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How to apply for a UK Expansion Worker visa  

How to apply for a UK Expansion Worker visa  

The UK Expansion Worker visa is part of the Global Business Mobility route. It enables overseas businesses seeking to expand into the UK to temporarily assign senior managers and specialist employees, including business owners, to the UK to establish a British operation. Opening on 11 April 2022, it replaced the Representative of an Overseas Business visa (except for journalists). 

Initial permission as a UK Expansion Worker can be granted for up to a year. This can be renewed for a further year, to a maximum of two continuous years. There is also an overall limit on time allowed in this route, even if not continuous: five years in any six-year period. If the worker needs to remain in the UK for longer than that, they would need to switch into a different route (typically Skilled Worker). It is not possible to get indefinite leave to remain (settlement) as an Expansion Worker.

Most businesses can sponsor up to five Expansion Workers at any one time and they can bring family members.

Example

TechGiant Corp, based in San Francisco, has been trading since 2017. It wishes to expand into the UK.

TechGiant executives have held initial scoping meetings in London (as permitted under the visitor rules) and hired Regus shared office space as a base. They’ve decided that it’s time to push accelerate on the UK expansion plan and Technical Director Dan has volunteered to oversee it on the ground.

The company will first need to get a UK Expansion Worker sponsor licence. Once obtained, TechGiant can transfer Dan and up to four of his team to the UK to set up the British arm.

Then, once TechGiant is established and trading in the UK, it can apply to replace its Expansion Worker sponsor licence with a Skilled Worker licence to hire more people.  

Key information

The most important document to read in detail before you embark on giving advice on this route is the Global Business Mobility sponsor guidance. This contains essential information on both the sponsor licence process — which differs significantly from the more familiar process for the Skilled Worker and ICT routes — and the requirements that the worker must fulfil.

Then there’s the usual overview on gov.uk and the Immigration Rules in Appendix Global Business Mobility.

Consider alternatives first

The Expansion Worker route is going to be tricky for the vast majority of businesses seeking to expand into the UK, as Ross has explained.

At an early stage, consider if there is any possibility that the Skilled Worker, Global Talent or (forthcoming) High Potential routes could work instead. If so, I would recommend using those for the worker(s) who need to come to the UK.

Early considerations

If Expansion Worker is the only option, the next thing to consider is which workers are eligible for a visa.

First of all, they must already be employed by the “sponsor group”. This means that they must be working for the overseas business that is expanding to the UK or an entity that is linked to that business by way of common ownership or control, as defined in paragraph GBM2.11 of the sponsor guidance.

The person being transferred must have worked for the sponsor group for at least 12 months outside the UK: paragraph UKX 5.6(b) of the Rules. This is waived if:

  • they are a Japanese national and the UK business is being established under the CEPA trade deal; or
  • they are a “high earner” (currently defined as earning a gross salary of at least £73,900).

Paragraph UKX 5.7 confirms that this 12 months of employment must have been “continuous”, unless one of the exceptions listed (e.g. maternity leave) applies.

It’s also important to check the person’s UK visa record at an early stage. They are only allowed to stay in the UK for a maximum of five years in any six-year period. This limit includes time in the UK on another Global Business Mobility visa or on the old Intra-company Transfer routes:

UKX 11.1. The grant of permission must not lead to the applicant being granted cumulative periods of permission in the Global Business Mobility routes and Intra-Company routes totalling more than 5 years in any 6-year period.

It’s important to also consider the skill and salary requirements at an early stage. I’ll explain more about these points later.

Finally, as always, early consideration of the general grounds for refusal is advisable.

Sponsorship

In order for the worker to apply for immigration permission, they will need a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) number to enter onto the application form. The CoS must be assigned by the overseas business which is expanding into the UK and which has been approved to hold a UK Expansion Worker sponsor licence.

Licence

The requirements for getting a licence are in the sponsor guidance and there are both general Global Business Mobility rules (in section GBM 2) and extra Expansion Worker rules (section GBM 3). The latter are onerous and include:

  • GBM 3.3: the sponsor is not already actively trading in the UK (businesses that are actively trading in the UK would need to use the Skilled Worker / Senior or Specialist Worker route instead); 
  • GBM 3.4: the sponsor has a UK “footprint”, meaning it can demonstrate that it has secured business premises here and/or has registered the branch/subsidiary with Companies House;
  • GBM 3.6: the sponsor has been active and trading overseas for at least three years, unless one of the exceptions in paragraphs GBM 3.11-3.16 of the guidance applies.

