The UK Expansion Visa allows overseas companies to deploy key personnel to the UK to set up operations and expand their business. Part of the more extensive Global Business Mobility Route, this visa opens up much-needed opportunities for global workers who benefit the British economy by commencing trading in the United Kingdom on behalf of an overseas company.
This route is aimed at overseas companies without a trading presence in the UK that require senior personnel to expand the business into the UK.
Eligibility under the expansion worker route requires both the worker and the overseas entity to meet certain criteria. This must be evidenced to the Home Office through a formal application under the Global Business Mobility route.
Overseas businesses that are already trading in the UK would hire workers under the Senior or Specialist Worker visa.
In this guide to the UK Expansion Worker Visa, we explain the sponsorship and eligibility requirements for sponsors and applicants, as well as the permitted and forbidden activities in the UK. The article will also cover topics such as application fees, current processing times, how to apply for the UK Expansion Worker Visa, settlement in the United Kingdom, and bringing dependent family members.
What is the Global Business Mobility Route?
Following the introduction of the Points Based System (PBS) in UK immigration policy, the Home Office created the Global Business Mobility (GBM) Route for business and work visas. The Global Business Mobility Route is intended to accommodate overseas nationals who want to work in the United Kingdom on a temporary basis for an established employer. It provides significant leeway for a wide variety of work and business needs, ranging from those seeking to establish a business presence in the UK graduate traineeships, specialised workers, and more.
Global Business Mobility Route visas are solely intended for temporary stays in the United Kingdom and do not directly lead to Indefinite Leave to Remain in the United Kingdom. When researching your immigration options, you should consider whether the option of permanent residence is important. If so, the Global Business Mobility Route may not be the right option for your circumstances.
The UK Expansion Worker visa is one of five new sponsored routes under the Global Business Mobility (GMB) visa umbrella, in part reforming previous routes, and in part introducing new provisions to help facilitate economic growth and trade in the UK post-Brexit.
What is the UK Expansion Worker Visa?
The UK Expansion Worker Visa is a new immigration category that allows foreign national workers to establish a branch of an existing overseas employer within the United Kingdom. Under this visa, you can live and work in the UK for the existing overseas employer on a temporary basis to amplify the success of the new branch and assist with on-the-ground support. Under Home Office rules, your current employer must not yet have a trading presence in the United Kingdom to be eligible for this visa.
The UK Expansion Worker Visa was created to replace the Representative of an Overseas Business Visa in almost all cases, barring media representatives. Individuals who are still living in the United Kingdom on a Representative of an Overseas Business Visa can maintain their current immigration status, but this route is now closed to new applicants in almost all circumstances.
As a UK Expansion Worker, the visa-holder will be allowed to work in the UK in the job for which they’ve been sponsored, as described in their sponsorship certificate. They will also be permitted to undertake voluntary work and study in the UK.
Who is eligible for the UK Expansion Worker Visa?
People who work for overseas companies that seek to expand their trading presence into the United Kingdom may be eligible for the UK Expansion Worker Visa. You will need to have worked for your overseas business for a minimum of 12 months, generally. If you make over £73,900 per year or are a Japanese citizen working for a Japanese company, you may be eligible for the UK Expansion Worker Visa without a minimum time of employment.
Applicants must be at least 18 to qualify for a UK Expansion Worker visa. The applicant must also already be working for a linked overseas business on the date of application and, unless they fall within an exception, have worked for that business for a prescribed minimum period.
Whereas the predecessor visa was an unsponsored route, the UK Expansion Worker visa requires the worker to have a UK sponsor. This must be a branch or wholly-owned subsidiary of an established overseas business although, unlike other sponsored work routes, the UK Expansion Worker route can only be used if the business hasn’t yet begun trading in the UK.
If a linked overseas employer is looking to send a senior or specialist employee to the UK on a temporary work assignment in a business that is already trading in the UK, they should instead apply for a Senior or Specialist Worker visa, or even a Skilled Worker visa, although the UK employer would need to be licensed to sponsor under these routes instead.
How long does the UK Expansion Worker Visa last?
Visa holders can work in the UK for 1 year (12 months) or the amount of time noted on their Certificate of Sponsorship plus an additional 14 days. If they maintain eligibility, Expansion Workers may be able to extend their visa for an additional 12 months. However, they cannot live in the UK on this visa for more than 24 months.
What activities are permitted on the UK Expansion Worker Visa? What activities are not allowed on the UK Expansion Worker Visa?
