High-growth and expanding businesses can choose from a variety of business immigration routes to further their growth – but which is the best route for employers? Our previous post compared the Scale-Up and Skilled Worker visas. In this post we compare the new UK Expansion Worker and Scale-up Worker visa routes, to help growing employers decide which route to choose for their expanding businesses.
Overview of the UK Expansion Worker Visa Route
The UK Expansion Worker visa route is one of the five Global Business Mobility Visas. This route enables growing and expanding established overseas businesses to temporarily send workers to the UK to set up a branch or subsidiary of their company in the UK. For overseas businesses already trading in the UK, employers should consider the Global Business Mobility – Senior or Specialist Worker Visa.
The UK Expansion Worker visa route is a sponsored route, which means that employers must secure a UK Expansion Worker Sponsor Licence in order to sponsor the workers they would like to come to the UK. The overseas business looking to expand its business in the UK must first set up a UK ‘footprint’ of their company, by registering an overseas company branch or a new company that is a subsidiary of the overseas linked business in the UK. This UK ‘footprint’ will then sponsor the relevant workers to come to the UK to enable the UK ‘footprint’ to start actively trading.
UK Expansion Worker Sponsor Licence Requirements
To sponsor workers, the UK ‘footprint’ business must have obtained a sponsor licence from the Home Office. To qualify for a sponsor licence, the business must have:
- An existing presence in the UK ;
- Qualifying links through common ownership or control to the overseas business from which it will receive workers – this overseas business must have been trading overseas for at least 3 years unless an exception applies;
- Suitable staff and systems in place to manage the licence and associated duties;
- Proof that it can successfully expand in the UK – such as business or finance plans for the expansion.
If the business is granted a sponsor licence, it would then be able to issue workers with Certificates of Sponsorship, which they would need to apply for Expansion Worker visas.
UK Expansion Worker Visa Application Requirements
Businesses should choose the right individuals to send to the UK. Initially employers can only select one individual, but once that person is in the UK, up to four further workers can be sponsored on this route. The individuals will need to be senior and earning at least £42,000 per year in a skilled position. They must be currently working for the overseas business and usually will have worked for the organisation for at least 12 months unless they earn at least £73,900 per year or other exceptions apply. They must have a valid Certificate of Sponsorship issued by the UK ‘footprint’ for the job they are planning to do which must be genuine. They must be able to support themselves financially and depending on which country they will be coming from, they may need a negative Tuberculosis test.
Overview of the Scale-Up Worker Visa Route
Scale-up Visa Sponsor Licence Requirements
The Scale-Up Visa route is also a sponsored route. To qualify for a sponsor licence businesses must:
- Be VAT registered;
- Have an annual average revenue or growth rate of 20% for the previous 3 year period in terms of turnover or staffing;
- Have had a minimum of 10 employees at the start of this 3 year period.
They must be A-rated sponsors to sponsor workers on this route.
Scale-up Visa Application Requirements
Businesses should carefully select the individual they would like to come to the UK. The individual will need to work for them for at least 6 months in a skilled position. The sponsoring business will need to have issued them with a Certificate of Sponsorship for this job which must be genuine and have a salary that will be at least £33,300 per year. The workers must be able to support themselves financially and depending on which country they will be coming from, they may need a negative Tuberculosis test. They must also be proficient in English to at least CEFR level B1.
It is important to note that workers on the Scale-up route will only need to work for their sponsoring employer for 6 months and they will not be limited to working for them.
Workers can extend their leave under this route without sponsorship, provided that they had monthly PAYE earnings equivalent to £33,000 per year during at least half of their most recent Scale-up leave in the UK.
UK Expansion Worker or Scale-Up Worker Visa Route?
Although the UK Expansion Worker and Scale-up Worker visa routes share many similarities, these routes are aimed at different types of business growth. The Expansion route is for growing overseas businesses looking to expand and start trading in the UK by sending existing workers to the UK to do so, whereas the Scale-up route is for fast-growing businesses already trading in the UK looking to attract new highly skilled workers to further their growth and contribute to the UK economy.
Length of Sponsorship?
The UK Expansion route is much more restrictive than the Scale-up route as it exists to enable workers to come to the UK on a temporary basis to carry out a specific task. Workers coming to the UK under this route are tied to their employers and continue to be throughout the length of their leave. They must work for and have been working for the overseas business linked to the UK sponsor for at least 12 months (unless an exception applies) to qualify under this route. Their proposed job will be for the UK sponsor, associated with the overseas business. If the worker stops working for the employer or the nature of their job changes, their leave could be curtailed.
By contrast, the Scale-up route is much more flexible. This is to appeal to and attract highly skilled workers. Under this route, workers are only required to work for their sponsoring employer for 6 months, after which they can remain in the UK for the remainder of their leave without needing to work for their employer: they could take up additional or alternative work, study or be unemployed. Employers should be aware that such flexibility could impact their businesses.
Route to Settlement?
Due to the difference in nature between these routes, the UK Expansion Worker route is not a route to settlement whilst the Scale-up Worker route is.
Workers under the Expansion route are expected to stay in the UK only for as long as necessary for the UK business to be set up. Under the Expansion route, workers are granted leave for up to 1 year. They can extend their leave for a further 12 months, but can only stay in the UK under this route for a maximum of 2 years. Workers under this route can however switch into alternative routes such as the Skilled Worker, Start-up or Innovator routes, which are routes to settlement.
The Scale-up route is, however, a route to settlement. Workers on this route are initially granted leave for a period of 2 years, which they can extend by 2 or 3 years, as many times as they like. Workers on this route can make unsponsored extension applications. Workers can apply to settle in the UK after having held leave for 5 years under this route. If granted, they would be allowed to live and work in the UK for an unlimited time without needing to apply for further extensions of leave.
Is the Expansion Worker or Scale-up Worker Route Better Than the Other?
The flexibility and advantages of the Scale-up route make it very attractive, however, it is only open to high-growth businesses who meet the strict definition of a ‘scale-up business’: they must have an annual average revenue or growth rate of 20% for the previous 3 year period in terms of turnover or staffing and have had a minimum of 10 employees at the start of this 3 year period. Contrastingly, the Expansion route is open to all types of businesses of all sizes, providing they have been trading for three years and are able to fund the proposed expansion. More employers are likely to meet this definition.
Ultimately, the most appropriate route will depend on the type of business applying and the type of growth they are experiencing, whether they are overseas and looking to expand their business to the UK and whether they are applying for visas for existing workers or seeking to attract new highly skilled workers.