As with any sponsor licence application, there must be certain “key personnel” nominated, including an authorising officer. But if there is no UK-based worker who can act as the authorising officer, a “senior employee of the overseas business who will be assigned to the UK to oversee the expansion” can take on that role. In our example, Dan could be the authorising officer. The sponsor guidance has more detail about specific steps to take in this scenario.

A licence lasts four years but, again unlike other routes, cannot be renewed after that. 

Certificate of sponsorship

Once the sponsor has a licence, a CoS can then be assigned to the person being transferred.

Paragraph UKX 5.1 of Appendix Global Business Mobility confirms that the CoS must:

(a) confirm the applicant’s name, that they are being sponsored as a UK Expansion Worker, details of the job, salary and any allowances the sponsor is offering them (if applicable) and PAYE details if HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) requires income tax and national insurance for the sponsored job to be paid via PAYE; and

(b) include a start date for the job, stated by the sponsor, which is no more than 3 months after the date of application; and

(c) not have been used in a previous application which was either granted or refused (but can have been used in a previous application which was rejected as invalid, made void or withdrawn); and

(d) not have been withdrawn by the sponsor or cancelled by the Home Office; and

(e) confirm that the applicant has worked for the sponsor group for the period required at UKX 5.6.(b); and

(f) confirm whether the Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) requirement in Appendix ATAS applies.

The would-be Expansion Worker must not submit their visa application more than three months before the start date on the CoS, and the CoS must be used within three months of the date it is assigned. A CoS is “used” when a valid immigration application is submitted which cites the CoS number.

Example

Dan is due to start work in the UK on 1 July 2023. He assigns himself a CoS on 1 February 2023. Dan must submit his application by 1 May 2023. If he applies later than that, a new CoS will need to be applied for, which is done through the Sponsor Management System, and assigned.

The guidance tells sponsors that “You will only be permitted to sponsor as many people as you genuinely need to establish your business in the UK, up to a maximum of 5. Your CoS allocation will therefore not be higher than 5 at any time”. The allocation will also be reduced to zero after two years. That is because the Home Office expects the company to have established its UK trading presence by then and to have no further need of expansion workers.

Skill level

The job that the applicant will be doing in the UK, as stated on the CoS, must be listed as eligible for the Global Business Mobility routes in Appendix Skilled Occupations. These are roles considered to require at least an undergraduate degree. Table 1 of the Appendix has a column saying “eligible for GBM”? Table 2 lists occupations which are “eligible for the Global Business Mobility routes unless otherwise stated”.

The Appendix Global Business Mobility rules allow Home Office caseworkers to reject a visa application if they think the person will not really be doing work that qualifies as a skilled occupation:

UKX 6.2. The decision maker must not have reasonable grounds to believe the sponsor has chosen a less appropriate occupation code for any of the following reasons:

(a) the most appropriate occupation code is not eligible under the Global Business Mobility routes; or

(b) the most appropriate occupation code has a higher going rate than the proposed salary.

UKX 6.3. To support the assessment in UKX 6.2, the decision maker may, in particular, consider:

(a) whether the sponsor has shown a genuine need for the job as described; and

(b) whether the applicant has the appropriate skills, qualifications and experience needed to do the job as described; and

(c) the sponsor’s history of compliance with the immigration system including, but not limited to, paying its sponsored workers appropriately; and

(d) any additional information from the sponsor.

Salary requirement

The applicant’s salary for the role in the UK, as stated on the CoS, must be at least £42,400. This is known as the “general salary requirement”.

In addition, the salary must also be at or above the “going rate” referred to in Appendix Skilled Occupations if that is higher than the general salary threshold.

Example

Dan is TechGiant Corp’s Technical Director. He’ll be transferring to the UK as part of the initial team establishing the UK presence. His role will be to oversee the systems integration project and staff (until a UK-based HR team is established).

The appropriate occupation code from Appendix Skilled Occupations is 1136 (information technology and telecommunications directors). The “going rate” for code 1136 is £56,100 based on a 39-hour week.

