Hiring workers from overseas
in the UK: Key considerations

UK businesses and multi-national companies with a trading presence in the UK are increasingly looking beyond the resident labour market in order to source the best global talent for their business.

Equipping your business to hire workers from overseas will open up access to a wider pool of workers with the required skills and experience to fulfil both temporary assignments and permanent roles.

However, there are several factors that employers should consider carefully before hiring workers from overseas without an existing right to work in the UK. Under post-Brexit immigration rules any EU or non-EU citizen wishing to work in the UK, even temporarily, must apply for a visa in advance.

Obtaining immigration permission for your international staff to enter and undertake work in the UK can be a lengthy process, therefore this crucial stage of the preparation should be considered early. In this article, we set out the key immigration considerations employers should be aware of before hiring workers from overseas.

Which immigration route should I choose?

The type of visa your international hires are able to apply for depends on whether they are an existing employee of your business being transferred to the UK within the same company, or if the worker is a new hire to your business.

Where the employee is being transferred to a UK branch or subsidiary of the overseas business, the assignee could be considered for an Intra-Company Transfer (ICT) visa. This immigration route allows existing employees of the overseas business to stay in the UK for up to 9 years in any 10-year period, depending on their salary. However, this route does not lead to settlement in the UK.

In order to be eligible to apply for an ICT visa, your employee must:

  • Have been employed by the overseas business for at least 12 months, or three months for graduate trainees (This rule does not apply to workers whose salary in the UK will be £73,900 or more per year).
  • Hold a valid Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) from a licenced sponsor
  • Meet the minimum salary requirement of £41,500, or £23,000 for graduate trainees
  • Be employed in a role skilled to RQF Level 6 (degree level) or above
  • Show that they have enough funds to support themselves and any accompanying family members in the UK.

If the worker is a new hire to your business and therefore not eligible to apply for an ICT visa, they will need to obtain permission under a different route – perhaps as a skilled worker.

The Skilled Worker route allows UK organisations to ‘sponsor’ skilled workers from overseas to do a job within the business, providing the role meets the skill and salary requirements of the route. In order to apply for a Skilled Worker visa, the applicant must:

  • Hold a confirmed job offer from a licensed sponsor
  • The role must be skilled to RQF Level 3 (A-Level or equivalent) or above
  • The worker must be paid at least the minimum salary of £20,480, or the going rate (or, in some cases, a proportion of the going rate) for the occupation, whichever is higher.

A Skilled Worker visa allows the holder to stay and work in the UK for up to five years. After five years’ continuous lawful residence, your employee may be eligible to apply for settlement.

Other routes

Besides the ICT and Skilled Worker options, the points-based immigration system also offers a number of other specialist work routes, including the Graduate route, the Global Talent route and the Frontier Worker’s Permit.

For employees looking to work in the UK on a more temporary basis, an alternative option could be the Tier 5 route. A Tier 5 visa allows its holder to enter and work in the UK in a number of specialist circumstances. The sub-categories available under the Tier 5 (Temporary Worker) route are:

  • Creative or Sporting Worker
  • Charity Worker
  • Religious Worker
  • Government Authorised Exchange Worker
  • International Agreement Worker
  • Seasonal Worker
  • Youth Mobility Scheme

Most Tier 5 workers will require a job offer from a licenced Tier 5 sponsor in the UK, with the exception of the Youth Mobility Scheme category, which allows young people aged 18 to 30 from participating countries to live and work in the UK for up to two years. The Tier 5 (Temporary Worker) routes do not lead to settlement in the UK.

With many options available and only some routes leading to settlement, employers will not only need to ensure their employees meet the eligibility requirements for their chosen route, but also consider which option will work best for the business and the worker.

What are the costs involved?

Employers should be aware of the costs involved with obtaining immigration permission for their international hires and any family members that will be accompanying them to the UK.

Your employees will need to pay the visa application fee for themselves and any accompanying dependents. Both the ICT route and the Skilled Worker route currently charge an application fee of £610 for the main applicant and each dependant, where a Certificate of Sponsorship has been issued for three years or less. If your employee chooses to use any of the Home Office priority services as part of the application process, this will also incur an additional cost.

Most applicants will also need to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) for themselves and any accompanying dependants.  This fee allows migrants to access free healthcare in the UK for the duration of their stay. The IHS is currently £624 per person per year. A discounted rate of £470 per year applies for Youth Mobility visa holders and anyone under the age of 18.

The business sponsoring the employee will also need to pay the associated sponsorship fees, including a fee of £199 for each Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) they assign, and the Immigration Skills Surcharge (ISC).

With some temporary assignments or secondments only requiring the employee to work in the UK for a few months to a year, obtaining immigration permission can prove costly, particularly in cases where an employee has a large family. For this reason, employers should carefully weigh up the impact of these costs against the potential gain for their business, and put into place a clear policy to decide which fees will be covered by the business and which fees the applicant will need to pay themselves.

How long does it take to process visa applications?

Visa processing times should also be factored in when planning the timeline for onboarding. Once an application has been submitted, the Home Office will usually provide a decision within three weeks for applications filed outside the UK, or eight weeks for applications filed within the UK.

If you need to obtain a visa for your employee urgently, the Home Office offers Priority and Super Priority services for an additional fee. Those using the Priority service will usually receive a decision within five working days, and those using the Super Priority service will usually receive a decision by the end of the next working day. Due to COVID-19, priority services are currently only available at selected visa application centres overseas.

Although priority services are particularly useful for urgent applications requiring a quick turnaround, you may wish to consider the additional cost and whether you will need to use the service regularly or only in certain cases. Will you use priority services for every international hire, or just for selected ‘VIPs’?

What else do businesses need to consider?

Besides choosing the most appropriate visa category and factoring in the associated fees there are a number of other considerations, including:

  • Sponsor licence – Many immigration routes require the worker to be sponsored. If your business is not already approved by the Home Office to sponsor migrant workers, you will need to apply for a sponsor licence first.
  • TB testing – UK visa rules require applicants to have a Tuberculosis (TB) test if they are coming to the UK for more than six months and are resident in one of the listed countries identified by the Home Office.
  • COVID-19 restrictions – Under current guidelines, most travelers are required to take a COVID-19 test and complete a passenger locator form before travelling to the UK. Depending on which country they are travelling from, some passengers may be required to quarantine upon arrival, which could delay your employee’s start date.

Speak to an immigration expert

Businesses that are considering hiring workers from overseas are strongly recommended to seek expert advice to help identify any potential barriers early on, and to ensure the application is successful.

If you require assistance with moving your assignees to the UK, Smith Stone Walters would be delighted to help. Contact us today to discuss your requirements.

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