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In the midst of COVID-19 outbreak, the Home Office quietly published a statement of changes to the Immigration Rules which will be coming into force on 4 June 2020. Applications submitted before that date will be considered under the Rules currently in place.

Sole Representative Visa Changes

The most notable changes affect Representative of Overseas Business visa route, also known as Sole Representative. The route became increasingly popular following the closure of Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa, so rather expectedly the Home Office is seeking to tighten the screws.

Most notable changes:

  • The applications will now include a “genuineness assessment”, i.e. whether the sole rep intends to genuinely meet the Rules. The Home Office/UKVI will now assess subjectively whether the applicant “genuinely” meets the rules.
  • The Rules now stipulate that the branch or subsidiary should not be “established solely for the purpose of facilitating the entry and stay of the applicant”.
  • The Rules require the applicant to have the “relevant skills, experience and knowledge of the business”. This will, of course, be assessed by the Home Office based on the evidence provided.
  • It is no longer possible for partners of someone with a majority shareholding to apply for sole representative visa, previously the Rules restricted only majority shareholders themselves. This change was to be expected and corrects an obvious oversight in the original drafting.

Is this the end is Sole Rep visa as we know it? I would think so. The last time Home Office introduced a subjective “genuineness” assessment to entrepreneur visas, we saw UKVI official refusal rates exceed 50% over many years.

Changes to Start Up and Innovator Visas

Since the introduction of the Start-Up and Innovator visa routes, the approach of the Home Office has always been to leave the business assessment to the endorsing bodies, as this is their expertise. The Home Office will only decide the final application once the endorsement has been secured. This was a welcome change, especially after witnessing over many years the manner in which Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visas were being subjectively refused.

Sadly, this division of assessment now comes to an end. The Home Office will now have the power to request further information and evidence from both the endorsing body and the applicant in order to consider whether the endorsing requirements were met and potentially refuse the application if the decision-maker believes that the criteria have not been met. This change in a way defeats the purpose of the endorsing bodies, as the Home Office will now intrude further into the assessment of the viability of the business, an expertise that we know all to well that they do not have.

A more welcome development is that the higher education providers can now indorse for Innovator as well as Start-up visas. It looks like the Home Office were “concerned” about the manner in which the Universities would endorse Innovator visa applicants, so preemptively the Home Office given themselves more power to look into applicants more even after the endorsement has been secured.

Conclusion

The statement of changes made very clear that the Home Office wants to retain the power to subjectively assess the applicants and refuse the applications which the decision-maker officer considers unworthy. The reason why immigration lawyers will dread those changes is that every time the Home Office introduces the subjective criteria when assessing the applications, refusal rates skyrocket. This was all too obvious with now closed Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa route which had a historic refusal rate of over 50% for all applicants.

Those how are now considering submitting the application for Sole Rep or Start-up/Innovator visas, should consider seeking professional assistance to maximise the chances of making a successful application. Our London Immigration Lawyers as always are keeping a close eye on the developments. To book a consultation please visit contact us page.

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