A Guide to Employing Overseas Workers in the UK

Many employers value the ability to hire workers from overseas because of the knowledge and skills they can contribute to a business. There are many reasons why businesses hire overseas workers, including:

  • Performing specialist jobs in areas where the UK is lacking skills
  • Facilitating secondments or transfers from an overseas division of the business
  • Filling temporary vacancies that require a pre-existing skillset

However, to successfully (and legally) recruit migrant workers, there are necessary checks to be carried out to make sure that the law is followed.

How to Employ Overseas Workers in the UK

Obtain a Sponsor Licence

To employ non-UK residents for a UK business, a sponsor licence must be obtained from the Home Office so that a Certificate of Sponsorship can be issued to the migrant worker. In order to be eligible for a sponsor licence, you need to demonstrate that the job vacancy is genuine and the suitable candidate is a foreign national.

The process of obtaining a sponsor licence will usually include an audit of the company’s HR policies and procedures. As an employer holding a sponsor licence, you pledge to accept the responsibilities of sponsorship.

There are two main categories for recruiting skilled workers:

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1. Skilled Workers

To hire a non-UK skilled worker, the onus falls on the business to provide a clear and coherent argument as to why the job cannot be carried out by a UK resident. The applicant must:

  • Be paid an appropriate salary (in most cases, at least £20,480)
  • Have an understanding of the English language at CEFR level B2
  • Have sufficient maintenance funds to cover the costs of living in the UK

Skilled workers can only be employed if the position is at NQF level three or above, unless the role is published in the government’s Shortage Occupation List.

Furthermore, an applicant must not own more than 10% of shares in the organisation providing sponsorship unless they fall under the high-earner category. 

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2. Intra-company Transfers

This category is for employees who have been offered a role in the UK branch of their organisation. Again, the applicant must be paid an appropriate salary and satisfy a maintenance requirement; however, there is no English language requirement and the Resident Labour Market Test (i.e. advertisement of the position) would not need to be satisfied.

There are two types of intra-company transfer (ICT):

  • Long-term - this allows you to transfer an employee to the UK for more than 12 months into a role that cannot be filled by a UK recruit.
  • Graduate trainee - this allows you to transfer employees under a graduate training programme to undertake specialist roles.

To find out more about sponsor licences and intra-company transfers, download our guide.

Hiring a Skilled Worker

In order to employ a skilled worker, there are certain criteria that must be met with points scored. An applicant must score 50 mandatory points against the following requirements:

  • An offer of a job by a Home Office-approved sponsor - 20 points
  • The job must be at an appropriate skill level - 20 points
  • The ability to speak English at a required level - 10 points

In addition, there are up to 20 tradeable points.

Assigning a Certificate of Sponsorship

There are two types of Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS):

  • Defined - these are for skilled workers applying for a visa from outside of the UK. A decision can be obtained in one working day, following which the candidate can apply for their skilled worker visa from overseas.
  • Undefined - these are for skilled workers applying for a visa from within the UK or a CoS assigned to workers. A sponsor is likely to have an annual allocation of undefined CoS that they can assign whenever they have a need to employ a candidate.

The cost of assigning a CoS is £199 for the employer. You also may have to pay a skills surcharge each time you assign a CoS. If you are deemed a small sponsor, you will pay £324 per year, while large sponsors will pay £1,000 per year.

You do not have to pay the skills surcharge if a migrant worker:

  • Is applying for entry clearance for less than six months
  • Is being sponsored under certain Standard Occupation Classification (SOC) occupations that are exempt
  • Is a student who is switching to a skilled worker visa
  • Has been assigned a CoS under Tier 2 (General) or ICT before 6th April 2017 and has continued to hold leave under the Tier 2/skilled worker category  

Sponsoring a Worker Already in the UK

If the worker you want to sponsor is already in the UK on a different immigration route, you should check that their current immigration status allows them to switch. Individuals can only switch to the worker routes if they were not previously granted permission as either:

  • A visitor
  • A short-term student
  • A parent of a child student
  • A seasonal worker
  • A domestic worker in a private household

Providing a Suitable Salary

You must ensure that you pay a non-UK worker you wish to sponsor at least £25,600 or the minimum salary specified in the Standard Occupation Classification (SOC) for the role. Allowances and guaranteed bonuses can be included; however, performance-related bonuses cannot.

