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What do I need to know about hiring employees from abroad?

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Last editedJan 20223 min read

As a business owner, you want to hire the right person for the job. What happens if the best fit doesn’t currently reside in the UK? Here’s what you need to know about hiring employees from abroad.

How to begin the sponsorship process

Up until recently, you could hire workers from the EU without any need for a sponsorship or visa. However, because freedom of movement has now ended (following the official British exit from the European Union), all applicants will need to be approved by the points-based UK immigration system. There are a couple of exceptions to this rule:

  • Irish citizens

  • EEA or Swiss citizens who qualify for the EU Settlement Scheme 

To get started, you first much understand the different requirements for each visa and determine which route applies to any new recruits. You also need to apply for a sponsor licence, usually Tier 2 or Tier 5.

Route for skilled workers

Skilled workers can apply for a visa based on a few qualifying criteria.

  1. They must have a job offer from a Home Office licensed sponsor (your business).

  2. They speak the qualifying level of English.

  3. The role meets the required skill level (currently RQF3 or above, or A level).

  4. They’ll be paid a minimum qualifying rate, currently at least £25,600 for most positions.

There are some shortage occupations that can pay applicants less than this minimum rate, such as the healthcare and education fields.

Route for intra-company transfers

Another pathway to hiring employees from abroad is through your existing company. If your business has global branches, you can apply to have workers come over through the intra-company transfer route. These applicants must still meet all skills and salary requirements to qualify for a working visa. Requirements for this pathway include:

  1. They must be sponsored by a Home Office licensed sponsor.

  2. They must have a minimum of 12 months’ experience working for the business overseas.

  3. They must meet the required skill level (currently RQF6 or graduate level).

  4. They must meet the minimum salary requirement (currently £41,500 or higher).

It’s important to note that with the intra-company route to hiring, workers are only issued temporary permission. During any six-year period, they cannot stay in the UK for more than five years in total.

However, high-salary workers paid more than £73,900 can stay for up to nine years over a ten-year period.

There is also an intra-company graduate trainee route with slightly relaxed requirements when it comes to overseas experience and salary.

Types of sponsor licences

Before you apply for a sponsor licence, you need to know the right type.

A worker licence, or general Tier 2, covers skilled workers and intra-company visas like those mentioned above. Licensed Tier 2 sponsors also can cover individuals coming to work for religious organisations as well as sportspeople and coaches.

There’s also a temporary worker licence, or Tier 5, which is designed for creative workers, charity workers, temporary religious workers and employees of overseas governments. Seasonal farm workers are also covered under Tier 5. 

How to become a licensed Tier 2 sponsor

You can apply for sponsorship online using the Home Office website. To apply as a licensed Tier 2 sponsor or for any other type of visa sponsorship, you must include all required supporting documents and pay the required fee.

Eligibility requirements also include systems in place to monitor your sponsored employees, as you’ll be assuming responsibility for their legal right to work in the UK.

What is a certificate of sponsorship?

If you’ve been reading over the rules, you may be wondering ‘what is a certificate of sponsorship and how do I get one’? A certificate of sponsorship isn’t a physical document – it’s an electronic record with its own unique number that workers use to apply for their visas.

As an employer hiring overseas workers, you must assign a certificate of sponsorship to each worker. The employee is then responsible for using this certificate to apply for their visa within a three-month period.

  • Defined certificates are used for those applying for a skilled worker visa from outside the UK. 

  • Undefined certificates are used for other visa types, as well as skilled worker applicants already inside the UK.

With a few box-ticking exercises, you can bring over top talent from abroad. Yet because the immigration rules are always changing, it’s important to read over the Home Office regulations carefully to be sure you’re compliant.

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