The UK economy is the fifth largest in the world, with a market of 65 million people. It is little wonder why so many foreign businesses have their eye on breaking into the UK as part of their scaling-up strategy.
However, there is no denying that Britain is currently in a state of flux, a situation which is likely to remain for some time as it extracts itself from the European Union. For smart organisations looking to expand, a flexible way of putting ‘boots on the ground’ to test the viability of opening a branch or subsidiary in the UK is to send a sole representative. They can spend time making valuable contacts with suppliers, build a sales pipeline, and organising what is needed to launch a subsidiary.
The person designated to take on this role will need to obtain a Representative of an Overseas Business Visa. This visa can also be used by media agencies who wish to place a foreign correspondent in Britain.
The advantages of a Representative of an Overseas Business Visa
A Sole Representative of an Overseas Business Visa provides your business with the flexibility of researching the UK market before committing to sending a larger team. Sending a sole representative initially also allows that person to scope out not only opportunities but build critical business relationships with suppliers and potential clients/customers. Finally, because the visa is issued for three years (with an option to extend for a further two), the sole representative will have the time required to execute strategic objectives related to opening a branch office or subsidiary.
Representative of an Overseas Business Visa requirements
To obtain a sole representative visa, the person you are planning to send to the UK must:
- meet the English language requirements
- support themselves financially
- be recruited and employed outside the UK by a non-UK company
- have extensive related industry experience and knowledge
- hold a senior position within the company (but not be a major shareholder) and have full authority to make decisions on its behalf
- intend to establish the company’s first commercial presence in the UK, for example, a registered branch or a wholly-owned subsidiary
Some applicants are confused regarding the requirement that the person must hold a senior position but not be a major shareholder. If you are a major shareholder, it may be that the Tier 1 Entrepreneur Visa is a more suitable route for you to enter the UK.
The business will need to provide a notarised statement which states:
- its headquarters is in a non-UK jurisdiction
- the employee is acting as a sole representative of the company
- the employee sent to the UK will only work for the organisation and not undertake any additional paid work.
When assessing the visa application, UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) will also look at the details of the company sending the sole representative to the UK to establish that it is a viable, genuine commercial venture. For example, it will investigate the turnover of the organisation, the profits generated, how long the business has been running and how many employees it has.
The main concern for UKVI is that the applicant company plans to move its main operations to the UK under this entry route. This is why the number of employees matters – if there are few workers in the parent company, suspicions will be high that the ultimate strategy is to make the UK the main headquarters. UKVI will also conduct further investigations if the sole representative is one of the driving forces of the business, as this may further indicate a desire to permanently relocate operations.
In cases whereby there is already an employee on a Representative of an Overseas Business Visa in the UK, the UK subsidiary begins to grow apart from that of the overseas headquarters, or the subsidiary ceases to be entirely owned by the overseas headquarters, it may be prudent to explore the Tier 2 Visa option for UK-based employees.
Obtaining expert legal advice
Sending an employee to the UK on a Representative of an Overseas Business Visa is a significant commitment in time, money, and planning. Nothing will frustrate your project faster than having your visa application rejected (and many are).
Investing in professional legal advice from the outset will ensure your application, and supporting documentation (including those that need to be notarised) are submitted according to the requirements of UKVI. An immigration lawyer will also include a detailed covering letter setting out the strengths of your application and pre-emptively clarifying any ambiguities.
Finally, should your initial application fail, they can quickly advise you on the next best steps to take to ensure your business objectives in the UK are advanced to the next stage.
If you are an overseas-based business looking to send a sole representative to the UK, please contact us. Our specialist immigration lawyers are able to advise on aspects of business immigration in full detail. Call us on 0203 372 5125 or contact us online.