Option Requirements
A - Salary only

The applicant's salary equals or exceeds both:

  • £25,600 per year
  • The going rate for their SOC
B - Relevant PhD

PhD in a subject relevant to their job and the applicant's salary equals or exceeds both:

  • £23,040 per year
  • 90% of the going rate for their SOC
C - Relevant STEM PhD

PhD in a science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) subject relevant to their job and the applicant's salary equals or exceeds both:

  • £20,580 per year
  • 8% of the going rate for their SOC
D - Shortage occupation

Job is in the shortage occupation list and the applicant's salary equals or exceeds both:

  • £20,480 per year
  • 80% of the going rate for their SOC
E - New entrant

The applicant is a new entrant to the labour market and their salary equals or exceeds both:

  • £20,480 per year
  • 70% of the going rate for their SOC
F - Listed health or educational occupation

The job is a listed health or education occupation and the applicant's salary equals or exceeds both:

  • £20,480 per year
  • The going rate for their SOC

All health or education SOCs can only be awarded points from option F.

Any changes to a worker’s salary must be reported via a Sponsor Management System (SMS). The Home Office will undertake regular checks via HMRC and your Employer PAYE Reference and conduct compliance visits to ensure that you are paying the amount that you said you would.

English Language Requirements

All applicants must score 10 points for English language proficiency by either:

  • Being a national of a majority English-speaking country
  • Holding a degree that was taught in English and has been accredited by UK NARIC as equivalent to a UK bachelor’s/master’s degree and taught in English
  • Passing a Home Office-approved English language test in all four components - reading, writing, speaking and listening

Maintenance Requirements

All migrant workers must have at least £1,270 in their bank account to show that they can support themselves in the UK. They will need to have had the money available for at least 28 days in a row prior to their application - day 28 must be within the 31 days of applying for a visa.

If a non-UK citizen has been in the UK with a valid visa for at least 12 months, or their employer has certified their maintenance requirement for the first month in the UK, they will not need to show their bank statements as proof of maintenance.

After a Certificate of Sponsorship has been Assigned

Once you have assigned a valid CoS to a worker and have paid the skills surcharge, the worker can then use the CoS to make an application for entry clearance or leave to remain. An application must be made within three months of the date you assigned the CoS.

Application Fees and Timelines

Sponsor Licence

If a company does not possess a sponsor licence, the Home Office processing time to approve an application is either eight weeks under the standard service or 10 working days under the priority service.

  • A small company (i.e. a company with fewer than 50 employees, turnover of £10.2 million or less, or £5.1 million or less on its balance sheet) will pay £536
  • A medium or large company will pay £1,476
  • The 10-day priority service costs £500

Certificate of Sponsorship

  • Assigning a Certificate of Sponsorship costs £199

Immigration Skills Surcharge

  • A small company will pay £364 (£1,092 for a three-year sponsorship)
  • A medium or large company will pay £1,000 (£3,000 for a three-year sponsorship)
  • A health skills surcharge costs £624

Skilled Worker Visa Application

For a three-year visa:

  • An application from overseas costs £610 
  • An application from the UK costs £704

For a visa longer than three years:

  • An application from overseas costs £1,220
  • An application from the UK costs £1,408

For a visa through the priority service:

  • An application from overseas on the five-day priority service costs £283
  • An application from the UK on the five-day priority service costs £500
  • An application from the UK on the 24-hour priority service costs £800

Standard turnaround from outside of the UK is 15 working days, while applications from within the UK take eight weeks.

Talk to Us

Hiring non-UK residents is crucial for businesses in the UK to help fill skills gaps, but it can be challenging to navigate the process to ensure applications are successful. Our dedicated corporate immigration team has assisted individuals and a wide variety of organisations by providing a complete holistic solution to employing overseas workers in the UK. 

To speak to a solicitor about employing staff from overseas at a UK business, call us today on 0345 872 6666, or fill in our online enquiry form to request a call back.

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