The lowdown on employing overseas nationals

Jane Biddlecombe outlines what employers need to know about recruiting workers from other countries to work in the UK

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To employ overseas nationals on a Skilled Worker visa, the UK company must ensure the individual is eligible (in terms of their skill and salary level) and then apply for a sponsor licence. The company will then be subject to a wide-ranging list of sponsor duties where non-compliance risks the revocation of the sponsor licence. Once the company has a sponsor licence, it can issue a Certificate of Sponsorship to the potential employee who will then be able to make their individual visa application.

The need to have a sponsor licence has been brought into sharp focus post-Brexit and, more recently, post-pandemic as companies start to recruit internationally again. This is because employers must now have a sponsor licence to employ EU nationals in the UK – unless they have another right to work in the UK such as settled status. So, with the end of free movement, many more companies are having to apply for a sponsor licence to recruit the talent they need for their businesses.

In addition to the Skilled Worker visa, the government has recently announced several new immigration routes with the stated aim of simplifying UK work visas and providing UK businesses with access to a more flexible pool of highly skilled workers.

The Global Business Mobility visa became available on 11 April 2022 and is for overseas businesses seeking to establish a presence in, or transfer staff to, the UK for specific business purposes. This encompasses five routes (replacing four existing routes and creating one new route):

  • Senior or Specialist Worker: this is for senior managers or specialist employees who are being assigned by their overseas employer to a linked UK business (replacing the Intra-Company Transfer route)

  • Graduate Trainee: this is for employees of an overseas business who are on a graduate training programme leading to a senior management or specialist position and who are required to do a work placement with a linked UK business (replacing the Intra-Company Graduate Trainee route)

  • UK Expansion Worker: this is for senior managers or specialist employees of an overseas business who are being assigned to the UK to establish a UK branch or subsidiary of the overseas business (replacing the Sole Representative of an Overseas Business route)

  • Service Supplier: this is for contractual service suppliers employed by an overseas business or self-employed independent professionals based overseas who are being assigned to the UK to provide services covered by one of the UK’s international trade agreements (replacing the Temporary Worker - International Agreement route)

  • Secondment Worker: this is for employees of an overseas business who have been seconded to the UK as part of a high value contract or investment. This is a new route but arguably it will have limited application given that ‘high value’ is defined as being worth at least £10m per year and no less than £50m in total.

Each of the Global Business Mobility routes have different eligibility requirements and different maximum periods of stay. However, all of them require the UK employer to have a sponsor licence. 

This will be particularly burdensome and time-consuming for a UK Expansion Worker and their sponsoring employer, as previously someone on a Sole Representative of an Overseas Business visa did not need a sponsor. It’s worth noting that this route does now allow sponsorship of up to five employees of the overseas business in the UK rather than just one. 

Controversially, none of the Global Business Mobility routes will lead directly to settlement in the UK for the individual – although they may be eligible to switch into another immigration category leading to settlement at a later date. This may make these routes less attractive to applicants.

In addition to the Global Business Mobility routes, another sponsored route being introduced from 22 August 2022 is the Scale-up visa. This is intended for talented individuals who have the skills required to enable the sponsoring Scale-up business to continue growing. Interestingly, those on a Scale-up visa only have to spend the first six months in the UK working for their sponsor and thereafter they can undertake work for any UK employer.

The government has also introduced a new route available from 30 May 2022 that will not require a UK sponsor at all. The High Potential Individual visa is a route for individuals who have a degree from a ‘top global university’ (as defined by the Home Office) awarded in the last five years. This visa will only last for a period of two or three years and will not lead directly to settlement – although, again, the individual may be eligible to switch into another immigration category leading to settlement at a later date.

Many of these immigration routes will be welcomed by employers but it’s not yet clear whether they go far enough to enable UK businesses to employ the talent they require.

Jane Biddlecombe is an employment and immigration law expert at Paris Smith