New options open for South Africans looking to move to the UK

 ·21 Aug 2021

With a new immigration system in Britain, the playing fields have been levelled, and South African business owners are in a much better position to expand their operations to the UK while sponsoring themselves and their family members to live there, says Darren Faife, managing director of business immigration at Sable International.

Previously, small business owners struggled to qualify for visas, he said.

While the sole representative visa was an option for senior staff from large corporations, there were limited options for business founders and entrepreneurs.

“Now,  under the new rules, senior employees/owners can come to the UK to oversee the start-up of a new branch of a business.

“This presents tremendous growth opportunities for businesses wanting a foothold in the UK, and you can use the newly-formed entity as an immigration vehicle to sponsor you and your family to live in Britain.”

Phase 1: How to expand your business to the UK

“It is important to note that your business expansion needs will be prioritised before any immigration talks can start,” said Faife.

“For immigration purposes, you need to be able to show the Home Office that your prospective UK business is a legitimate one and the role being sponsored is a genuine vacancy.”

He said that this takes careful planning and consideration, and the process will broadly include:

  • 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;
  • Registering for Auto-Enrolment (the UK requires businesses to have employees registered for private pension contributions).

“Once the operational aspects of the business are taken care of, you will need to hire your first staff member who needs to be either a British citizen or have indefinite leave to remain (ILR) to serve as the authorising officer for the potential immigration phase to be viable.

“An authorising officer is a staff member who takes responsibility for the company’s sponsorship licence. This is often a senior staff member or a senior employee who works in HR.”

Phase 2: Immigration vehicle

Your business needs to be a registered, licensed sponsor before you can recruit staff from abroad and issue them with a certificate of sponsorship, said Faife.

Once your business is registered, relevant Skilled Worker or Intra-company transfer (ICT) visas can be applied for. This process typically involves:

  • Getting a sponsor licence to hire foreign workers – Multiple candidates can be sponsored, and the licence needs to be renewed every four years.
  • Issuing certificates of sponsorship – This is specific to the candidate and role that is being sponsored and will need to be applied for and approved before moving onto the last step. Certificates may be issued for up to five years, at which point the employee may be eligible for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) – i.e. permanent residence.
  • Starting the process of applying for a visa – Using the certificate of sponsorship, a relevant visa can then be applied for by the main applicant. A spouse and children under the age of 18 can come to the UK as dependants and will be free from any work and study restrictions.

“On receipt of the relevant visa, you can book your travel and will be able to live and work in the UK for the duration of the visa,” said Faife.

“Most applicants choose to apply for a three-year visa initially, although five-year visas are possible.

“If the former, then a two-year renewal will need to be applied for at the end of the initial three-year validity. After five continuous years in the UK, you may qualify for ILR, followed by naturalisation (citizenship) a year later.”

Many people view this as a six-year route to British citizenship, said Faife.

Establish your business structure

When you’re used to the business structures in your home country, those in the UK can seem foreign, but you’ll need to navigate them to get your business started, said Faife.

British companies have to register via Companies House. This is where you’ll find out if your chosen business name is available and where you will complete all the business formalities.

If you’re going to employ people in your business, you need to handle tax and National Insurance contributions for employees via the PAYE scheme.

The business structure you employ will also determine how you file for your taxes, whether you qualify for any tax benefits and the amount of paperwork.

  • Establish a subsidiary in the UK -A subsidiary operates as a separate legal entity from its parent company. If you wish to set up a subsidiary, you’ll need to establish a new UK company. This can be a complex process. The perks of this process are that UK firms tend to be more eager to conduct business with subsidiaries as they’re governed entirely by UK law. The parent company also can’t be held accountable for any decisions or actions made by the UK subsidiary.
  • Establish a branch in the UK – You can establish a presence in the UK without the need to form a separate company/subsidiary. While a permanent establishment/branch must be registered in the UK, it is not a separate legal entity in its own right but rather forms part of the overseas company. Should your UK branch be unsuccessful, you’ll be able to close it without any formal notice.

Read: UK visas for South Africans – how to get in and how many points you qualify for

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