, in accordance with the new criteria.

If you are considering applying for a Sole Representative Visa, a Start Up, Innovator or Global Talent Visa, we recommend seeking professional advice from our expert London based immigration solicitors who can help you with the application process and ensure the best chance of success in your visa application.

Contact our UK immigration solicitors

OTS solicitors are one of the UK’s leading specialist immigration law firms with a high success rate in helping UK and overseas clients achieve successful applications and appeals in relation to all types of visas, including representative of an overseas business visas or advice when an application is refused.

For prompt expert advice on UK sole representation visas or any aspect of immigration law, call the immigration team at OTS Solicitors on 0203 959 9123 or contact us online.

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