In line with the conditions of the UK Expansion Worker Visa, visa holders are permitted to conduct the following activities in the UK:
- To work as the employee of your overseas employer in the UK
- To study
- To bring your dependent family members to the UK if they meet eligibility requirements
- To travel abroad and return to the UK
- To volunteer
On the other hand, visa holders are not permitted to conduct the following activities in the UK on the UK Expansion Worker Visa:
- To access most benefits, the State Pension, or public funds
- To change to a different job or work with a different employer unless you apply to change your visa and meet all required eligibility criteria
- To work a second job
- To settle in the United Kingdom with Indefinite Leave to Remain (also known as permanent residence)
UK expansion worker route: visa applicant requirements
UK Expansion Worker visa applicants have to:
- Be at least 18 years old.
- Be currently employed by an organisation that shares common ownership or control with their UK sponsor, or by a joint venture on which they are sponsored to work. The overseas employer cannot be presenting trading in the UK.
- Have worked for the overseas linked organisation for at least 12 months outside the UK, unless they are a high earner earning £73,900 per year or a Japanese national seeking to establish a UK branch or subsidiary of the linked business or organisation under the UK-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement.
- Have a valid Certificate of Sponsorship from their sponsor for the work they intend to perform.
- Have a genuine role that will expand the overseas entity into the UK.
- Have a role in the UK that is included on the list of eligible occupations as outlined by the Home Office.
- The role requires at least RQF Level 6 (graduate equivalent) skills.
- The role in the UK offers a salary in line with the appropriate amount as outlined by the Home Office. This is either £42,400 or the minimum amount (‘going rate’) as specified for the role. The higher of these two amounts will be required.
- Have a minimum of £1,270 in savings, unless they meet the eligibility criteria to waive this requirement.
- Have sufficient income to support themselves without relying on government assistance.
- Have a valid tuberculosis certificate, if necessary.
As a points-based system visa, the UK Expansion Worker visa requires applicants to be awarded a total of 60 points against the following three criteria: sponsorship, skill and salary.
To score 20 points for sponsorship, the applicant must:
- have a valid Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) assigned by a licensed sponsor
- be sponsored for employment which is genuine
- meet the overseas work requirement.
Note that UK Expansion Worker Visa applicants do not need to satisfy an English language requirement.
Employers who want to deploy personnel through the UK Expansion Worker route must pay them a wage that meets or exceeds both the minimum salary threshold and the “going rate” for the occupation, as stated in the relevant Home Office occupation code.
Expansion worker visa applicants must be paid the minimum salary threshold of at least £42,400 per year, or 100% of the pro-rata going rate for the occupation, whichever is higher.
Salary is calculated using guaranteed basic gross pay (up to 48 hours per week) plus allowances that are guaranteed to be paid for the duration of work in the UK. Allowances could include payment to cover relocation costs.
Applicants with a salary of under £73,900 – based on a maximum working week of 48 hours – and you are not a Japanese national relying on the UK-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, you must be currently employed by a business or organisation that is connected to your UK sponsor by common ownership.
The 12 months of work outside the UK can be accumulated over a historic period if you worked continuously for the linked business or organisation, in the UK or abroad, for at least 12 months prior to the date of application. Permissible breaks during this period are only allowable in relation to statutory maternity, paternity, parental or shared parental leave, statutory adoption leave, sick leave, or assisting with a national or international humanitarian or environmental crisis with the agreement.
If the applicant earns £73,900 per year or more, they must be currently employed by an organisation that is linked to the UK sponsor by common ownership or control, or by a joint venture through which they are sponsored to work. Alternatively, Japanese nationals may be able to rely on the UK-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement to be exempt from the minimum employment service requirement.
Applicants must evidence that the role they are being sponsored for constitutes legitimate employment. If the Home Office establishes reasonable grounds that the role is either not genuine, or has been fabricated for the purposes of securing a visa, or does not exist, the application will be refused.
In addition to providing details about the sponsored role, the visa applicant also has to declare if they have agreed to carry out any additional work outside of the sponsored role, such temporary or permanent positions with a third party that is not the sponsor, or contract work to perform ongoing services to a third party that is not their visa sponsor.
The work in question must require a minimum skill level to qualify for a UK Expansion Worker Visa. This level is at least RQF Level 6 skilled (graduate equivalent).
While this level does need not necessarily require a degree, the position must be equivalent to a graduate level position.
