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Sole Representative Visa: An Alternative to the Innovator Visa

On 29 March 2019 new rules were introduced for those who want to run a business in the UK, bringing into force Appendix W which includes the Innovator visa and Start-up visa categories. These routes initially seemed like an improvement on the now-closed Entrepreneur category with a lower investment funds threshold and assessments of the business being carried out by people in industry, rather than caseworkers in the Home Office. 

However, many of the endorsing bodies are not accepting endorsements or have not yet even set or published the criteria which they expect applicants to meet. The Home Office has afforded a wide degree of discretion to the endorsing bodies and so the Home Office Rules/guidance are of little assistance for applicants who are trying to work out if they should make an application in this category.  

There is one category, though, which is worth consideration by individuals seeking to relocate to the UK to set up a business: the Sole Representative of an Overseas Business visa category.

There are some requirements of this category that will mean that it is not open to everyone, but for many individuals it will provide an alternative route to open a business in the UK, while the Innovator route gets up and running.

Entry Requirements for a Sole Representative Visa

In order to enter the UK in this category, an individual will need to be employed by an overseas business in a senior role with full authority to take decisions on behalf of the business. There is no set amount of time for which an applicant must have been employed, though the Home Office expect to see previous employment for the company, or that you have been specifically hired for the role of setting up a UK branch, and in this case would expect you to have some experience of setting up branches, even if this is for other companies.

The second requirement which can cause difficulty is that the applicant must not be a majority shareholder in the company. The guidance further clarifies that as the main operations of the business must remain outside of the UK they will scrutinise the application to ensure that the driving force of the business is not moving with the applicant. Unfortunately, this category is not open to individuals who are the sole shareholder in their business, even if the main operations will remain outside of the UK.

The company that you work for must be able to prove that it is a genuine, trading business and that it has no existing branch or subsidiary in the UK. As the name suggests there can only be one Sole Representative at any one time.

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, but, unlike the Innovator route, there is no limit to the number of places offered or the fields or profession the business must operate in, as long as it is the same as the overseas company.

There is no set amount of income of savings that the individual or business must have available in order to start the company in the UK. However, the Home Office must be satisfied that there is an intention to open the branch in the UK and part of that assessment might include consideration of how much opening the UK branch will cost and whether the funds are available to the business.

An individual must be able to show that they will be able to support themselves in the UK, and this can be through their expected salary or with reference to savings.

The English Language requirement is at CEFR level A1, which is a lower level than what is required for Innovators.

Settlement as a Sole Representative of an Overseas Business

The route to settlement for those in the Sole Representative category is potentially longer, requiring at least five years continuous residence in the UK, as opposed to the three years required for Innovators. However, because the qualifying criteria for the Innovator category are so strict, it may be that many businesses will need longer than three years, or even longer than five years of running their business before they are able to meet the criteria in the Innovator route. The criteria to settle in the Sole Representative route will be, for most businesses, easier than those for innovators.

Conditions of Stay as a Sole Representative

A Sole Representative is only permitted to work for the business which has sent them to the UK and is not able to undertake any ancillary employment or run any other business. This is potentially less flexible than Innovators who are subject to a condition that they can only work for business(es) that they have established. This leaves open the possibility that an Innovator could run multiple businesses. However, if an applicant wishes to obtain indefinite leave to remain in the UK in the Innovator route, they will have to focus their efforts on meeting the strict criteria with the business for which they have been endorsed. For this reason, the Sole Representative route may in fact be no less flexible in this regard.

Contact Our Sole Representative Immigration Lawyers

For expert advice in relation to an application for entry clearance, extension of stay or settlement as the Sole Representative of an Overseas Business, contact our immigration barristers in London on 0203 617 9173 or via our enquiry form below.


To arrange an initial consultation meeting, call our immigration barristers on 0203 617 9173 or fill out the form below.

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