Representative of an Overseas Business Visa Program Overview 2020

The ultimate guide for foreign businesses seeking UK expansion and settlement.

Looking to obtain residency in the UK as a means to grow your business in the UK market? While the Tier 1 Investor Visa is arguably the most widely known option, an often overlooked path to UK residency is the Representative of an Overseas Business Visa Program. A key benefit of the program is that it has no minimum investment requirement, making it far more accessible for foreign businesses wishing to test the UK market.

Find out more about the program below, or contact us now for more information.

The Overseas Business Representative Visa at a glance

Also commonly known as the UK Sole Representative Visa, this program is ideally suited for non-UK businesses seeking to establish a branch or subsidiary in the UK. The primary visa applicant has to be a senior staff member or minority shareholder (1% – 49% shareholding) in the foreign business, and as the primary visa applicant, they must be authorised and empowered by the overseas business employing them to serve as the sole representative of their new branch in the UK.

Note: The Representative of an Overseas Business Visa Program has undergone some significant changes in June 2020. You can find out more about its legal basis and the latest program requirements on this UK government site.

Under the program, qualifying applicants and their dependent family members can obtain UK residency. Another benefit is the fact that you can obtain a sponsorship license, enabling the business to bring key staff members to the UK in support of the new branch or subsidiary’s growth.

In contrast, the Tier 1 Investor Visa, whilst highly popular among foreign investors, require significant capital investment, with highly onerous due diligence requirements. In contrast, the Representative of an Overseas Business Visa requires no minimum capital investment or UK job creation requirements, making it a low-risk, exceptionally affordable path to obtaining UK settlement and accessing the market. In addition, the program offers a clear path to obtaining Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) and eventual citizenship.

The program requirements focus on the credibility of your overseas visas. Unlike with the Tier 1 Investor Visa, the program offers no option to fast-track your path to gaining permanent settlement, however the program compares well in terms of the overall time to gaining UK citizenship.

Apart from this distinction, there are no material downsides to choosing the Sole Rep Visa over the Tier 1 Investor Visa. The extension criteria of the latter program are also far less onerous. The Representative of an Overseas Business Program also typically has far lower application rejection rates than the Tier 1 Investor Program.

Most Sole Rep Visa rejections tend to stem from either insufficient financial wherewithal or poorly presented business plans, however working with an experienced immigration specialist and passing a pre-qualification review should largely mitigate your risk of rejection.

What are the key program criteria?

THE OVERSEAS BUSINESS:

  • Must have been existing for a minimum of 12 months.

  • Must be able to prove a minimum turnover of £5,000 per month (£60,000 per year).

  • Must be a genuine commercial enterprise, i.e. this business cannot have been set up only for the purpose of satisfying the program requirements.

  • Must intend to establish and operate either a registered branch or a wholly owned UK subsidiary of the overseas company (different regulatory requirements apply).

  • The company must not have any pre-existing branch or subsidiary in the UK, nor can the business have more than a single representative in the country.

Note 1: (The UK branch can obtain a sponsorship license to bring other staff members or majority shareholders to the UK on a Tier 2 Working Visa). 

Note 2: While the company may have existed as a legal UK entity ahead of the overseas business’ expansion, identified potential premises and set up a bank account, the entity may not have recruited any employees or conducted any trade. It is therefore highly recommended not to take any of the above steps until such time as your visa approval has been granted so as to avoid any potential issues. 

THE APPLICANT: 

  • Must not be a majority shareholder of the overseas (51%) plus. If you are a majority shareholder, you will need to restructure your shareholding. If you cannot restructure your shareholding, a senior employee can be nominated to serve as the Sole Representative, in which case you can apply for UK residency under the Tier 2 Visa category once a sponsorship license has been obtained.

    NB: Shares may not be passed to a dependent applicant, e.g. a spouse, in order to meet the minority shareholding requirement.

  • Must be able to maintain and accommodate themselves, along with any dependents, without recourse to public funds.

  • Must be demonstrably proficient in English (depending on your country of origin, you may be required to pass an English proficiency test).

  • May not be an agent hired to market the company’s services or products in the UK.