The Home Office has published a list of eligible roles, including details such as the occupation code, job category, and related job titles to help with sponsorship research and visa applications. Roles featured on this list would generally meet the required skill level.
Employers must ensure they select the correct occupation or they risk the visa application being denied.
Applicants must have cash funds of at least £1,270 accessible, subject to certain exceptions.
The money must have been held by the applicant for at least 28 consecutive days, and this period cannot have ended more than 31 days before the application was submitted.
Applicants that are applying to remain in the UK and have been in the country lawfully for 12 months or more at the date of application are exempt from the financial requirement.
UK expansion worker route: sponsor requirements
Overseas companies will have to apply for a sponsor licence to hire under the UK Expansion Worker route. The following eligibility requirements have to be met to qualify as a licensed sponsor.
UK footprint requirement
To be eligible to sponsor under the UK Expansion Worker visa, the overseas employer cannot already be trading in the UK, but they have to show they already have a ‘UK footprint’.
Evidence of a UK footprint could include evidence of business premises in the UK through a lease or purchase agreement or evidence that the entity has been registered in the UK as either an overseas company branch, or a new company that is a subsidiary of an overseas linked business, through Companies House.
They must also prove an overseas trading presence, together with credible plans to expand to the UK. To do this, the sponsor will usually need to show that the overseas business has been active and trading for at least 3 years, and that it intends and is capable of establishing a new UK branch or wholly-owned subsidiary within a period of 2 years following the grant of a licence.
The Home Office will also consider the credibility of the overseas trading business, requiring evidence that it has been trading for the three years previously to the submission of the sponsor licence application through documents such as Corporate business bank statements for the full period of 3 years, audited accounts.
The UK Expansion Worker visa can only be used to move into the UK market by expanding an existing overseas business. It cannot be used to set up a new business venture in a new line of work. The UK based business must be owned in full by the overseas business or at least part of the same legal entity such as a branch.
The Home Office will require sight of the business’ expansion plan as proof that the visa applicant personnel is needed in the UK to implement the expansion plan and that the business is capable of successfully expanding into the UK.
Apply for a sponsor licence
The UK business ‘receiving’ the visa worker must secure a UK Expansion Worker visa sponsor licence from the Home Office. The application must evidence that the entity has an existing presence in the UK, has qualifying links to an overseas business from which it will receive workers and have suitable key personnel to manage the sponsor licence and meet the compliance duties.
The type of rating a UK Expansion Worker sponsor will be given will depend on whether the Authorising Officer (AO) nominated in the sponsor licence application is already based in the UK or is currently based overseas. The AO must be the most senior person in the business responsible for the recruitment of migrant workers. If the person named as AO in the licence application is already based in the UK, the sponsor will be given an A-rating and full CoS allocation, up to a maximum of 5. The maximum allocation number at any one time is limited to the number of workers genuinely needed to establish the business in the UK, where once a UK trading presence has been established, other routes can be added to the sponsor licence.
In contrast, if the AO is outside the UK, the sponsor will initially be given a CoS allocation of just 1, with a provisional licence rating. The AO, who must also be the person responsible for using the sponsorship management system (SMS), known as the Level 1 user, must then assign that CoS to themselves in order to make a successful application for entry clearance. If granted entry clearance, the AO must make a request via the SMS for the sponsor licence rating to be changed from provisional to an A-rating, in this way increasing the CoS allocation.
If the Authorising Officer is a UK settled person, the sponsor can apply for A rated licence and up to five Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS) to allocate to UK Expansion Workers.
If the entity does not have a suitable ‘settled’ person in the UK who can take on the role of Authorising Officer, under the UK Expansion Worker sponsor licence, the entity can nominate a Proposed Authorising Officer from outside the UK. This would result in the UK sponsor being attributed a ‘provisional rating’ with only one initial Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS). This CoS would be allocated to the Proposed Authorising Officer as the entity’s first sponsored worker.
Once the Proposed Authorising Officer is in the UK, the sponsor can re-rate to an ‘A-rating’ and make a request for up to four additional CoS.
The licence will be valid for 4 years, in common with other sponsored work routes, but as the Home Office expect the overseas business to establish a full trading presence within 2 years, the licence cannot be renewed. If the overseas business fails to establish a trading presence within the relevant timeframe, the sponsor’s CoS allocation on this route will be reduced to zero. They will be unable to sponsor any applications from new workers or extension applications from existing sponsored workers, and could even have their licence revoked.
