Live and Work in the UK by expanding your business operations

The changes made to its immigration system by the UK have brought new opportunities for South African businesses to expand their operations into the UK and enable owners and senior employees and their family members to live and work in the UK.

Step 1: Choosing how to set up the business in the UK

As a first step, you will need to decide how and when to set up the business in the UK and this may determine possible visa routes. Besides choosing the form of your business between a branch or subsidiary, you will need to determine whether the business set-up will be completed before any immigration processes are started; or whether you will be required to send an employee from the South African company for the business set-up.

Option 1: Company set-up completed in advance:

The business expansion occurs before the immigration process. It may entail the following:

  • Incorporating the UK entity;
  • Setting up a UK bank account;
  • Registering the entity for all business taxes required, such as Corporation Tax, PAYE and VAT and pension contributions for employees.
  • Hiring a first senior employee (British citizen or with indefinite leave to remain) as the company representative in the sponsorship and immigration process.

You can then move to the next step, which is the immigration process itself for a skilled worker visa or intra company transfer visa.

Option 2: Sending a senior South African employee to the UK to set up the business:

The company can send a senior South African employee to the UK to set up the business under the sole representative of an overseas business visa route. The company set-up and registration will be completed once this person is in the UK. However, firm commitments and planning for the expansion of operations to the UK need to be provided during the visa application process.

Step 2: The Immigration Process

Skilled Worker Visa or Intra Company Transfer Visa

A business that is already established as a legitimate business with a genuine vacancy can sponsor a South African employee (including an owner). The following general steps will be applicable:

  • Obtaining a sponsor license. The company needs to obtain a sponsor license to be eligible to hire foreign workers in general and multiple persons can be sponsored.
  • Obtaining a certificate of sponsorship specific to the employee and role that is being sponsored.
  • Visa application to be submitted in South Africa, which includes visa applications for a spouse, partner, and minor children. The spouses/partner’s visa will permit them to freely work in the UK.

The Skilled Worker Visa is issued under a comprehensive points system, which has recently significantly reduced the salary and qualification level thresholds. It provides a route to apply for indefinite leave to remain (permanent residence) after 5 years of residence in the UK.

The Intra company transfer visa may initially be swifter to obtain but does not lead to indefinite leave to remain. However, the new immigration system permits you to move to the skilled worker visa at a later stage.

Sole Representative of an Overseas Business Visa

The Sole Representative Visa option starts with the visa application itself, rather than the sponsorship license and certificate, as the operations in the UK are yet to be established. The senior employee moving will need to:

  • be recruited and employed outside the UK by an active and trading business (whose headquarters and principal place of business are, and will remain, outside the UK)
  • have the skills, experience, and knowledge to do the role
  • hold a senior position within the business and not be a majority owner of the business
  • have authority to make decisions on behalf of the business in the UK
  • intend to establish the overseas business’s first commercial presence in the UK

The visa route provides an opportunity to apply for indefinite leave to remain (permanent residence) after 5 years of residence in the UK and enables family members to accompany the main applicant.

Once the business has been established, it may also function as a sponsor for further South African employees.

Summing Up

The process of expanding business operations to the UK is no simple one and requires various strategic decisions. However, it can provide South African business owners and / or senior employees the opportunity to live and work in the UK, possibly obtaining indefinite leave to remain.

IBN Immigration Solutions will be happy to assist you and your company in determining the best route for your company goals, size and structure and assisting with the immigration process.
Now you can Live and Work in the UK today.

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by Hannah Mminele