  • Must be a senior employee of the overseas business, recruited outside the UK, and having worked in the company for a minimum period for 12 months.

  • Must be employed at a senior level, and empowered to make autonomous decisions about the strategic direction and operation of the subsidiary company or branch in the UK in their capacity as its sole representative.

  • Must intend to be employed and engaged in the operation of the UK branch full time, so you will not be able to employed by another entity. The parameters of your employment activities in the UK are governed by the activities related to the expansion of the overseas business in the UK. It is therefore important to define both your terms of employment and the company’s business activities sufficiently broadly so as to ensure you don’t contravene these parameters. This will become a material consideration when it comes to the extension of your residency visa.

  • May not represent their own business interests, nor the interest of a third party outside of the branch or company they represent in the UK.

Note: If an outside applicant is brought in to serve as the Sole Representative, such applicants will be expected to have a demonstrable track record of setting up new branches or subsidiaries for other companies. Typically though, successful applicants are existing senior employees from within the overseas business.

THE BUSINESS PLAN:

  • Should compellingly reflect the overseas company’s strategy for expanding its core business in the UK.

  • Should include detailed market research findings, product or services information, go-to-market plan details as well as projected revenues.

Full guidance on the program requirements can be viewed here.

Required supporting documentation 2020

Your service provider can guide you through the correct compilation of the relevant documentation, including:

  • A cover letter describing your current overseas business, providing a rationale for your UK business expansion, as well as a high-level overview of your intended strategy to facilitate your business branch or subsidiary’s long-term growth in the UK. Without this, your application can be rejected, without any requirement to give you a further opportunity to provide additional input.

  • An application demonstrating that:

    • You are a senior employee of the overseas business, and that you have been recruited to the company, outside the UK, at least 12 months prior to the date of application.

    • You have been given full authority to represent the subsidiary or branch in the UK, and that you are empowered to take strategic and operational decisions on behalf of it.

  • You intend to establish and operate a registered branch or fully owned subsidiary of the overseas business employing you.

  • You are a minority shareholder in the overseas company employing you.

  • The overseas business does not already have a registered presence in the UK.

  • The overseas business will remain trading in the country it’s currently operating in, and that there is no intention from the outset to move its headquarters to the United Kingdom.

  • You, as the Sole Business Representative, will not be engaging in your own business or represent any third-party business interests other than the branch you’ll be operating.

  • A notarised statement, issued by the overseas business employing you, confirming your current visa status and that you have been mandated to run the UK branch or wholly owned subsidiary. It is advisable to include the various required supporting letters, including proof of English language proficiency, into this statement.

  • An organisational structure chart clearly illustrating your seniority within the organization, and that you are in a position to make executive decisions on behalf of the proposed UK business or branch.

  • A comprehensive business plan outlining the rationale for business expansion, market research findings, the intended target market, as well as details on your go-to-market strategy and anticipated revenue growth over time.

Note: It is highly advisable to work with a professional immigration firm specialising in the writing of business plans for the Representative of an Overseas Business Visa Program, as the UK government is under no obligation to engage in appeals should your application be rejected based on a technicality or due to incorrect application formatting.

Disclaimer: the above content is intended as general guidance on the topic only. The accuracy or completeness thereof is by no means guaranteed, and the publishers will not be held for any losses or damages whatsoever suffered as a result of reliance on this information. It is important to note that the rules and government guidance on the program should both be taken into account when making a Representative of an Overseas Business Visa Program application. Be sure to work with a UK business immigration expert in compiling your business plan and applications to reduce your risk of a rejection based on presentational technicalities or omissions.

 

The application process at a glance

STEP 1: Complete a business plan input session, enabling your service provider to develop and write a comprehensive business plan in support of your visa application.

STEP 2: Submit all the relevant documentation required for your client case file.

STEP 3:  Your application is submitted to Her Majesty’s Home Office.

STEP 4: Receive a formal notification of the outcome of your application within 3 weeks (visa approved / denied).

STEP 5: Pay your NHS surcharges and an additional 55% of your professional service fees.

STEP 6: Receive your UK residence card and pay the final 10% of your application fees.