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Using the International Agreement visa route to sponsor contractual service suppliers

12 October 2021

The latest Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules rebrands the T5 International Agreement route as the International Agreement route from 9 am on 11 October 2021. In this article, we look at how the route can be used to bring contractual service suppliers to the UK, and which business scenarios may benefit from it.

What is the International Agreement route?

The International Agreement route is a sponsored route, broadly for individuals whose work is included under international law or an international agreement the UK is a signatory to.

There are specific provisions for individuals who need to provide services in the UK to fulfil a contract between a UK business (the sponsor) and an overseas business with no UK presence. These people are referred to as ‘contractual service suppliers’. There are also provisions for independent professionals, but these are rarely used in practice.

What are the main requirements for sponsoring contractual service suppliers?

In all cases, the service supplier’s business must be established in the country or territory that is a signatory to the trade agreement they are supplying services under, and the sponsor business must be the end consumer of the services.

The most commonly relied on agreements are:

  • The World Trade Organisation General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS)

  • The UK-European Union Trade and Cooperation Agreement

  • The UK-Switzerland Temporary Agreement on Services Mobility

It is important to correctly identify which agreement being relied on, because some of the criteria are different for each agreement.

The contractual service supplier must normally be a national of the country or territory in which the supplying business is established. However, if the UK-Switzerland agreement applies, or GATS where the supplying business is established in Armenia, Australia, Canada, New Zealand or Switzerland, they may be a permanent resident. The person providing the services must also have a degree or technical qualification (some industry-specific exemptions may be applicable), have been employed by the contractual service supplier for at least 12 months and have at least three years’ relevant professional experience.

There is no English language requirement to be met for this route.

The UK-based company in receipt of the eligible services must hold a sponsor licence with the ‘International Agreement’ route activated. If they do not hold a sponsor licence or do not have the route activated, they will need to make an application to the Home Office. The sponsor must also seek prior approval from the Home Office before assigning certificates of sponsorship under this route by sending a copy of the contract to the Home Office for approval and certifying that the contract was awarded through a ‘bona fide’ bid process.

How long can a contractual service supplier stay?

The time a person can spend in the UK as a contractual service supplier under the route is as follows:

Agreement Time Allowed (shortest time will apply) 
 GATS 6 months in any 12-month period, or length of certificate of sponsorship plus 14 days before and after
 UK-EU 12 months at a time, or length of certificate of sponsorship plus 14 days before and after
 UK-Switzerland 12 months in any 24-month period, or length of certificate of sponsorship plus 14 days before and after


What scenarios and activities come within the contractual service provider provisions?

The route can be particularly useful for periodic contracts to maintain specialist equipment in the UK, or other recurring contracts where the proposed activities in the UK are not permitted under the immigration rules for visitors

UK businesses able to benefit from the route include the automotive manufacturing industry, other manufacturing businesses using productions lines, as well as businesses in the oil and gas and energy generation sectors.

The relevant international agreements specify which activities they cover. The full activities covered by the GATS, UK-EU and/or UK-Switzerland agreements are as follows:

 Sector  GATS    UK-EU   UK-Switzerland   
 Accounting services X
 Advertising services X X X
 Auditing services     X
 Computer-related services   X X
 Engineering and integrated engineering services X X
 Environmental services
 Insurance and insurance-related advisory and consultancy services   X
 Legal advisory services
 Maintenance and repair of aircraft and aircraft parts  
 Maintenance and repair of metal products, non-office machinery, non- transport and non- office equipment and of personal and household goods  
 Maintenance and repair of motor vehicles, motorcycles, snowmobiles and road transport equipment   X
 Maintenance and repair of rail transport equipment   X
 Maintenance and repair of vessels   X
 Management consulting services and services related to management consulting
 Manufacturing advisory and consulting services   X
 Market research and opinion polling   X
 Mining advisory and consulting services  
 Other financial services advisory and consulting services  
 Postal and courier advisory and consultancy services   X
 Related scientific and technical consulting   X
 Research and development services   X
 Site investigation services X
 Taxation advisory services
 Technical testing and analysis
 Telecommunications advisory and consultancy services  
 Tourist guide services  
 Translation services X    
 Translation and interpretation services  
 Transport advisory and consulting services  
 Travel agencies and tour operator services  
 Urban planning and landscape services X


Case Study:

Following a ‘tender’ process, a UK-based manufacturing business entered into a contract with an Italian company for the provision of ‘integrated engineering services’ in the UK. The Italian company have no commercial presence in the UK and did not manufacture, supply or lease the machinery they will be installing/servicing and as such cannot not send their employees to the UK as visitors. Before 31 December 2021, they utilised ‘freedom of movement’ to provide services under contract in the UK, which is no longer applicable. The UK company holds a sponsor licence covering the International Agreement route and have received approval from the Home Office to utilise the International Agreement route. The UK company may now sponsor the eligible Italian national employees so they may apply for entry clearance to enter the UK and provide the services under contract.

We are running a webinar on this route and alternative options for contractual service suppliers on 21 October 2021. You can sign up for this event here. For specific queries, please contact a member of our Immigration Team.

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