UK immigration routes for South African companies


Whether you are starting a new business or expanding an existing business in Britain, there is a range of business immigration visas you can use, including the UK Start-up visa, UK Innovator visa and the New Pathway Global Business Mobility visa.

Darren Faife, MD of Business Immigration at Sable International, advises on the latest UK business visa options and requirements.

The UK’s New Global Business Mobility Visa

The UK government recently published changes to its immigration rules, introducing the Global Business Mobility Visa. When announcing the route, the Home Office admitted that “the immigration routes that may have once worked for business no longer work; they have not evolved in parallel with the companies”.

The Global Business Mobility visa, which came into effect in April 2022, offers new solutions for foreign companies transferring staff to the UK. It offers five routes for overseas businesses to establish a UK footprint or transfer staff to the UK:

  1. Senior worker or specialist – to meet specific business needs
  2. Graduate trainee – as part of a training program
  3. Posted worker – to UK companies on high value contracts or investments
  4. Service Provider – in the UK in accordance with UK Trade Agreements
  5. UK Expansion Worker – to establish a presence in the UK

The first three are options for companies with a UK presence, the last two are for companies without a UK presence. However, secondments will be an option for both. The worker will need sponsorship in any case.

In practice, the new visa route consolidates existing intra-company transfer, intra-company graduate trainee, company representative abroad and international agreement visas.

Of the five routes, only expansion workers and postings to the UK (to use the new terminology) change significantly. The route that has changed the most in the new rules is the UK expansion worker, which replaces the Single Representative visa provisions.

Unlike the old Single Representative visa route, the UK Expansion Worker visa is not an indefinite leave to remain (ILR) route. It can only be granted for one year at a time, and up to two years in total, before applicants are required to change tracks (e.g. Skilled Worker visa).

A UK expansion worker visa will also require sponsorship, unlike the old route, and will have the same minimum wage and skill level requirements as the senior and specialist worker route (formerly transfer visa intra-company).

Potential sponsors must not yet be trading in the UK, but must have established a ‘footprint’ by registering the branch or subsidiary in the UK or by buying or renting premises.

Organizations must also prove that they have been trading for at least three years overseas and provide evidence relating to planned expansion in the UK, including a business plan and proof that they are in business. able to finance international expansion.

The ‘directing mind’ of the company must also remain overseas, which means that any UK expansion worker must not be a majority shareholder of the overseas company.


UK start-up visa

The Start-up visa is for entrepreneurs wishing to set up their first business in the UK and lasts for two years.

This visa has no education or financial requirements, but your business will need to be approved by an approving body who will need to confirm that the business idea is new, innovative and viable. After the first two years, it is not possible to extend this visa, although it is possible to upgrade to the Innovator visa category if you meet the requirements.


UK Innovator Visa

The UK Innovator Visa allows business people to settle in the UK provided they have an idea that is unlike anything in the UK market. An Innovator visa is valid for three years and there is no limit to the number of times you can extend the visa. After three years on this visa, you can apply for the ILR, if you meet all the requirements.


Setting up a business in the UK

Your first consideration when expressing an interest in relocating to the UK is to prove that your business is legitimate. This process includes:

  • Incorporate UK entity
  • Create a UK bank account
  • Registration for relevant tax such as PAYE, VAT and corporate tax
  • Registration for self-registration (the UK’s mandatory pension scheme) for eligible employees

Subsidiary or branch in the United Kingdom: which company structure?

UK branches and subsidiaries are the most popular methods of business expansion in the UK. There are others – it depends on your unique needs. Once your business is established, you are ready to hire your first employee.

You must have a staff member already in place before you can apply for the company sponsor license, as that staff member will be required to fulfill ‘key staff’ roles as part of the license application process.


Hire overseas workers as a UK company

To hire foreign nationals, such as South Africans, to work in the UK, your company must register as an approved sponsor. From there, you can issue a Certificate of Sponsorship which allows the employee in question to apply for a Skilled Worker Visa or an Intra-Corporate Transfer (ICT) Visa.

This is where you can be hired by your UK company. After living in the UK for five years on a skilled worker visa, you may be eligible for ILR. You can then apply for British citizenship by naturalization one year after obtaining the ILR or immediately after the ILR if you are married to a British citizen.


Ensuring compliance to grow a business in the UK

If you are looking to invest in the UK through a business immigration visa, make sure you get expert support in the navigating process, particularly with regards to UK law on immigration and issues that could lead to non-compliance. The UK government regularly implements policy changes that could have a significant impact on your business.

Sable International follows all new and proposed regulations and Home Office requirements.

  • By Darren Faife, MD Business Immigration, Sable International

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