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

Under the revised points-based immigration system post-Brexit, there’s never been a better time to capitalise upon the business growth opportunities presented by the United Kingdom, says Darren Faife, managing director, Business Immigration, Sable International.

The new system offers South African businesses an excellent opportunity to expand their operations to the UK. In addition, business owners can also apply to obtain residency and sponsor their family members to live in Britain.

Previously, small business owners especially struggled to qualify for visas to the UK. While the Sole Representative visa was an option for senior staff from large corporations, there were limited options for business founders and entrepreneurs, noted Faife.

“Now, senior employees can come to the UK to oversee a new branch, which presents tremendous business growth opportunities and use the newly-formed entity as an immigration vehicle to sponsor Business owners and their family members to life in the UK.”

How to expand your business to the UK, step-by-step

The first step towards expanding a business into the UK is to consult with a business relocation expert who can handle all the logistics and operational aspects attached to the expansion process, said Faife.


Phase 1: Business expansion

“It is important to note that an individual’s business expansion needs must be prioritised before any immigration talks can start.

“For immigration purposes, applicants need to be able to show the Home Office that the prospective UK business is a legitimate one and the role being sponsored is a genuine vacancy. This takes careful planning and consideration.”

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, applicants will need to hire their first UK-based staff member 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 an employee with sufficient seniority to take responsibility for administering the company’s UK immigration policies,” said Faife.


Phase 2: Immigration vehicle

He said that the business needs to be a registered licensed sponsor before the owner can recruit staff from abroad and issue them with a Certificate of Sponsorship. Once the 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. There can be multiple candidates 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 prior to moving onto the last step. Certificates may be issued for up to five years, at which point the employee may be eligible for ILR;
  • 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 are able to come to the UK as dependants and will be free from any work and study restrictions.

“On receipt of the relevant visa, one can book travel and will be able to live and work in the UK for the duration of the visa. 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, visa holders 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.

No major business decision is without its hurdles, but global expansion comes with its own unique set of obstacles. To ensure the process runs as smoothly as possible, one needs to be able to rely on a business that can offer a diverse relocation service as part of its product offering, he said.


Read: New nationality changes on the cards for the UK – what South Africans should know

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