Exceptions to the rules
As a business though you must provide the evidence showing which exemption is applicable, of the following:
- The business is listed on the London Stock Exchange- either the Main Market or the AIM market
- The business is listed on an international Stock Exchange, that the FCA recognizes as the equivalent level of regulation to the UK markets
- The business is supported by the Department of International Trade, the Dept for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, or another UK government department and they confirm the viability of expansion.
A Japanese business which is looking to expand into the UK as a subsidiary or a UK branch under the UK-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement wouldn’t have to show the documents relating to trading for a historical 3 years. But they must be able to show that they are genuinely trading overseas, and capable of entering into the UK market with a UK based business. If the business has been trading less than 3 years, then the only negative point o note would be that you can only sponsor one worker at a time. Unlike an overseas business that has been trading for over three years can sponsor up to five candidates to enter and work on building the business in the UK.
How many workers can be sponsored?
Businesses can sponsor up to five people under the Expansion Worker visa, but these must each meet the requirements and be genuinely needed to establish the UK presence.
If the sponsor licence application is successful
If the application for a sponsor licence is approved, the sponsor licence will be valid for four years. This is the same as all other types of sponsor licence.
Businesses can opt to make their UK Expansion Worker licence dormant, or they can leave it to expire.
At the conclusion of the four year validity period, the business will not be allowed to renew the licence for this route, but instead, an application should be made by the UK entity for the relevant type of sponsor licence such as the Skilled Worker licence.
Any sponsored workers that match the qualifications can apply to switch to these routes.
The overseas entity has 2 years to establish the business within the UK, after which time it is possible to add other routes to your (Expansion worker) licence.
How to apply for the UK Expansion Worker Visa
First, you need to check that you meet all sponsorship and eligibility requirements for the UK Expansion Worker Visa. Your application may be refused if you fail to meet all criteria.
Second, you can begin collecting all of the necessary supporting documents for the UK Expansion Worker Visa.
As part of their application, they will need to prove their identity and provide any documents in support. They may also need to attend an appointment to do this and to provide their biometric information. They will be told if an appointment is needed when they apply.
The applicant must have:
- a valid CoS from a UK licensed sponsor
- a passport or other travel document showing their identity and nationality
- evidence that they have worked for their employer outside the UK for a period of at least 12 months, where applicable
- proof of funds, where applicable
- a valid tuberculosis test certificate, if from a listed country.
Depending on your situation, you may need to provide certain types of documents, such as the following:
- A current passport or valid travel document
- A valid Certificate of Sponsorship from your sponsoring employer. Your employer will provide you with the Certificate of Sponsorship as well as the reference number
- Details regarding your intended role in the UK, such as:
- Annual salary
- Role title
- Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) code for your job title
- Name of employer
- Sponsorship licence number for employer
- Bank statements showing evidence of adequate savings
- Documents demonstrating relationships with any dependent family members that you seek to bring to the UK
- A Tuberculosis Screening certificate, if required
- Documents about your current employment, such as a contract, employer letter, and payslips
You should not submit your online application until you have all of the required documents prepared and ready.
Third, you will need to fill out and submit the online UK Expansion Worker Visa application. You can access the online form via the UK Visas and Immigration website. You must answer the online application form accurately and honestly. If you are unsure how to answer certain sections of the online application form, contact your employer for assistance. After completing the online application form, you must pay the required fees. After paying the fees, your online application will be forwarded to UK Visas and Immigration.
Fourth and finally, you will need to submit supporting documentation to the Home Office and prove your identity details. You may either have these documents scanned and uploaded on your behalf by a UKVI contractor, or scan and upload these documents by yourself to the relevant upload portal. In addition to submitting your documents, you must provide biometric and identity details. You can do this either at a local visa application centre in the country where you submitted your online application or using the UK Immigration: ID Check mobile phone application – please note that some individuals will not be offered the option of using the mobile phone application. If you are required to attend an in-person appointment, you will need to bring photo identification. After you have completed both tasks, your full UK Expansion Worker Visa application is sent to UK Visas and Immigration for processing.
You should not travel to the UK before you receive a decision on your application.
Once your UK Expansion Worker Visa application is approved, your passport will be returned containing an Entry Clearance sticker. This Entry Clearance sticker notes the first date you can arrive in the UK on your new visa. Once you arrive in the UK, you will need to arrange for collection of your Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) that will serve as proof of your immigration status.
How much does the UK Expansion Worker Visa cost?
