Choosing a Sole Representative of Overseas Business Visa Candidate

14-May-2018 7:19
in UK Immigration Business Plans
by Admin

UK Sole Representative Visa

Non-EEA companies looking to establish a commercial presence in the UK have a handful of visa routes that are open to them, but more often than not, the quickest, easiest and cheapest way to do this is to set up a representative office in the UK.  There are some requirements for this visa that means that it is not open to everyone, but for many individuals, it still provides a great way to open a business in the UK.  It has the advantage of having no minimum capital requirements and is significantly more straight forward than the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) or Tier 1 (Investor) routes. 

This representative office may be a registered branch or a wholly-owned subsidiary concerned with the same type of business activity as the parent company.  However, in order for the candidate that the company chooses to be able to reside in the UK, either alone or with their family, to direct the affairs of the UK office, that individual must obtain a Sole Representative of an Overseas Business Visa.  This article will outline several important factors that must be taken into account when a company that is looking to establish a UK presence is choosing a candidate to open their representative office.

As already mentioned, there are some requirements for the sole representative visa that mean that it is not for everyone.  The sole representative visa is seldom applied for – in fact, it is not even advertised under the work-based visa categories on the list of work visas on the website.  The sole representative visa only attracted 505 applicants last year, about a quarter of the number of applicants for the better known Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa.  This is because the pre-requisites for this visa for the company and the requirements for the candidate mean that the visa will not be a fit for everyone looking to come to the UK for business reasons.

Pre-Requisites for a Company Considering Opening a Representative office

There are three important pre-requisites which any company must satisfy if they are planning to send a sole representative to the UK to direct UK operations.  

  1. No Existing Branch in the UK - The company looking to open a representative office must be able to prove that it is a genuine, trading business and that it does not have an existing branch or subsidiary in the UK.  As the name of the visa suggests, there can only be one Sole Representative at any one time.  
  2. Centre of Operations Test - For a parent company to satisfy the requirements of this visa category it must be a genuine commercial enterprise with its principal place of business outside the UK.  Perhaps most importantly, it must also intend to keep its main centre of operations outside of the UK.  This requirement is detailed in paragraph 144(iii)(d)(5) of the Immigration Rules, which states that the applicant must supply from their employer a notarised statement which confirms, amongst other things, that the company’s operations will remain centred overseas.
  3. UK Branch Must Be In the Same Business as the Parent Company - The UK branch or subsidiary and the overseas company must be involved in the same type of business, so it is not possible to come to the UK to run an entirely different type of business.  However, there is no limit to the number of markets/industries the business operates in, as long as it is the same as the overseas company.

Key Requirements for Sole Representative Visa Candidate 

There are several requirements which the person coming to the UK to direct the affairs of the representative office must meet.  The candidate for the sole representative visa must:

  1. Work for the Company and Have Decision-Making Power - The sole representative candidate must have been recruited outside the United Kingdom and must join the parent company abroad.  The candidate is usually someone who has been employed by the parent company for some time and holds a senior position there, although lengthy previous employment is not a prerequisite. The candidate must be authorised to make decisions on behalf of the company relating to business operations in the UK. The candidate must also intend to work full-time for the UK branch/subsidiary of the company, and exclusively as the representative of your business. 
  2. Significant Relevant Experience - If the candidate is not a pre-existing employee and has been employed simply to represent you in the UK, or has been employed for a short time only (i.e. less than 12 months), then the candidate must prove that they a strong track record in the same or in a closely related field, in order to show that the reasons for appointment are genuine.  A common reason for refusal is that executives of the business choose their wives as candidates so their wife and children can live in the UK and so they can skirt the requirement mentioned below that the candidate is not a majority shareholder of the company.  This only works in instances where the wife has worked for the company for a long time in a relevant role or if she has sufficient experience to actually carry out the role required of her in the UK.
  3. Cannot Be A Major Shareholder of the Business - The Home Office guidance states that they will refuse applications where an applicant’s shareholding is more than 50% of the available shares.  This means an applicant can still be a shareholder, providing they do not own more than 50%. 
  4. Employed Directly by Overseas Company - The candidate must, in the first instance, be employed by the overseas firm directly, although they may later be employed by the United Kingdom subsidiary.  Agents who are hired to market the company’s product in the UK are normally self-employed and provide their services for a fee. Such people do not qualify as sole representatives, nor can sales representatives or others such as buyers who fulfil a single function only as the candidate must have decision making power over the whole UK enterprise, not simply one aspect of it.  

As we have hopefully made clear, there are several pre-requisites for the company and requirements for the candidate that might mean that the Sole Representative visa is not the right visa route for you.  However, if you do decide that the Sole Representative Visa is right for you, then you need to make sure that you provide sufficient supporting information to show that you intend to meet all of the criteria shown above both for the company and the candidate. 

When Sole Representative visa applications do go wrong and are refused, it is typically because the applicant didn't provide adequate supporting documents. This is an easy mistake to make as the application form is very short and rather generic and doesn’t really give an opportunity for those applicants who simply fill in the form to demonstrate that you understand and either comply or intend to comply with all of the visa requirements. It is critically important, therefore, to include a covering letter and a comprehensive business plan if you want to ensure that your application is approved the first time without either an outright refusal or a request for further information.

Unlike the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa, there are no specific provisions in the UK Immigration Rules requiring a business plan with your sole representative visa application.  Indeed, if you work for larger multinational corporations or huge brands that are household names, you may only require a letter from the company director or minimal information to secure this kind of visa.  However, this will definitely not be the case for younger or less known businesses.  In this case, you will need to strengthen your sole representative visa application by submitting a professional, well-written sole representative visa business plan detailing your plans for expansion to the United Kingdom.  

A business plan for a sole representative visa application has to strike a careful balance between showing why there’s a business case for expanding into the UK whilst also explaining why the centre of operations will remain overseas.  The consequences of submitting a poorly written business plan that does not contain detailed market and industry analysis as well as address appropriately the key points that the Home Office are looking for from applicants will very likely to be that your sole representative application is refused.

That is where Continuous Business Planning can help.  We have invested substantial time and effort into understanding the sole representative visa scheme and encourage prospective applicants to lean on our expertise in order to maximise the chances that any attempt to secure a sole representative of an Overseas Business visa proves successful.  Please contact us today for a free, no-obligation conversation to see just how we can help you and your company with your ambitions to do business in the UK.