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Ross Kennedy writes in Free Movement

The new UK Expansion Worker visa doesn’t look like an improvement

The Home Office has finally published details of the requirements for sponsors in the UK Expansion Worker visa category. Part of the Global Business Mobility family, it replaces the Sole Representative visa — but how effectively does it fill this niche in the UK immigration system?

“Evolving in tandem with business”

Trailing the new Global Business Mobility routes last year, the Home Office insisted that the reforms would reflect the global nature of modern business, saying “immigration routes that may once have worked for business, no longer do; they have not evolved in tandem with businesses”. The revamp purported to address corporate mobility difficulties, including setting up a subsidiary in the UK.

The old categories closed at 9am on 11 April 2022, with guidance on the new ones only published that morning, the day the new rules took effect. Considering the significant quantity of documentary evidence required for a licence application and service standards for new licence applications of around eight weeks (not to mention the need for the Home Office to reassign and train staff for the new categories), this means there is now going to be a period during which there is no usable visa category for overseas businesses expanding into the UK.

Given that changes in this area were first discussed with the Migration Advisory Committee in September 2020, trailed in the Chancellor’s Spring Budget in March 2021 and published several weeks before they took effect, the failure to provide a seamless transition is difficult to understand.

“Making it easier”

The Migration Advisory Committee noted that businesses found the Sole Representative system “slow and cumbersome, and not to reflect modern business practices”. Part of the purpose behind the new Global Business Mobility routes, according to the government’s sponsorship roadmap, was to “make it easier for overseas businesses to assign and manage workers coming to the UK”. So does the UK Expansion Worker category achieve that?

In many ways, as one would expect, the new category reflects the old. The general principles are the same and several of the requirements remain unchanged. There have been some changes, the most significant of which is to allow sponsorship of up to five employees of the overseas business, rather than just one.

Where the two categories part ways is in the evidence required for the application. The Sole Representative visa required limited but specific evidence, largely statements by the overseas business which could normally be generated in short order. Applying to become a UK Expansion Worker sponsor, on the other hand, requires a much greater amount of supporting evidence covering broad topics, which is likely to be more time-consuming to prepare.

In a way, this might be expected. With the Sole Representative route, there was no need to get a sponsor licence at all, and sponsor licence applications are inherently paperwork-heavy. But the scale of evidence required for the UK Expansion category is of another order entirely.