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Global HR Lawyers

Statement of Changes introduces significant new hurdles for Sole Representative visa applicants

20 May 2020

A general tightening of the requirements and restrictions of the sole representative category will be brought into effect from 6 June 2020.

It’s a shame to bring in any changes to the sole representative visa. It is one of the ‘old-school’ categories that functions well and has been around since before 2008 when the Points-Based System was introduced.

This route works so well because the principal requirements are fairly simple and not too prescriptive. In essence, it is designed for bringing in a senior employee of an overseas business so that they can set up a branch or wholly owned subsidiary in the UK. The sole representative can’t be a majority shareholder in the overseas business, the business cannot already have an active branch, subsidiary or representative in the UK and the headquarters must remain outside the UK.

The new restrictions are aimed at addressing potential abuse of this route. On the face of it, they are still in the spirit of the existing requirements. But they do add more complexity, more restrictions and requirements.

One of the more significant changes is the introduction of a restriction that a person who has a majority stake in, or who otherwise owns or controls the overseas business cannot enter as the partner of a sole representative who is representing the business they own. By introducing this restriction, the Home Office intends to stop entrepreneurs from in effect relocating their business to the UK. It is also likely that more generally, the Home Office also wishes to ensure the sole representative route is not used as a loophole category to avoid the much more stringent requirements of the Start-up and Innovator categories.

Other additions require that the sole representative must genuinely intend to set up the UK entity of the business and not be using the visa to facilitate entry to the UK; that the overseas business is already active and trading and that the sole representative has the skills, experience and knowledge to represent the overseas business in the UK. These were all in the previous Rules in spirit or in the associated guidance.

In sum total, these changes will likely just make applications a little harder, with more requirements to evidence and more ways the caseworker can refuse applicants based on their own assessment of capability and genuineness. For instance, the old entrepreneur route had particular difficulties due to the Home Office assessing whether a business plan was realistic or not. It may not work well to have civil servants assessing whether the individual has the skills, experience and knowledge to take on the set-up of the UK business. It remains to be seen how heavily genuineness will come to be relied upon as a refusal reason, but applicants should be aware that this element of their application will be scrutinised both in terms of the supporting documents submitted with the application, and at interview if one is requested.

This is still a really useful route to the UK for the right applicant and the right business. If you think that this category could be relevant to you, do get in touch.

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