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Understanding the new Global Business Mobility: UK Expansion Worker visa

Thinking of expanding your business in Scotland? You might want to consider the new Global Business Mobility: UK Expansion Worker visa. This largely replaces the previous Representative of an Overseas Business visa route.

What is the UK Expansion Worker visa and how does it compare to previous routes?

The new Global Business Mobility: UK Expansion Worker route opened on 11 April 2022 and is now live. This largely replaced the Representative of an Overseas Business visa route (sometimes known as the 'sole representative' visa route).

The sole representative visa first opened on 1 October 2009 and was a common route for overseas businesses to send a representative to the UK to set up a branch or UK subsidiary. It sat outside of the UK's points-based immigration system. It was generally seen as a flexible and effective way for some businesses and inward investors who met the criteria to set up in Scotland (without the compliance obligations of sponsorship). It was an important visa route for a business that had no presence or employees in the UK.

The new UK Expansion Worker visa was created as part of the wider 'Global Business Mobility' route under the points-based system. It allows for 'teams' of qualifying workers to come to the UK and launch the UK business for the first time (whereas the Sole Representative route had permitted only one person to come to the UK). There are a number of additional changes that make it different from its predecessor, which we outline below.

Keep reading to learn about some of the key changes which you should be aware of if your business is considering investing in Scotland.

Introducing a sponsor licence

The need to have a sponsor licence under the UK Expansion Worker Route is arguably the most significant change compared to the 'sole representative' route (which did not require a licence).

To send an individual to the UK under the new UK Expansion Worker route, the business will need a Temporary Worker sponsor licence. The process to obtain a licence involves making an application and submitting the supporting documents mentioned below.

This guidance is fact-specific. It addresses a number of scenarios so you may wish to contact us or to take advice on what documents you must provide as part of your application.

More about sponsor licenses

It costs £526 to apply for the licence.

Find out more about applying for a licence and the fees involved opens in a new window on GOV.UK.

This visa route can only be used when the business has not yet started trading in the UK. However, the overseas business must normally have been trading for a minimum of three years.

Find out more about eligibility opens in a new window on GOV.UK.

Generally, it takes up to eight weeks to process licence applications. This first stage is a step that was not required under the sole representative visa route, so any overseas businesses should factor in this additional time when considering sending an individual or a team to the UK using this route. Timing is often a significant consideration for businesses when considering setting up in a new country.

As part of the application, any business considering this route will need to identify an individual or individuals to act as the 'key personnel opens in a new window ' on the licence.

Assuming that there is no one employed or who is an office holder in the UK already, the individual being sent to the UK will need to provisionally act in these capacities. If this is the case, when the licence is granted, it will only be given a 'provisional rating'. This can be important as there may be time involved in upgrading the licence at a later date (please see below on that point).

Find out more about appointing Key Personnel on GOV.UK opens in a new window  

As mentioned, an online application form and certain supporting documents must be sent as part of a UK Expansion Worker licence application. The following is only a high-level summary, and applicant organisations should ensure that they read the full guidance on GOV.UK if considering a licence under this route.

Applicants should be able to evidence their:

  • 'UK footprint' — this can include registering a UK branch or subsidiary of your business at Companies House, or that you have bought or leased business premises.
  • Overseas trading presence — there are various options which include corporate or business bank statements or certain accounts covering the last 12 months, and evidence of advertising your services or copies of contracts for goods or services covering the last 12 months.
  • Business trading overseas for the last three years — this can include corporate or business bank statements, annual reports and investor information, or various other options.
  • Credible planned expansion to the UK — this includes evidence that you can fund your planned expansion (as confirmed by your bank), plus evidence of your expansion plans which can include your business plan, market research and a summary of your overseas business.
  • There are certain other documents listed that the company must also select from to send as part of their application including, for example, your annual reports and investor information, or your articles of association or equivalent.

The requirement to have a UK Footprint (registering a branch or subsidiary or finding business premises) before travelling to the UK is a significant change to the process. Under the sole representative route, this was not required, and the overall evidence requirement makes it more difficult to obtain the Expansion Worker licence.

There are special categories of company that have exemptions from providing all of the documents, including those listed on certain stock exchanges, certain Japanese businesses, and businesses supported by certain government departments. Where these apply, less documentation is likely to be required.

Read the full guidance around supporting documents on GOV.UK opens in a new window  

Find out more about exemptions on GOV.UK opens in a new window  

Our licence has been granted — who can we send to Scotland?

Normally, the individual that you wish to sponsor will be a senior manager or specialist worker and will have worked for the company overseas for at least 12 months (although there are exceptions, including for 'High Earners' who earn over £73,900).

They must also be doing a job that is eligible for sponsorship opens in a new window , which generally means roles that are typically 'level 6' RQF (graduate level) or above.

