Of all the recent changes to immigration rules with the introduction of the Global Business Mobility route, the UK Expansion Worker route is perhaps the most interesting. This route is a big deal for overseas businesses and suggests that the Government is shifting its focus in an attempt to modernise the often outdated business immigration rules.

However, as with all amendments from the Home Office, it is not yet clear how this will work in practice. Also, it is important to unpick whether this new route offers a whole lot more than was available before the changes. Below, we discuss:

  • What the UK Expansion Worker route means for businesses
  • The eligibility requirements
  • The pros and cons of this new route

What does the UK Expansion Worker Route mean for businesses?

The new UK Expansion Worker route now means that it is easier for overseas businesses who are not already trading in the UK to set up a new branch in the UK. Before this change, workers could apply for a Representative of the Overseas Business Visa (‘Sole rep’ visa). While initially promising, the sole rep visa route had some drawbacks. For example, businesses could only sponsor one worker to come to the UK and the representative could not be a majority shareholder of the business. The new route means that a team of up to five workers can now be sponsored at any one time, making it easier for businesses to grow more quickly. Furthermore, there appears to be no restrictions on majority shareholders being sponsored.

Once a worker has obtained a UK Expansion Worker visa, they are able to stay in the UK for either 12 months after the start date of their role or 14 days after the final date given on the certificate of sponsorship, whichever is shorter. Although the visa can be extended by 12 months, the maximum time on the visa is two years in total. This demonstrates a fundamental difference between the new route and the sole rep visa route, which enabled the worker to initially stay for 3 years, with the possibility to extend their stay for up to 2 years longer. In addition, unlike the sole rep visa, the UK Expansion Worker visa does not lead to settlement.

What are the eligibility requirements?

In order to sponsor an employee under the UK Expansion Worker route, the worker must satisfy the eligibility requirements, which include how long the worker has been employed at the company for and the job that the worker will be doing in the UK. This next section explains the eligibility requirements and how to meet them.

The worker’s role

Firstly and perhaps obviously, the worker to be sponsored has to already work for the business as a specialist employee or a senior manager, specifically in a role featured in the list of eligible jobs for Global Business and Mobility. The list separates roles by occupation code – for example, advertising and public relations directors come under code 1134.

The worker’s length of employment

The worker needs to have been employed at the business outside of the UK for at least 12 months. This requirement, however, can be waivered if the worker earns over £73,900 or if they are a Japanese national working for a Japanese company.

The worker’s pay

The worker must be paid the minimum eligible salary for the job they are doing. This is equivalent to at least £42,400 per year or the going rate of the job, whichever is higher. To determine the going rate of a job, you can use the going rates table, which shows the rate of pay for all eligible job types for the UK Expansion worker route. It is important to note that the salaries shown in the table are based on the worker being contracted for 39 hours per week. If the worker is contracted for different hours, this value must be pro-rated.

Certificate of Sponsorship

One catch with the new route, is that the worker needs to have a valid certificate of sponsorship from the business. This means that the business must also obtain a sponsor licence if it doesn’t already have one, which is a time-consuming process we’ve written about extensively elsewhere. Once a business has a sponsor licence, they can assign a certificate of sponsorship to any workers on this route. The certificate will outline the role to be undertaken by the worker in the UK. The reference number on the certificate will be required when applying for the worker’s visa, which has to be submitted within three months of the certificate of sponsorship being assigned.

The challenge for international businesses will be satisfying the evidential requirements for a UK sponsor licence without having an established UK presence.

UK Expansion Worker Route: The Verdict

As already discussed, the UK Expansion Worker route is an interesting development for business immigration and appears to make it easier for businesses to develop without already having a UK branch, by allowing multiple workers to come to the UK to establish a new branch. There are, however, some drawbacks to this route and it is not yet clear how this route will work in practice.

Once a worker has obtained a UK Expansion Worker visa, they are able to work for their sponsor in the job described on their certificate of sponsorship. The worker can also study, do voluntary work, bring an eligible partner and children as ‘dependants’ and travel abroad and return to the UK.

However, the worker is not able to apply for most benefits, change jobs unless they change their visa, have a second job and, most importantly, settle permanently in the UK (indefinite leave to remain). The latter presents a potentially big problem for businesses in convincing workers to move their lives to the UK.

Firstly, the maximum time a worker can stay in the UK with this visa is 2 years. This, coupled with the fact that a worker can’t use this route to settle in the UK, makes it a much less attractive proposition, despite workers being able to bring family members as dependants during their stay.

It remains to be seen how the process of an overseas company applying for a sponsor licence will work in practice, as usually businesses have to demonstrate proof of being established in the UK. The requirement for the business to have a sponsor licence will also likely add significant delays to the overall process, as most sponsor licence applications take 8 weeks to be processed.

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Catherine Reynolds
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