Sole Representative Visa For Overseas Businesses
The Sole Representative Visa allows overseas businesses to deploy a senior employee to set up new operations in the UK.
We can support you through the application process.
Sole Representative of Overseas Business Visa
The Sole Representative visa is the only way for an overseas business with expansion plans to get their foot in the door and set up in the UK.
Whereas employees coming to the UK for up to 6 months may be able to rely on a business visitor visa, if the assignment is longer term and involves expansion into the UK market, the Sole Representative Visa could be better suited to your needs.
What is a Sole Representative Visa?
For overseas businesses looking to send employees to the UK, there are many visa options to consider. Your choice will be determined by a number of factors, including the role of the employee, the nature of the activity, the time they plan to spend in the UK and the status of the company’s operations in the UK.
Since overseas businesses are not allowed to sponsor workers in the UK, the Sole Representative Visa is used by foreign companies to send a single employee to the UK to set up a branch or subsidiary. With operations established, the UK-based entity can look to apply for a sponsorship licence to support their skills and recruitment needs.
There are many advantages to the Sole Representative Visa making it a desirable entry route, but the eligibility requirements are strict, and place heavy restrictions on the nominated individual and type of activity that can be carried out when in the UK.
What you need to know about the Sole Representative Visa
The visa holder is allowed to work full-time in the UK for their employer.
They must have been employed by the overseas operation for at least 6 months and must not hold more than 50% of the shares in the overseas company. Partners of someone with a majority shareholding can no longer apply for a sole representative visa.
Dependants can apply to join them, and they have the option to apply to extend their visa beyond the initial period granted and apply to settle in the UK after 5 years.
Once the UK branch or subsidiary is operational, or other representatives are required in the UK, employees must apply under the UK points-based system. This usually requires an application to be made for a UK sponsorship licence.
What are the eligibility criteria for a sole representative of an overseas business?
Sole representatives are nominated representatives of an overseas business. The requirements on visa holders are stringent and far-reaching.
To qualify for the sole representative visa the individual must be a single representative in the UK of an overseas employer who intends to establish and operate a registered branch or wholly-owned subsidiary in the UK. They must have been recruited and employed outside the UK by the employer they intend to represent, and intend to work full-time and only for the same overseas employer.
The applicant will be assessed under a ‘genuineness’ criteria that they are being deployed to establish the UK operation, with their qualifications, skills and experience assessed as part of the application.
The UK operation must be active and trading and the overseas entity must remain the principal place of business outside the UK.
While sole representatives are required to hold a senior position with full authority to take operational decisions while representing the overseas company, they are not permitted to be a majority shareholder in that overseas business. The applicant must provide a document which details the terms and conditions of their employment, and they must be able to show that their salary and other benefits are relatively higher than other employees’ salaries, and appropriate for their senior-level position.
The visa holder must also evidence they can maintain and accommodate themselves, and any dependants, sufficiently without the need to access public funds.
They also have to meet the basic standard in English language.
Is it possible to extend a sole representative visa?
Sole representative visas are initially granted for a period of 3 years and can be extended by a further 2 years on application.
Looking further ahead, the sole representative may qualify to settle in the UK permanently after 5 continuous years in the UK.
To be eligible for an extension, the company would need to show it satisfies certain criteria.
The company headquarters and principal place of business has to remain outside the UK.
The sole representative will need to show they:
- are employed full time as a representative of the overseas entity and is still required for the employment in question;
- have established and are in charge of the overseas entity’s UK branch or wholly-owned subsidiary;
- have generated business, principally with businesses in the UK; and
- can maintain and accommodate and any dependants adequately without recourse to public funds.
What activities are not permitted under the Sole Representative visa?
The visa holder is prohibited from
- working for another company
- working for themselves
- claiming benefits or public funds
- switching to this visa eg if you are in the UK on the basis of a business visitor visa
- remaining in the UK if the sole representative arrangement with the employer ends
What is required of the overseas business?
The overseas company also has to meet a number of requirements. These include:
- Being headquartered and having main place of business outside the UK
- Having no other active branch, subsidiary or representative in the UK
- Intending to establish a commercial presence by operating a registered branch or wholly-owned subsidiary of that overseas business in the UK and that branch or subsidiary will operate in the same type of business activity as the overseas business
What happens once the UK operation has been established?
You have one month from the opening of our UK operation to register the entity with Companies House.
Once the branch or subsidiary has been set up, or other representatives are required in the UK, employees must apply under the UK points-based system. This requires the UK operation to apply for a sponsorship licence.
It is possible to admit a sole representative after a branch is established in the UK, as long as that branch exists only as a legal entity, has set up a bank account, and has identified and set up premises, and provided no staff are employed and the branch has not yet transacted any business.
Important points to note
Companies are not permitted to apply for two individuals to act as sole representatives. One may be admitted, and then later apply as a sponsor to allow the other employee to apply under Tier 2 of the points-based system.
The UK operation must be the same type of business as the parent company overseas.
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DavidsonMorris are specialist advisers help companies and individuals meet their mobility needs across on all areas of UK business immigration.
Whatever your plans in the UK – if you are looking to set up a new business, invest in an existing enterprise or hire skilled talent from overseas, we can help, advising on the most appropriate entry routes and supporting with the application process.
Our legal experts are highly experienced in all areas of UK business immigration, including Sole Representative visa applications. For advice and guidance on your specific requirements, please get in touch.
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