The Global Business Mobility visa is set to commence in spring 2022 to provide new solutions for overseas firms transferring staff to the UK.
“Immigration routes that may once have worked for business, no longer do; they have not evolved in tandem with businesses,” a recent Home Office presentation admitted. It outlined changes to “enable an overseas business to temporarily send an employee to the UK for a specific corporate purpose that could not be done by a resident worker” and promised to incorporate recommendations from the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) too.
So how much of this route will be genuinely new and useful rather than consolidating existing options in a rebranding exercise?
Who will be able to use the Global Business Mobility route?
The Global Business Mobility visa will have five pathways for overseas firms to establish a UK footprint or transfer staff to the UK.
- Senior or specialist worker to meet specific business needs
- Graduate trainee as part of a training programme
- Secondment worker to UK firms in high value contracts or investments
- Service supplier to the UK in line with UK trade agreements
- UK expansion worker to establish a UK presence
The first three are options for firms with a UK presence, the last three for firms with no UK presence. (Secondments would be an option for both.) The Home Office has suggested that the worker will require sponsorship in all cases.
In practice the new route appears to consolidate the existing Intra-Company Transfer and Intra-Company Graduate Trainee visas along with other business mobility routes, such as Representative of an Overseas Business and Temporary Work – International Agreement. Of the five pathways, only UK expansion workers and secondments are expected to see significant changes.
What seems new rather than a rebrand?
One welcome change is to the current Representative of an Overseas Business rule which only allows an overseas company to send one person to the UK. The proposed UK expansion worker pathway will allow companies to send in more than one person (five, if the MAC’s recommendations are followed – one senior executive and a team of up to four team members).
On the other hand, Representative of an Overseas Business is an unsponsored route, whereas all Global Business Mobility pathways are expected to require sponsorship — including the UK expansion version. It is not yet clear how a company with no presence in the UK will go about becoming a sponsor, or what footprint a company would already be expected to have. Although the MAC recommended that sponsorship be required for the team members, it was silent on the idea of sponsorship for the senior executive.
There is little detail yet about the secondment pathway. Currently, employees working for overseas clients of UK export companies can be seconded to the UK business under the visitor rules (see Immigration Rule PA 8). It is suggested that the new pathway will expand on this to allow secondment for specific purposes related to a high value import or export.
However, the MAC has suggested applying a £50 million threshold to count as “high value”, which will significantly limit its accessibility and usefulness. The MAC itself noted “we would expect no more than a handful of applications each year”.
How would sponsorship work?
The principle will be that the UK business that receives the workers will be the sponsor licence holder. Applicants would need to demonstrate they have a receiving business, a sending business and that there is a business relationship between them.
For example, an overseas parent company could be sending staff to a UK subsidiary; or an overseas service supplier may have a contract with a UK client; or an overseas company could be sending staff on secondment to a UK supplier of goods or setting up a UK branch pre-trading.
In the case of UK expansion, it will be interesting to see whether the new UK branch applies for a licence once incorporated, or if an overseas business would be able to apply for the licence from abroad. The Home Office has identified challenges it needs to overcome in establishing this route, including what footprint would reasonably be expected before the subsidiary can start sponsoring workers, and what activities connected to establishing the footprint could not be done as a business visitor.
What details still need ironed out?
There are some questions remaining about the longer-term aspects of the Global Business Mobility routes.
At present, each of the existing routes being brought under the GBM umbrella has different limits on how long the person can stay in the UK. It varies from six months under the business visitor rules to potential settlement under Representative of an Overseas Business. With the exception of the latter, migrants do not start counting time toward settlement unless they switch to the Skilled Worker route, and visitors are not even permitted to do that.
The MAC report identified that the Intra Company Transfer category has lost many of the advantages it used to have compared to the Skilled Worker category. It recommended that Intra Company Transfer visa holders should be allowed to settle in the UK, which would help address this. But the MAC went in the opposite direction with regard to Representatives of an Overseas Business, suggesting that they should only get a two-year term under the new system (although allowed to switch onto another route to extend their stay).
A uniform approach could be to treat the Global Business Mobility category as a whole as “temporary” and require people to switch to the Skilled Worker category if they wish to settle. If so, it would be in the spirit of the MAC’s suggestions to allow them to count time under the Global Business Mobility route towards settlement — rather than having to start their five years all over again after switching.