Introduction

The UK government recently announced changes to the UK Immigration Rules, which introduced various new visa routes. As part of this overhaul, the Home Office introduced the new Global Business Mobility category which took effect from 11 April 2022. There are five sub-categories under the Global Business Mobility category: (1) Senior/Specialist Worker; (2) Graduate Trainee; (3) UK Expansion Worker: (4) Service Supplier; and (5) Secondment Worker.

In this article, we will focus on the Expansion Worker route and discuss its implications for employers.

What is the Expansion Worker route?

The new Expansion Worker route has replaced the ‘Representative of the Overseas Business’ visa option (commonly known as the ‘sole rep’ visa). This new route targets companies looking to expand into the UK and need to send a team of senior or technical specialist workers to promote the set up.

In order to sponsor a non-UK national under the Expansion Worker route, employers must first apply for a Global Business Mobility (Expansion Worker) licence. The application fee for this licence is £536. There must also be an individual assigned to the role of Authorising Officer to oversee and maintain the licence once granted.

If the Authorising Officer is based overseas, they must assign the Certificate of Sponsorship to themselves and are given a “provisional” licence in the Expansion Worker category until their Entry Clearance application is approved. If the Entry Clearance application is refused, the Expansion Worker licence is revoked.

Assuming the Authorising Officer is successful with the Expansion Worker application, they must then make the necessary reporting on the Sponsor Management System to change their “provisional” licence to A-rating. The Expansion Worker licence expires after four years.

How does one apply for an Expansion Worker visa?

Once the Expansion Worker licence is put in place, employers can sponsor the initial Expansion Worker.

The main eligibility requirements for this route are that the workers are sufficiently skilled (NQF level 6), paid at least £42,400 per year or the going rate for the role (whichever is higher) and have been employed with the company overseas for at least 12 months before they are transferred to the UK. The 12-month work requirement is waived for high earning individuals with a salary in the UK of at least £73,900 or where the individual is a Japanese national seeking to establish a UK branch or subsidiary of the sponsor group under the UK-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement.

The Expansion Worker permission will be granted for the shorter of either i) one year from the start date of the job, ii) 14 days after the end date of the job, iii) date on which the individual has continuous permission as a UK Expansion Worker totalling two years, or iv) the date on which the individual has cumulative permission in the Global Mobility Business routes totalling five years in a six year period. If the visa is granted for one year, it is extendable up to one year further.

Dependents are eligible to accompany the main applicant (provided the necessary financial requirements are met) including a spouse, a genuine unmarried partner and biological and adopted children under the age of 18. This route does not lead to settlement in the UK, so the individual must switch to another Global Mobility Business route if they wish to apply for settled status.

The usual conditions of leave apply to this route, namely that the individual cannot receive public funds and the usual sponsor licence requirements apply to the employer.

What are some of the potential benefits under the Expansion Worker route?

One of the major disadvantages of the sole representative visa route was that only a single migrant was permitted under that route. Under the Expansion Worker route, it is possible to sponsor up to five migrants. In addition to this, employers can take advantage of this route having one of the lowest overall fees: this visa costs employers £280 (made up of an application fee of £259 and a Certificate of Sponsorship fee of £21). Whilst there is a health surcharge of £624 per year, the employers do not need to pay the Immigration Skills Charge (which can amount to £1,000 per year for a large company). There is no English language requirement under the Expansion Worker route.

What are the potential issues with the Expansion Worker route?

Although the new Expansion Worker route provides a number of benefits to employees and employers seeking to expand their business in the UK, there are some major drawbacks for employers to be aware of.

  1. UK trading presence – this route requires a UK trading presence (unlike the sole rep visa route), which means that an individual would need to be hired locally first or the overseas applicant must make trips to the UK to sign a lease, establish a bank account and set up certain functions here first. This may add costs to the business for the initial set up of their footprint in the UK.
  2. Overseas trading presence for three years – this requirement means that the company applying for an Expansion Worker licence must produce bank statements, audited accounts and other company documentation for the last three years pre-dating the application. The lead time and administrative burden on the company will be much higher for this new route compared to the sole rep visa route.
  3. Evidence of the planned expansion to the UK – the company must show credible evidence of plans to expand to the UK. This exceeds the level of information required for the sole rep route and is also likely to cause issues with subjective bias on what constitutes evidence of a genuine planned expansion, leading to inconsistent decision-making by the Home Office.
  4. Licence application – the need for companies to apply for a licence in the Expansion Worker category (before it can send any migrant to the UK as an Expansion Worker) creates an exponential demand for case workers, especially when current attention has already been diverted to assist with the Ukraine refugee schemes. The priority slot for Skilled Worker licences will be even more unlikely to be obtained. In addition to this, companies will need to allow three to four month lead time in applying for the licence to sponsor Expansion Worker employees, which needs to be factored in separately to the processing time of the visa application itself.

Summary

The new Expansion Worker route is a welcome addition to the range of options available to employers seeking to establish their operations in the UK. Whilst the Expansion Worker route replaced the old sole rep visa route, employers are advised to carefully weigh the benefits and disadvantages of the Expansion Worker route. In some instances, it would be worth exploring alternative routes if the limitations do not align with the employers’ needs.