Since the closing of the Tier 1 Entrepreneur route a few years ago, options have been extremely limited for those looking to both set up a UK branch of their business and personally relocate to the UK. However, by making some unconventional changes to the traditional sponsorship model. The new Expansion Worker sponsorship route offers a new way into the UK, for both business and owner.
Until the recent changes, there was the ‘Representative of an Overseas Business’ category, providing a route for those with an intention to set up a linked UK entity. However, this visa route expressly excluded majority shareholders from applying. There remains the option of sponsorship under the Skilled Worker category, but this first requires the business to be operating and trading in the UK and for the company to have appropriate ‘Key Personnel’ based in the UK, managing the licence and working for the UK entity. This created a chicken and egg scenario – how could you establish your company in the UK and employ the necessary people, when you couldn’t obtain a suitable visa to allow you to set things up?
The Expansion Worker sponsorship route fuses elements of both the Skilled Worker and Representative of an Overseas Business routes, with radical results. In essence, an overseas business owner gets to play the role of both visa applicant and sponsor licence holder. Whilst some steps must be taken to set up a UK entity there’s no requirement for it to yet be trading (in fact it must not be trading).
The Expansion Worker route is one of several sub-categories of the new Global Business Mobility umbrella, introduced on 11 April 2022. If you’re new to this route, you might want to check out Katie’s video and helpful overview.
In one important sense the Expansion Worker is a downgrade on the old route, as it does not lead to settlement (indefinite leave to remain). However, as explained below, there is the option to subsequently switch into a settlement-leading category further down the line, such as the Skilled Worker route, once the business is up and running.
How does it work?
The starting point is that you must first have an overseas business that has been ‘active and trading’ for at least three years before you apply for your UK licence. You will need to evidence that you have been trading (through your non-UK business) throughout the 12-month period prior to you applying for the UK licence.
Whilst you need to have a ‘footprint’ in the UK, explained below, you must not yet be trading in the UK. The UK entity you are setting up will need to be a branch or wholly owned subsidiary of your company.
Who can apply?
The Expansion Worker sponsorship route route is only for a ‘senior manager’ or ‘specialist employee’. You will need to be paid the ‘going rate’ for the job role or £42,000, whichever is the higher. You can look here for a list of job roles and going rates, or check out our related Skilled Worker blog for more information on establishing the going rate.
As noted, there is no restriction on an owner or shareholder of the overseas entity applying under this route.
How many people can be sponsored?
Once you have your A-rating, you can sponsor up to five workers at any time. There is also a requirement that you only bring the workers you genuinely need to establish the UK business.
However, if you are looking to ‘sponsor yourself’ (i.e. you don’t have any independent Key Personnel in the UK), then you will only be able to issue a single certificate of sponsorship to yourself, initially. This is all explained further below.
Validity of visas
Your first Expansion Worker visa will be valid for one year. This can be extended by a further year, up to a maximum of two years. If looking to stay in the UK for the longer-term, the business will need to apply for an alternative licence within this period, most likely a Skilled Worker licence.
What set-up do I need for my company in the UK?
The first radical part of the Expansion Worker route is that you can apply for a licence without a trading presence in the UK, in fact it is mandatory not to have a trading presence.
There is a requirement to have what the Home Office refer to as a UK ‘footprint’. To establish your ‘footprint’, you will need to either provide evidence of a UK business premises, such as a business lease, or provide evidence that the business is registered with Companies House (the UK’s register of companies).
Note, however, that you will have to provide additional supporting documents, as set out in Appendix A. This will include evidence to show the UK entity is linked to the overseas one, normally through common ownership or control. Appendix A exempts Expansion Worker licence applicants from the otherwise mandatory requirement to hold and evidence a business bank account. You will, nonetheless, need to find at least a further two acceptable documents, from the tables of Appendix A (assuming you already have a lease and evidence of common/ownership and control).
Credible expansion plan
As part of your sponsor licence application, you will need to show you ‘genuinely intend, and are able, to expand to the UK and establish a UK trading presence within two years.’
In practice, you will need to prepare a business plan and to evidence your finances, as part of your sponsor licence application. The new UK venture must be in the same line of business as the overseas company and cannot be a new business venture.
Who is responsible for the licence?
As with any type of sponsor licence, you will need to appoint individual(s) to what the Home Office calls Key Personnel roles. For a more in-depth dive into Key Personnel, check out ‘Key Personnel for your sponsor licence’’, on our Knowledge Centre. Of particular importance are the roles of Authorising Officer (the person with overall responsibility for the licence) and Level 1 User (the person who administers the licence through a web interface called the Sponsor Management System).
This brings us to the second radical element of this new route: if there’s no suitable person already in the UK to oversee expansion and assume the authorising officer role, then the individual being sponsored can be appointed to this role, in which case he or she must also be appointed as the Level 1 User.
There are some slight restrictions here if you are going down this road of nominating yourself as Authorising Officer/Level 1 User, with a view to sponsoring yourself. First, you will only be granted a Provisional licence rating, as opposed to the standard A-rating.
Under a Provisional rating you will only be granted a single certificate of sponsorship, initially. However, once your Expansion Worker visa is approved, there are provisions to then to apply for an A-rating and if this rating is approved, you can sponsor up to four more individuals.
How do I stay in the UK long-term?
You will be expected to carry out your business plans and establish a trading presence within two years. Within those two years, you will likely need to apply for another type of sponsor licence, most likely the Skilled Worker category. Under the Skilled Worker route, you can be sponsored for up to five years. Once you accrued five years in the Skilled Worker category you should be eligible for settlement.
If your business can qualify for a different sponsor licence route, especially under the Skilled Worker category, then you are likely to have a superior option and can avoid the Expansion Worker.
However, for those who cannot meet the requirements of other routes, the Expansion Worker route might be a lifeline for those people looking to set up a business and new life in the UK.
Do you want help to apply for an Expansion Worker licence or visa?
If you are thinking of taking advantage of the Expansion Worker Sponsorship Route, and would like legal support, have a look at our resources on sponsor licences and sponsorship. Or get in contact with us to discuss your position with a specialist immigration solicitor.