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What do we know about the new Global Business Mobility visa?
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The UK government has published changes to the Immigration Rules introducing the Global Business Mobility visa. They come into force on 11 April 2022 and provide new solutions for overseas firms transferring staff to the UK.
Announcing the route last year, the Home Office admitted that “immigration routes that may once have worked for business, no longer do; they have not evolved in tandem with businesses”. But how much of this route will be genuinely new and useful rather than consolidating existing options in a rebranding exercise?
Who will be able to use the Global Business Mobility route?
The Global Business Mobility visa will have five pathways for overseas firms to establish a UK footprint or transfer staff to the UK:
- Senior or Specialist Worker, to meet specific business needs
- Graduate Trainee, as part of a training programme
- Secondment Worker, to UK firms in high value contracts or investments
- Service Supplier, to the UK in line with UK trade agreements
- UK Expansion Worker, to establish a UK presence
The first three are options for firms with a UK presence, the last three for firms with no UK presence. (Secondments will be an option for both.) The worker will require sponsorship in all cases.
In practice the new route consolidates the existing Intra-Company Transfer, Intra-Company Graduate Trainee, Representative of an Overseas Business and International Agreement visas. Of the five pathways, only UK expansion workers and secondments (to use the new terminology) see significant changes. The recommendation of the Migration Advisory Committee to allow Intra-Company Transfer visa holders (now Senior or Specialist Workers) to settle in the UK has not been followed.
What is new rather than a rebrand?
The route that has changed most in the new Rules is the UK Expansion Worker, which replaces the Sole Representative provisions in Appendix Representative of an Overseas Business.
Unlike the old Sole Rep route, the UK Expansion Worker visa is not a route to settlement. It can only be granted for one year at a time, and up to two years in total, before applicants would be required to switch into another route. A UK Expansion Worker visa will also require sponsorship, unlike the old route, and will have the same minimum salary and skill levels as the Senior and Specialist Workers route (formerly Intra-Company Transfer).
The Rules do not set out the requirements for becoming a sponsor or how many people an organisation can sponsor under this route, so it remains to be seen whether forthcoming sponsor guidance will incorporate the MAC’s suggestion that a team of up to five people should be allowed to come to the UK as Expansion Workers (compared with a sole employee under the route being replaced).
It is also not yet clear how a company with no presence in the UK will go about becoming a sponsor, or what footprint a company would already be expected to have.
Although the Rules set out how applicants score “points” towards qualifying as a Secondment Worker, there is little detail yet about how it will work in practice. The new Appendix Global Business Mobility – Secondment Worker says that the route is for overseas workers who are “being seconded to the UK as part of a high value contract or investment by their employer overseas”, but what counts as a high value contract is not defined in the Rules. It will likely be confirmed in guidance for prospective sponsors in due course. The MAC had suggested applying a £50 million threshold, which would significantly limit the accessibility and usefulness of this route (“we would expect no more than a handful of applications each year”).
Currently, employees working for overseas clients of UK export companies can be seconded to the UK business under the visitor rules (see Immigration Rule PA 8) which limits them to a stay of six months. The new route allows visas for up to 12 months at a time and up to two years in total.
How will sponsorship work?
The principle will be that the UK business that receives the workers will be the sponsor licence holder. Applicants would need to demonstrate they have a receiving business, a sending business and that there is a business relationship between them.
For example, an overseas parent company could be sending staff to a UK subsidiary; or an overseas service supplier may have a contract with a UK client; or an overseas company could be sending staff on secondment to a UK supplier of goods or setting up a UK branch pre-trading.
In the case of UK expansion, it will be interesting to see whether the new UK branch applies for a licence once incorporated, or if an overseas business would be able to apply for the licence from abroad. The Home Office has identified challenges it needs to overcome in establishing this route, including what footprint would reasonably be expected before the subsidiary can start sponsoring workers, and what activities connected to establishing the footprint could not be done as a business visitor.
What details still need ironed out?
Although the Rules about how visa applicants can score points are now confirmed, the requirements and process for an organisation becoming a sponsor and the types of roles that can be sponsored under the various categories have not yet been published.
Since the new routes come into force on 11 April 2022, there is not long left for the Home Office to publish guidance so companies can apply for licences in the new categories in time for people to make their visa applications from this date. There could be a gap between, for example, the closure of the Sole Rep route and companies being in a position to sponsor Expansion Workers, in which businesses are temporarily unable to send workers to the UK in an appropriate visa category.
This article was originally published in November 2021 and has been updated so that it is correct as of the new date of publication shown.