The Global Business Mobility Visa – Expansion Worker: A disappointment, but there is a silver lining
The old ‘Sole Representative of an Overseas Business’ visa limited overseas companies to a single expat to launch a UK Branch/subsidiary. The replacement Global Business Mobility Visa – Expansion Worker, allows companies to send a team of up to 5 people.
The new visa was announced in Rishi Sunak’s 2021 Budget, and was intended to make the UK more attractive for global companies and the worlds brightest & best.
Unfortunately, when the visa was launched on 11th April 2022, and the full details were revealed, the reality was disappointing. The new visa takes longer to process, lasts for a shorter time, and is more restrictive.
But companies should not despair. The post-Brexit Skilled Worker visa (launched Jan 2021) is such a strong alternative. The Skilled Worker visa abolished the quotas, and the 28 days advertising delay, that hampered the old Tier 2 (General) work permit.
‘Expansion Worker’: A short term visa that needs a full Sponsor Licence
The first hurdle for companies wanting a Global Business Mobility Visa Expansion Worker to launch their UK operations, is the need to obtain a sponsor licence. The Home Office will grant an Expansion Worker sponsor licence without needing the company to have a UK based manager. But the process typically takes c3 months: A month, and a lot of management time, to prepare the documents needed to support the licence application, then c2 months for the Home Office to consider the application. Once the licence has been granted, it will initially allow only the named overseas manager to be sponsored. That manager must apply for a UK visa (c3 week process), and come to the UK, and then make an application to sponsor any other Expansion Workers needed (maximum 4 others). Total time to get Expansion Worker boots on the ground: almost 4 months for the first person, and 5+ months for the rest of the team.
The successful Expansion Worker visa applicants, expat staff sent to launch their company’s UK operations, only get a 1 year visa. It can be extended for a second year, but does not lead to settlement. Hardly ideal when asking an executive to relocate with their family, and move their children into UK schools.
The old Sole Representative of an Overseas Business route, which the Global Business Mobility Visa Expansion Worker replaces, gave workers a clear UK career path: The initial Sole Representative visa was for 3 years, and could be followed by a 2 year extension, after which (ie after a total of 5 years in the UK), they would usually qualify for settlement.
The idea is that Global Business Mobility Visa Expansion Worker route’s initial year (or two, if extended) will be enough for the company to become well enough established to get a Skilled Worker sponsor licence, and switch the Expansion Workers into Skilled Worker visas, whereupon they will then begin the 5 year wait to be eligible for settlement (potentially only achieving this 7 years after first arriving).
The new restrictions are in line with Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) advice: The MAC report is relatively illiberal in the sole rep area, saying “Allowing people to stay for more than 2 years raises the concern that the route could be abused as a way for people to obtain UK residence and work authorisation, despite not making progress towards setting up a viable business. They saw an abuse of the system in cases where someone came to the UK as a Sole Rep, and set up a business that did little more than employ the Sole Rep. Others would argue that that this is not an abuse, and that however characterised, it did not harm the UK: The new system, in balancing the economic need to bring new business to the UK, and the desire to minimise chances of ‘abuse’, has strayed too far from the Chancellor’s original intention which seemed to focus on the UK economy.
Many overseas companies are choosing to launch in the UK by partnering with an established UK business that can provide a more stable and long term foundation for the team being relocated. Key areas are compared below:
Does it need a Sponsor Licence? - Global Business Mobility Visa Expansion worker
Yes – though based mainly on the credentials of the overseas business entity / manager.
Does it need a Sponsor Licence? - Skilled Worker visa (potentially with UK partner)
Yes, based on UK presence (can be partner’s presence)
Elapsed Time to get sponsor licence - Global Business Mobility Visa Expansion worker
Time while the application and supporting documents are prepared: Typically 4 weeks
Time once the application is submitted: Typically 8 weeks to be considered by the Home Office
Elapsed Time to get sponsor licence - Skilled Worker visa (potentially with UK partner)
Zero, if the partner is already licenced. Otherwise, as with Expansion Worker licence, likely several weeks of senior management time to prepare the documents to support the application, then 8 weeks processing
Salary Requirements - Global Business Mobility Visa Expansion worker
Minimum £42,400 pa OR the going rate for the job if higher
Salary Requirements - Skilled Worker visa (potentially with UK partner)
Minimum £25,600 pa. OR the going rate for the job if higher
Initial visa length - Global Business Mobility Visa Expansion worker
1 year maximum
Initial visa length - Skilled Worker visa (potentially with UK partner)
5 Years maximum
Route to settlement - Global Business Mobility Visa Expansion worker
No (allows switching into other routes that do lead to settlement).
Route to settlement - Skilled Worker visa (potentially with UK partner)
Yes: Settlement usually possible after 5 years
UK Infrastructure requirements - Global Business Mobility Visa Expansion worker
Must set up a UK PAYE scheme promptly (the Sole Rep scheme gave more leeway here)
UK Infrastructure requirements - Skilled Worker visa (potentially with UK partner)
UK PAYE scheme needed. May not require managerial time input if using partner’s infrastructure
Prior Employment requirement - Global Business Mobility Visa Expansion worker
Must have worked for the overseas entity for at least 12 months before a UK Expansion visa is applied for. BUT, this requirement is waived for
- 'high earners' (UK salary over £73,900),
- For Japanese businesses
(We expect that future trade deals between the UK and other countries will soon see the list extend beyond Japan, in particular to Australia, New Zealand, and Canada)
Prior Employment requirement - Skilled Worker visa (potentially with UK partner)
Restrictions on the overseas business - Global Business Mobility Visa Expansion worker
The overseas business must
1. Have no prior UK presence (or only a dormant / inactive shell)
2. Have a 3+ year trading history (some exemptions apply)
3. Have a credible business plan showing it intends to and is able to establish a UK presence
4. Have a ‘UK footprint’ (office space or companies house incorporation)
Restrictions on the overseas business - Skilled Worker visa (potentially with UK partner)
Minimal: Business can have a prior UK presence. Business does not require 3yr history.
Business plan does not need to be provided if launching with a partner. Can use partner’s footprint
Restrictions on the posted workers - Global Business Mobility Visa Expansion worker
Posted workers must Have enough money to support themselves and their family in the UK until they get their first salary
Restrictions on the posted workers - Skilled Worker visa (potentially with UK partner)
A Skilled worker sponsor can give a guarantee if the worker does not have the required personal funds
Global Business Mobility Expansion Worker - in conclusion
Because of the way the Global Business Mobility Expansion Worker route has been implemented, many clients wanting to set up in the UK are concluding it is faster & cheaper to use a UK partner service. This involves minimal senior management time input from the overseas company, allows boots on the ground in London in under a month [before the Ukraine war caused premium processing to be suspended, it was possible within a week] , and for a team of any size to locate to the UK for the launch. The key staff involved can get a 5 year visa leading straight to settlement, which gives a level of comfort for those uprooting their families. And UK PLC benefits hugely from the inward investment of cash, the infusion of top talent, and all the network effects that arise when another high growth business joins one of the UK’s existing clusters. FinTech and blockchain businesses setting up in Shoreditch, Biotechs in Cambridge, transport innovators on the M4 corridor, and green energy companies across the UK, all boost the UK ecosystem and its economy.
The UK is still the best place in the European time zone: it’s a business friendly environment, its one of the best tax regimes, and it is open for business. The Global Business Mobility visa route is not quite perfect, but contact us to make a success of your entry to the UK whether your focus is just the UK, or you need a European Hub, or even operations in a time zone to support your African operations.
07879 480 755