29 March 2022
Business immigration routes to the UK - an update on changes
On 15 March 2022 the Secretary of State issued a Statement of Changes to the Immigration Rules, proposing drastic changes to existing immigration routes as well as the introduction of new visa categories. The changes have been unveiled following the sudden closure of the Tier 1 Investor visa route and appear to reduce avenues to settlement in the UK even further.
The proposed changes are due to take effect between 6 April 2022 and 22 August 2022.
We outline below important changes to existing business immigration routes, as well as a summary of new business routes which are due to be implemented this year:
Closure of the Sole Representative Route
Effective from 9am on 11 April 2022, the Sole Representative visa route will be closed to new applicants.
This route became increasingly popular following the closure of the Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa in March 2019. It allowed senior employees of overseas companies (or Media Representatives) to establish and operate a wholly-owned subsidiary or branch of the overseas company in the UK. The route leads to settlement in the UK after 5 years and has been considered to be one of the most attractive immigration routes due to its flexibility and the fact that it does not impose any specified investment into the UK.
The route will remain open to those migrants (and dependants) who are already on it, allowing them to extend their leave until they obtain settlement.
Introduction of the High Potential Individual (HPI) visa
Effective from 30 May 2022, this route will allow graduates from non-UK universities which are listed as Top 50 on at least 2 ranking systems to come to the UK for 2 years without sponsorship.
The university must be ranked on the Home Office’s ‘Global Universities List’ which will be updated annually based on their standing and listing in at least 2 of the following:
- The Times Higher Education Work University Rankings;
- The Quacquarelli Symonds World University Rankings;
- The Academic Ranking of Work Universities
The qualification must be equivalent to a UK Bachelor’s or Masters level and must have been awarded no more than 5 years before the date of application. If the qualification is equivalent to a UK PhD, leave will be granted for 3 years.
Applicants can work full-time at any skill level and will be able to bring their dependants to join them in the UK.
This route will not lead to settlement in the UK.
Introduction of the Scale-Up visa
Effective from 22 August 2022, this route will “allow those with a job offer at the required skills level from a recognised UK scale-up to qualify for a fast-track visa”.
Applicants must have a sponsored job offer from an authorised UK Scale-Up company. The job offer must be at least RQF Level 6 (or equivalent) and must be paid an appropriate salary of at least £33,000 per annum or the going rate for the particular occupation, whichever is higher.
Permission will initially be granted for 2 years, after which applicants can extend for a further 3 years. This route will lead to settlement in the UK after completion of 5 qualifying years.
Applicants must work for their sponsoring employer in a job skilled to RQF Level 6 for the first 6 months of their leave. After that, their immigration status will no longer be tied to that employer and they will be able to work full-time at any skill level as long as they meet the salary requirements.
In order to extend their leave, applicants must have earnings of at least £33,000 per year for at least 50% of their time in the route.
To qualify for settlement, applicants must have earnings of at least £33,000 in 24 months of the 3-year period immediately prior to the date of their settlement application. They must also meet the continuous residence, Life in the UK, and English language requirements.
In order to register as an authorised Scale-Up company, it will be necessary to demonstrate annualised growth of at least 20% for the previous 3 year period (turnover or staffing). Further details are expected to be published in due course.
Introduction of the Global Mobility visa routes
A new category of sponsored routes for overseas business’ seeking to establish a presence in the UK or to transfer staff to the UK for specific business purposes will be introduced from 6 April 2022.
There will be five sub-categories, all of which are temporary and will not lead to settlement. Applicants will not be able to have cumulative grants of leave in any Global Mobility route of more than 5 years in any 6-year period.
1. UK Expansion Worker
This route will seek to replace the Sole Representative visa route and can only be used where the sponsoring UK entity has not yet begun trading. The visa requirements are points-based (similar to those of the existing Skilled Worker route):
- Applicants must be issued with a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) by a company which has been authorised to sponsor UK Expansion Workers, and
- Applicants will need to evidence that they are sponsored under a relevant SOC Code which is eligible under the Global Mobility routes, and
- Applicants must be paid a salary of at least £42,400 per annum or the going rate for the job, whichever is the higher, and
- The role must be ‘genuine’ and applicant must have the appropriate skills, qualifications, and experience to effectively carry out the job, and
- Applicant must meet a financial requirement for entry clearance applications to evidence that they have held a specified amount of funds for 28 days
In a nod to the out-going Sole Representative route, applicants must evidence that they are currently working for the sponsor group, and they must have worked outside of the UK for the sponsor group for a cumulative period of at least 12 months. There are exceptions for high-earners or those seeking to establish UK commercial presence under the UK-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement.
2. Senior or Specialist Workers
This route is designed for overseas workers who are undertaking temporary work assignments in the UK, and will replace the current Intra-Company Transfer (ICT) route.
3. Graduate Trainee
This route is for workers on a graduate training course which leads to a senior management or specialist position, and who are required to undertake a work placement in the UK as part of their course. This route will replace the current Intra-Company Graduate Trainee route.
4. Service Supplier
This route is aimed at overseas workers who are undertaking temporary work assignments in the UK. In order to qualify, the worker must be either a contractual service supplier employment by an overseas service provider or a self-employed independent professional based overseas and they must have the need to undertake an assignment in the UK covered by one of the UK’s international trade agreements.
5. Secondment Worker
This route is designed for overseas workers who are undertaking temporary work assignments in the UK, where the worker is being seconded to the UK as part of a high value contract or investment by their employer overseas.
Gaps in the Market
The proposed changes to the Immigration Rules raise concerns about the lack of long-term business immigration options leading to settlement in the UK, further exacerbated by the closure of the Sole Representative route.
As the Rules will stand from 6 April 2022 all investors, entrepreneurs, and business people will have to apply under the elusive Innovator visa route in order to establish and operate UK companies with a view to settling in the UK. The Global Talent route remains in place for those particularly talented individuals, however this route is exclusive and will only be suitable for those few applicants who can prove that they are leaders in their fields.
There is also, of course, the Skilled Worker route which is geared towards workers who are recruited to undertake specific jobs in the UK for Home Office-approved companies. Unlike the previous Tier 1 Entrepreneur, Tier 1 General, or Sole Representative routes, sponsored migrants must only undertake certain highly-skilled jobs and are subject to minimum salary requirements, rendering the route somewhat unsuitable for entrepreneurs or those that do not fall neatly within the Home Office’s list of approved job roles.
We eagerly await further information regarding the promised reforms to the Innovator route, which will allow individuals to invest into certain UK entities, though it remains to be seen whether the Secretary of State will look to introduce additional business visa routes leading to settlement.
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