The UK has initiated a liberalized visa regime to become more competitive in the post Brexit world. As a result, the terms, minimum investments and flexibilities allowed under the UK's various visa schemes have been eased. Prime among this is the Sole Representative Visa, using which Indian SMEs can expand in Britain or high earners can enter the country, ditching the foreboding investor visas.
What is the sole representative visa ?
Officially known as the Representative of an Overseas Business visa, this visa category facilitates small and medium enterprises from other countries to quickly and easily expand to the UK with very little investment. It is intended to establish the overseas business’s first commercial presence in the UK, either as a registered branch or a wholly owned subsidiary
You may also be eligible if the business has a legal entity in the UK that does not employ staff or do any business. If your employer has been working to establish a UK branch or subsidiary, but it is not yet set up, you can replace a previous sole representative.
"We have been successful in helping companies to expand to the UK through this. It is the best program ever that I can think of, for even small businesses to large multinational companies to expand to the UK," Yash Dubal, Director of London-based A Y & J Solicitors, who specialize in immigration to the United Kingdom told Moneycontrol.
Who can apply ?
The visa has been conceptualized for someone who is not a majority shareholder in the business, but is a senior member of staff such as a Director. It allows such individuals to migrate to the UK for the purpose of expanding their business to that country. Typically, that representative will arrive in the UK to set up a branch office, and then apply for business license from the government. Then they can bring in more staff - as many as they need from India - to the UK for manning the branch office. This is mostly done through other established visa channels for intra-company transfers.
How long it will take ?
If one apply from outside the UK, the earliest you can apply is 3 months before you travel. One can apply from 16 March if you plan to travel on 15 June. The UK government says a decision on the visa application is made within 3 weeks when one applies from outside the UK.
What is the minimum investment required ?
While the sole representative visa is given after the applicant is evaluated by the British government based on his ability to invest, it is not an investment based visa. That makes it different from well known global alternatives such as the United States' EB-5 visa program.
There is no minimum investment requirement. But ideally, lawyers say that while prepare applications, businesses should have at least 50,000 pounds or Rs. 50 lakh worth disposable funds.
What are the investment rules ?
There is no compulsion for repeat investments. Also, businesses don't need to invest Rs. 50 lakhs straight away. They need to demonstrate to the government that they can get this visa based on their financial strength. They need to show they have that amount in their bank account, which can be spent, if needed on setting up a branch office. Lawyers confirm that thay have managed to get a lot of sole representative visa applications approved based on that.
But does this help individual applicants ?
The visa has been made for businesses and has built in restrictions to curb it being misused by non-business entities. Majority shareholders of companies are barred from using this visa.
However, any person who runs a business can opt for this visa, provided he has a registered business entity. On the other hand, the UK's new immigration rules also allow individuals to buy a UK business and then sponsor themselves for a work permit. This investment criteria may be 200-300,000 pounds or Rs. 2-3 crore. This is much lower than the Rs. 20 crore needed to enter the UK through the tier one investment visa route.
Does this lead to citizenship ?Since January 2021, with post Brexit immigration rules coming in, the UK Government is now more liberal and more welcoming of foreign investment. After staying in the UK continuously for five years, permanent residency is given. In total six years time, one can get a British passport, similar to every other category.