Dan will be paid £68,000 and contracted to work 45 hours per week. To get the going rate for a 45-hour week, we need to use the formula in paragraph GBM 8.8 of the sponsor guidance.

1 x (the going rate for the occupation code stated in Table 1 of Appendix Skilled Occupations) multiplied by (the number of weekly working hours stated by you on the CoS / 39)

So in this case, we get 1 x (£56,100) x (45 / 39) = £64,731. Dan’s salary of £68,000 is therefore above the going rate.

If needed, certain allowances can be taken into account as well as gross salary. Section GBM 8 of the sponsor guidance contains detailed information and examples of what allowances can be taken into account. This includes the fact that accommodation allowances can be taken into account, but only up to a maximum of 30% of the total salary package. It also lists allowances that specifically cannot be counted towards the salary threshold, such as in-kind benefits, company cars, payments to cover business expenses, etc.

Switching from inside the UK

The rule on switching onto Expansion Worker from another immigration route is in paralegal UKX 1.5 of Appendix Global Business Mobility:

an applicant applying for permission to stay must be in the UK and must not have, or have last been granted, permission:

(a) as a Visitor; or

(b) as a Short-term Student; or

(c) as a Parent of a Child Student; or

(d) as a Seasonal Worker; or

(e) as a Domestic Worker in a Private Household; or

(f) outside the Immigration Rules.

In other words, it is allowed in all other cases.

Example

Dan is in the UK as a visitor for initial scoping meetings. He cannot switch onto UK Expansion Worker and must instead apply from overseas. Dan returns to San Francisco and applies from there.

Visa application process and documents

The visa application must be made via an online application form. The form itself should take no more than 15-20 minutes to complete as most of the key information is contained in the CoS.

Once the fee has been paid and the application submitted, applicants will either be able to use the UK Immigration app to prove their identity, or they will have to attend a biometric appointment at a visa application centre.

The documentation for this route will generally be extremely simple. There is no English language requirement so many applicants will just need to provide ID. The hard work will have already been done to ensure that the CoS contains all the essential information.

One thing the applicant will need to provide is evidence that they meet the financial requirement (previously called the maintenance requirement) in paragraphs UKX 10.1-10.3. This means they will need to have held cash funds of at least £1,270 for at least 28 consecutive days ending not more than 31 days before the application is submitted. There is more information in Appendix Finance. Sponsors under this route cannot certify maintenance, but there is an exception for people who have already been living in the UK for 12 months or more.

It is also important to ensure that payslips or other evidence that demonstrates that the person has worked for the sponsor group overseas for at least 12 months is ready to provide if requested.

Where the applicant is subject to the Academic Technology Approval Scheme (also known as ATAS) as set out in Appendix ATAS, they will need to submit a valid ATAS certificate. Likewise, a TB certificate may be required for entry clearance applications, under Appendix T: Tuberculosis Screening

As always, it is important for lawyers helping with these applications to prepare a detailed cover letter to lead the caseworker through the relevant Rules and ensure any complexities are thoroughly addressed.

How much does it cost?

The current fees associated with each UK Expansion Worker application are:

  • Certificate of Sponsorship: £199
  • Application fee: £259
  • Immigration Health Surcharge: £624 per year

The sponsor licence costs £536. There is no Immigration Skills Charge.

Once the application is approved

Successful applicants will be granted either digital immigration status covering the duration of their stay in the UK, or a physical visa and will need to collect their biometric residence permit when they enter the UK.

They will be permitted to:

  • work as described on the CoS;
  • study
  • do voluntary work

Supplementary employment is not allowed. Access to public funds is prohibited and police registration is required for some nationalities. 

Unlike the old Representative of an Overseas Business route, this route does not lead to settlement in the UK.

Nichola heads the immigration team at Carter Thomas (www.carterthomas.co.uk). A lawyer with 20 years' experience, she also sits on The Law Society’s Immigration Committee. Nichola's main work relates to advising businesses, universities and schools on sponsor applications and compliance, and individuals seeking to come under the Global Talent, family and other routes . She regularly provides media comment including for the BBC and FT and is happy to be contacted for comment. Nichola tweets from @carternichola and her email is [email protected]