Representative of an Overseas Business visas

The Representative of an Overseas Business (Sole Representative) category enables overseas businesses to expand into the UK, by allowing a senior employee of the overseas business to come to the UK to set up a UK branch or a wholly owned UK subsidiary.

This category is only available if the business does not already have an entity established in the UK. If the company already has a legal entity in the UK, the senior employee may still be eligible to apply under this category provided the company does not employ staff or transact business.

It is important to note that the senior employee must be employed and paid overseas and must work full time for the company for the duration of their stay in the UK. They are not permitted to carry out any other work.

Spouses and children under 18 are able to apply to accompany the Sole Representative to the UK for the duration of their time in the UK.

Requirements

Applicants must provide documentary evidence that the senior employee:

  • has been recruited and employed outside the UK by a company whose headquarters and principal place of business is, and will remain, outside the UK and intends to set up a branch or subsidiary of that business in the UK;
  • has extensive related industry experience and knowledge, holds a senior position within the overseas company and has full authority to make decisions on its behalf;
  • intends to establish the company’s first commercial presence in the UK and carry on the same business activity as the overseas company;
  • is not be a major shareholder;
  • will not work for any other business; and
  • is able to communicate in English to the required level.

Overseas and UK business

The overseas business must have its headquarters and main operations outside the UK. This situation must continue throughout the Sole Representative's employment in the UK.

When considering the overseas business, the Home Office will assess whether the business is a genuine commercial enterprise by taking into account:

  • how long the overseas business has been established – businesses operating for less than 12 months will have to justify why they need to establish an operation in the UK;
  • the turnover and profitability of the overseas business – which must demonstrate it is actively trading;
  • the business's registered offices – which must be outside the UK;
  • the type of business – this must be the same as the intended business in the UK;
  • the number of employees the overseas business has – where this number is small, this may cast doubt on whether the overseas business will remain the headquarters and/or main business;
  • whether, as a result of the establishment of the UK business, the overseas business will cease to be the headquarters and/or main operation; and
  • the role of the proposed Sole Representative in the overseas business – if they are the driving force in the overseas business, this, again, may be taken as evidence that the headquarters of the business will not remain overseas.

The UK business must be established as a branch (it must be registered with Companies House within a month of opening) or a company incorporated in the UK which is wholly owned by the overseas business (it must remain a wholly-owned subsidiary of the overseas business throughout the period of the Sole Representative's time in the UK under the category).

Seniority, length of service and remuneration of a sole representative

Those who apply under the Sole Representative category must already hold a senior post with the overseas employer abroad. The individual must have full authority to establish and oversee the operations of the UK branch or subsidiary. There is no minimum length of time the person must have been employed abroad. However, they must be an existing employee of the overseas business at the time of application. The salary and benefits paid to the Sole Representative must reflect the seniority of the UK post as well as a full-time work pattern (although Sole Representatives do not have to work a minimum number of contracted hours per week).

Shareholding

The proposed Sole Representative's shareholding in the overseas business must not be more than 50%.

Where the shareholding is between 30% and 50%, the Home Office will carefully review the documentation submitted with the application in order to determine whether the overseas business will still have its headquarters and main place of business outside the UK if the individual transfers to the UK.

Initial applications and documentary requirements

Initial applications must be made from outside of the UK and the Home Office will require documentary evidence of the company’s activities overseas, the qualifications of the applicant and the activities they will be performing in the UK.

The Sole Representative must provide proof that they can speak English to a basic level and can financially support themselves in the UK.

Provided the application is successful, the Sole Representative will be granted immigration permission valid for three years and four months.

Extension applications

Provided the Sole Representative is still working for the business after three years, has established the company’s first presence in the UK, is still employed and paid by the company overseas and the employer’s principal place of business is still outside the UK, the Sole Representative may apply to extend their stay in the UK under this route for two years.

Indefinite leave to remain

The Sole Representative should be eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain (ILR) (also known as permanent residence or settlement) after remaining in the UK for five years under this category provided they continue to meet the requirements stated above. Furthermore, the Sole Representative must meet the residence requirements for ILR, which state that they must not have been outside the UK for more than 180 days in any rolling 12 month period during the five year qualifying period for ILR.

The Sole Representative must also pass the Life in the UK test and meet the English language requirements.

Naturalisation as a British citizen

Once a Sole Representative has held ILR for at least 12 months, they may be eligible to apply for British citizenship. This means that normally they will become eligible for naturalisation as a British citizen after living in the UK for six years. 

It is important to note that there are stricter residence requirements for British citizenship applications, which state that the Sole Representative must not have been outside the UK for more than 450 days in the five years preceding the date of the application and more than 90 days in the 12 months leading up to the application.  However, although there is virtually no discretion to waive the residence requirements for ILR, there is discretion to waive the residence requirements for naturalisation, provided the Sole Representative can show they have established themselves in the UK and their excess absences are an unavoidable consequence of the nature of their career.  After obtaining British citizenship, the Sole Representative may apply for a British passport.

Conclusion

This category is particularly attractive since there is no minimum investment requirement, in contrast to the Innovator and Tier 1 (Investor) categories, and there is no restriction on the industries the UK company can operate in. In addition, it is a category which leads to ILR, although there is no accelerated route as there is for the Tier 1 (Investor) category. It is also important to note that, in order to qualify under this category, the person who is acting as the Sole Representative must not own more than half of the overseas business. Furthermore, it must be clear that the headquarters of the company will remain overseas throughout the time the Sole Representative is in the UK under this category.