The application fees for your UK Expansion Worker Visa are £259 per applicant. However, you will also be required to pay for the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) fee before submitting the online application form.
The business will also need to factor in the cost of applying for sponsorship, plus a fee for issuing each CoS. As a temporary worker route for sponsor licensing fee purposes, the fee will be the standard fee for a Temporary Worker sponsor licence of £536, regardless of the size or charitable status of the sponsor. The fee for issuing a CoS for a UK Expansion Worker is £21.
What are the current processing times for the UK Expansion Worker Visa?
The processing times for your UK Expansion Worker Visa application will primarily be based on which country you submitted the online form. If you submitted a UK Expansion Worker Visa from within the UK, you can usually expect to receive a decision on your immigration application within 8 weeks (2 months) of submitting an online application form. If you submitted a UK Expansion Worker Visa from overseas, you can usually expect to receive a decision on your immigration application within 3 weeks. This time will be calculated from the date that you either:
- Attended a biometrics registration appointment at a visa application centre in the country where you submitted the online application form
- Used the UK Immigration: ID Check mobile phone application to provide supporting documents and confirm your identity
Please note that current processing times can change at any time, so you should consult the Home Office website for the most up-to-date information.
Can I bring dependents to the United Kingdom on a UK Expansion Worker Visa?
It is understandable that you will want to bring your family members to the United Kingdom if you are considering the UK Expansion Worker Visa. Your spouse or partner and children, if eligible, will be able to submit applications to move with you or join you in the United Kingdom for the duration of your visa as Points Based System (PBS) Dependents. You will need to submit a separate application for each family member and pay all required fees per person.
For the UK Expansion Worker Visa, each dependent family member will be charged an application fee of £259.
Each person will also be required to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) fee per year of the visa.
You will also be required to demonstrate that you have adequate savings to bring yourself and your dependent family members to the United Kingdom on a UK Expansion Worker Visa. You need to provide bank statements to demonstrate evidence of these funds. For a family of five people, you will need to provide evidence of the following savings:
- Main applicant: £1,270
- Spouse or partner: £285
- Child 1: £315
- Child 2: £200
- Child 3: £200
Can I apply for permanent residence in the United Kingdom with a UK Expansion Worker Visa?
Under the Global Business Mobility Route, the UK Expansion Worker Visa is strictly intended to be a temporary immigration route for people who are willing to return to their home country after finishing their work in the United Kingdom. You will not become eligible for settlement – also known as Indefinite Leave to Remain or permanent residence – in the UK on this route regardless of how long you live in the country.
If you are in the United Kingdom on a UK Expansion Worker Visa and would like to pursue permanent residence, you might be eligible to switch to a visa that provides a path to Indefinite Leave to Remain. These visas, such as the Skilled Worker Visa, will require that you live in the United Kingdom for a number of years before eligibility for settlement. This is not an easy, fast, or inexpensive process, but it is well worth the effort for people who would like to permanently build a life in the UK for a variety of reasons.
UK Expansion Worker Visa FAQs
What is the UK Expansion Worker Visa?
The UK Expansion Worker visa is for overseas companies to set up trading presence in the UK by deploying senior personnel to undertake the expansion work in the UK.
What are the UK Expansion Worker visa requirements?
To be eligible for the UK Expansion Worker visa, you have to show there is a genuine need for the job, that you have the appropriate skills, qualifications, and experience to do the job, that you meet the minimum salary requirement, and that you are sponsored by a qualifying employer with an appropriate UK sponsorship licence.
How much does the UK Expansion Worker Visa cost?
The UK Expansion Worker Visa costs £298 per applicant. You will also need to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) fee per year of your visa per applicant, and have at least £1,270 in savings.
Do you need sponsorship for the UK Expansion Worker Visa?
Yes. You must have sponsorship from an eligible licenced employer to apply for the UK Expansion Worker Visa. If your employer is not currently licenced to sponsor visas in the United Kingdom, they will need to apply and be approved by the Home Office before you can apply for this visa.
What is the financial requirement for the UK Expansion Worker visa?
Those applying for either entry clearance or leave to remain, where they have been in the UK for less than 12 months, must also satisfy a financial requirement. The financial requirement must be met by showing proof of funds of at least £1,270, where the sponsor is unable to certify maintenance under this route. The applicant will need to have had the money available for at least 28 consecutive days, where the end date of the 28 day period must be within 31 days of the date that they apply.
The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.