Hiring Skilled Workers

Under the new rules, anyone coming to the UK to work, excluding Irish citizens, must apply for permission in advance. Applicants must meet a specific set of criteria for which they will score points. Visas are then awarded to applicants who score the required 70 points.

This represents a significant change for businesses recruiting skilled workers from outside the UK labour market, and employers will need to adjust.

Skilled worker route

On 1 December 2020, the Skilled Worker visa replaced the Tier 2 (General) visa as the main immigration route for migrants coming to the UK to work.

The lowering of the skills and salary thresholds under the Skilled Worker route means employers in many sectors are now able to sponsor migrant workers in a wider range of roles than before.

Employers benefit from quicker end-to-end visa processing times following the scrapping of the Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT) requirement and the suspension of the cap. This means there will be no limit on the number of skilled workers who can come to the UK, and will streamline the overall recruitment process for employers.

What you need to know

A Sponsor Licence is a permission given by the Home Office to an organisation to sponsor non-resident workers within its business.

If your business is not already approved as a licenced sponsor and you think you will want to sponsor EU or non-EU migrants under the Skilled Worker route, you should apply now. Smith Stone Walters can offer expert advice and assistance with your Sponsor Licence application and maintenance.

Graduate opportunities

A new graduate route opening in summer 2021 will allow international students to stay in the UK and work or look for work at any skill level, for two to three years after successfully completing their studies. This route will make it easier for employers to hire the best international graduates in skilled roles. Graduates will also be able to apply in-country to switch to a skilled worker visa if they meet the requirements.


What is the cost of a new Sponsor Licence?

Currently, the application fee for a Sponsor Licence is £536 for small or charitable sponsors, and £1,476 for medium or large sponsors.

What other costs should businesses be aware of?

As well as paying the initial application fee, sponsors will need to pay a fee when they apply to renew or add another category to their licence (e.g. – Intra-Company Transfer), and a fee of £199 applies for each Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) assigned.

Sponsors are also required to pay the Immigration Skills Charge (ISC) for each CoS they assign, unless an exemption applies. The amount charged depends on the size of the organisation and the length of employment stated on the CoS. Currently, the fee for small or charitable sponsors is £364 for the first year of employment, plus £182 for each subsequent six month period. Medium or large sponsors are required to pay the higher fee of £1,000 for the first year, plus £500 for each additional six month period.

The new system is expensive, can I pass the costs on to the visa holder?

It is an employer’s responsibility to pay all relevant sponsorship fees such as the Sponsor Licence application fee, the CoS assignment fee and the Immigration Skills Charge. These fees cannot be passed onto the migrant worker.

Other costs such as the visa application fee and the Immigration Health Surcharge are usually covered by the migrant worker, although some employers opt to contribute towards these costs.

What points are tradeable under the Skilled Worker route?

Under the Skilled Worker route, applicants must score 50 points from the mandatory criteria. In order to apply for a Skilled Worker visa, applicants must hold a confirmed job offer from an approved sponsor (20 points), the job must be at an appropriate skill level (20 points) and the applicant must speak English (10 points).

In addition to the mandatory points, applicants must score a further 20 ‘tradeable’ points based on their salary and other criteria (relevant academic qualifications, being sponsored to work in a shortage occupation or an eligible health or education occupation, or because they are a ‘new entrant’ to the UK’s labour market).

Will I still get audits under the new licence regime?

Yes. As part of the Sponsorship Pre-Licence process, the Home Office may wish to visit your business premises before making a decision on your application for a Sponsor Licence. Visits may be pre-arranged or unannounced, and can happen at any time throughout the lifetime of your Sponsor Licence. For this reason, Smith Stone Walters strongly recommends sponsors carry out regular mock audits to ensure ongoing compliance.

Is it true that employers no longer need to advertise before hiring a skilled worker?

The removal of the Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT) requirement means that employers will no longer need to advertise roles for 28 days.

Is it possible to switch into the new Skilled Worker visa from another visa category?

Yes, providing you meet the requirements. Due to more relaxed rules around switching under the new Points-Based System, there is now greater flexibility for migrants to switch in-country to a Skilled Worker visa from another visa type.

What do EU citizens already living in the UK need to do?

EU, EEA and Swiss citizens who are already in the UK by 31 December 2020 can apply for settled or pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS), and have until 30 June 2021 to submit an application. Successful applicants will be granted a digital status which will protect their rights to continue living, working and accessing public services in the UK.

Will European citizens arriving in the UK from January need a visa?

Yes. EU nationals arriving in the UK from 1 January to work will need to apply for permission beforehand, and will need to be sponsored by a UK employer or apply for a visa in their own right. The new rules will not apply to Irish citizens and EU citizens with settled or pre-settled status, who will be able to continue to live, work and study in the UK without a visa.

Can businesses continue to employ their existing European staff from January?

Yes. However, employers should take steps now to identify their existing EU, EEA and Swiss employees and ensure they are aware of the changes and know how to secure settled status under the EUSS. European nationals who fail to apply for settled status before the 30 June 2021 deadline may be considered unlawfully resident in the UK.

What should businesses be doing to prepare for the new immigration rules?

If your business does not already hold a sponsor licence and you think you will want to recruit skilled workers from EU or non-EU countries from 1 January 2021, you should apply now. Becoming a licenced sponsor will allow your business to hire skilled labour from anywhere in the world.

Can businesses still transfer staff to the UK from overseas?

Yes. The Intra-Company Transfer (ICT) visa route has been amended to provide more flexibility for short-term assignments. Key changes include removal of the cooling-off period which previously prevented a person re-entering the UK for 12 months after departing, and more flexible provisions for switching.

Where can I find the latest immigration fees?

Employers looking to hire EU or non-EU workers from 2021 should be aware of the costs involved with sponsoring migrants under the new Skilled Worker route. To find up to date immigration fees, please check the gov.uk website or consult a SSW advisor.

What are the new immigration routes?

The following immigration routes will be open from 1 December 2020:

  • Skilled worker – The Skilled Worker route is for employers to recruit people to work in the UK in a specific job. A Skilled Worker must have a job offer in an eligible skilled occupation from a Home Office-approved sponsor.
  • Intra-Company Transfer – The Intra-Company Transfer route is for established workers who are being transferred by the business they work for to do a skilled role in the UK.
  • Graduate ICT – The Intra-Company Graduate Trainee route is for workers who are being transferred by the business they work for to undertake a role in the UK as part of a structured graduate training programme.
  • Global Talent – The Global Talent route is for people aged 18 or over in the field of science, engineering, humanities, medicine, digital technology or arts and culture who can show they have exceptional talent or exceptional promise.
  • Innovator – The Innovator route is for a person seeking to establish a business in the UK based on an innovative, viable and scalable business idea they have generated, or to which they have significantly contributed. The application must be supported by an endorsing body.
  • Start-up – The Start-up route is for a person seeking to establish a business in the UK for the first time. The person must have an innovative, viable and scalable business idea which is supported by an endorsing body approved by the Home Office.


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