The individual must also be paid the minimum salary, which is at the time of writing, £42,400 per year at highest or the going rate for that role opens in a new window .

This is different to the sole representative route (which had no minimum salary requirements and where the requirements for the job were defined differently). Full details on eligibility under this route can be found on the GOV.UK website.

Thought should be given to this from the outset to ensure that the candidates that the organisation is intending to send to the UK are eligible (to save a licence application being made unnecessarily).

The sole representative route did however require applicants to demonstrate that they had English language skills to A1 level. This is not required under the new UK Expansion Worker route.

Find full eligibility information for the UK Expansion Worker visa opens in a new window on GOV.UK.

Sending your first person to the UK

If you had to appoint an individual based overseas to be your key personnel (as noted above), that individual must assign a Certificate of Sponsorship to themselves to allow them to apply for their visa to travel to the UK.

Once their visa is granted, they can then update their details on the sponsor licence and apply to have the 'provisional' licence upgraded to an 'A rated' licence, either from overseas or once they are in the UK. This change will allow them to issue up to four further Certificates of Sponsorship to the other employees you might want to bring to the UK under this route — so long as all other COS assigned are for eligible employees who are required to undertake work related to a business’ expansion to the UK.

This process can take time, both to process their visa application, which normally takes around three weeks, plus further time for the licence to be uprated.

How many people can travel to the UK?

As mentioned, another significant change compared to the sole representative route is that more than one person can now be sent to the UK to assist with the establishment of a UK business. The new route allows you to send up to five workers in total under the route. This only applies if they'll all be doing work related to the business's expansion to the UK.

If the individual appointed as your key personnel at the point of applying for the licence was not based in the UK, you should remember that the process of bringing a team to the UK will take two steps.

First, the individual must assign themselves the Certificate of Sponsorship, obtain their visa and then update the licence as mentioned above.

Secondly, they must then assign the Certificates of Sponsorship they receive when the licence is uprated to up to four other team members that wish to travel to the UK too. This process can, as mentioned, take some time to complete.

It's also worth noting that you can only send these team members to the UK before the business starts trading in the UK. This means that there can be quite a delay with this multi-step process before you can start trading.

If you plan to send a total team of five, all five individuals must have obtained their visas to travel to the UK before you can start trading inside the UK. Timing will be important and should be factored in to plans to send a full team and when you will start doing business in the UK.

The visa process

Once the licence is in place and the organisation has decided who it is sending to the UK, the next step is to sponsor those individuals to come to the UK.

For each person travelling, the process of obtaining a visa involves getting a Certificate of Sponsorship assigned to the individual travelling and then the individual applying for their visa. This is different to the sole representative route.

The Certificate of Sponsorship costs £21 to assign.

The visa application is completed online by the individual looking to travel once they have their Certificate of Sponsorship. The individual must meet the relevant eligibility requirements opens in a new window outlined on GOV.UK.

They will need to provide supporting documents including evidencing that they meet the financial requirement, prove they have worked for the overseas employer for at least 12 months (unless exempt), and potentially provide evidence of a negative tuberculosis (TB) test if they have been recently resident in certain countries in the 6 months prior to the application.

Read more about TB test requirements for visa applicants opens in a new window on GOV.UK.

The visa application usually costs £259, plus the health surcharge of £624 per year. It typically takes around three weeks to process from overseas.

Thinking ahead

This visa only lasts for one year with the option to extend it by up to a further year. After this maximum two-year period, if the workers are to stay in the UK, they will need a different type of visa.

This may mean that the company needs to apply for a Skilled Worker sponsor licence to sponsor them under that route (unless another visa is more suitable). This involves the further time and costs of applying for a new licence and visas after two years.

These additional costs and processes would not have been required under the sole representative route. This is because time spent in the UK under the sole representative route could lead to settlement in the UK.

The UK Expansion Worker visa does not lead to settlement, so workers will need to obtain a different visa, which might mean the business will have to obtain a different sort of sponsor licence.

The additional steps and documentary requirements make the new route more complex. In some cases, an employer may choose to go straight to applying for a Skilled Worker licence (or do so early on) and sponsor workers under that route (if they have a UK-based employee or office holder and the ability to do so).

Ready to take the next step?

This new route is a new way for overseas businesses to send senior individuals to Scotland to help establish a trading presence in Scotland on behalf of the overseas business. The route provides the opportunity for you to send a small team of individuals to Scotland to help get your UK presence off the ground.

Find full details about the UK Expansion Worker visa opens in a new window on GOV.UK.

If you're thinking of bringing individuals to Scotland using this route but have some questions about the process, don't hesitate to get in touch.

Contact us

TalentScotland can offer general guidance around visas and immigration. If you’ve got any questions about visas or the immigration process, get in touch with our team.