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Jane Biddlecombe and Charlotte Farrell | 8th August 2023

Sponsoring a migrant worker

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Jane Biddlecombe and Charlotte Farrell | 8th August 2023

Sponsoring a migrant worker


This guide looks at whether a business can sponsor a migrant worker under a Skilled Worker visa, what is involved in the process of becoming a sponsor and the other options available.

Sponsorship can seem like a daunting process and this has been brought into sharp focus by Brexit. With the end of free movement more companies are having to apply for a sponsor licence to recruit the talent they need for their businesses.

This blog explains the key requirements of a Skilled Worker visa and the need for companies to obtain a sponsor licence to sponsor skilled workers in the UK. Businesses also need to be aware of the new immigration routes recently introduced by the Government.

Skilled Worker Visas: key things to know

Eligibility

The first thing a company needs to consider is whether the overseas national they have in mind for a role is actually eligible for a Skilled Worker visa. This is the new name for a Tier 2 visa. There are two main requirements.

Firstly, the job role that the overseas national is going to be doing in the UK needs to be at the right skill level. In order to be eligible for a Skilled Worker visa, the job role must be within one of the eligible job classification codes, known as “SOC codes”.

Eligible roles include:

  • CEOs
  • Managers and directors in various industries
  • Engineers
  • IT professionals
  • HR professionals
  • Sales and marketing professionals
  • Healthcare professionals
  • Teachers
  • Professional services such as accountants
  • Skilled trades such as bakers, electricians, plumbers and mechanics.

There’s a long list of eligible roles, and we can help companies identify the correct SOC code for the role they wish to fill.

Salary considerations

Once the correct SOC code for the role has been identified, it is necessary to establish the minimum salary that needs to be paid for this role. The minimum salary level for a Skilled Worker visa is £26,200 per annum.

However, each SOC code has a “going rate” of salary which must be paid if this is higher than £26,200. For example, the going rate for a CEO role is £59,300 per annum.

The minimum salary threshold can also be reduced, for example, if the individual is going to be employed in a shortage occupation, has a PhD in a subject relevant to the role, or they are a new entrant, for example, if they are under 26 years old.

Sponsoring a migrant worker – applying for a sponsor licence

To be able to sponsor a migrant worker on a Skilled Worker visa, the company will need to apply for a sponsor licence.

This has been brought into sharp focus by Brexit because UK employers now need a sponsor licence to employ EU nationals in the UK, unless they have another right to work in the UK such as settled status.

The sponsor licence application process is online, but the company must send in official supporting documents with the application. The Home Office is very specific about the documents that must be sent and can reject applications if the rules aren’t followed.

The application needs to be supported by a covering letter too and again the Home Office sets out what this must include, for example, a hierarchy chart for the business and details of the roles the company intends to sponsor. There are also additional requirements for certain types of businesses such as start-ups or franchises.

It’s vital to get the sponsor licence application right because if the application is refused, then there is no right to appeal and the company will be prohibited from making a further application for a period of 6 months, by which time the proposed employee will have probably obtained an alternative role elsewhere.

It normally takes 8 weeks to obtain a sponsor licence and the licence is valid for 4 years. It costs either £536 or £1,476 depending on the size of the company.

Sponsor duties when sponsoring a migrant worker

Sponsors have ongoing duties and responsibilities after they obtain their sponsor licence.

A sponsor is subject to a wide-ranging list of sponsor duties including record keeping and reporting duties. Non-compliance with these duties risks the sponsor licence being revoked, meaning that the company would no longer be able to sponsor migrants to work in the UK.

Companies can also be subject to unannounced compliance visits from the Home Office either before or after the sponsor licence is granted, so it’s important that the company gets all its ducks in a row before the application is made.

This includes making sure that the company has the appropriate HR systems in place. These include systems for:

  • Monitoring the right to work;
  • Keeping relevant documents;
  • Tracking attendance;
  • Keeping contact details up to date; and
  • Reporting to the Home Office is there is an issue.

Sponsors are also given access to the online Sponsor Management System (SMS) which is how they manage their licence, report any changes and apply for Certificates of Sponsorship for the overseas nationals they wish to employ.

Next steps after the sponsor licence is obtained

Once a company has a sponsor licence they need to apply for and assign a Certificate of Sponsorship to the potential employee. The Certificate of Sponsorship (or CoS) is actually a reference number that the individual puts on their online Skilled Worker visa application to prove they have an eligible job offer from a UK employer. Each CoS costs £199.

In addition, the individual needs to prove their English language skills. This can be done in a variety of ways such as having a degree taught in English or passing an approved English language test at an approved test centre. Applicants from English-speaking countries are exempt from the English language requirement.

Skilled workers can also bring their partner and children with them to the UK and each dependant has to make their own visa application. Each visa can last up to 5 years and can be extended as many times as they want as long as they still meet the eligibility requirements.
After 5 years in the UK on a Skilled Worker visa, the employee may be able to apply for “indefinite leave to remain” or settlement, giving them the right to live and work in the UK permanently.

Employing overseas nationals: alternative routes

The Government has introduced several new sponsored immigration routes in 2022.

Global Business Mobility visa

The Global Business Mobility visa became available on 11th April 2022. This is for overseas businesses who want 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.

The existing routes which were renamed and adapted are:

  • The Senior or Specialist Worker visa which is for senior managers or specialists who are employed overseas and are being sent to a linked UK business. This used to be called the Intra-Company Transfer visa.
  • The Graduate Trainee visa which 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.
  • The UK Expansion Worker visa which 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. This used to be called the Sole Representative of an Overseas Business visa.
  • The Service Supplier visa which 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.

The new route which was introduced is the Secondment Worker visa. This is for employees of an overseas business who have been seconded to the UK as part of a high value contract or investment. The investment or contract has to be worth at least £10 million a year and no less than £50 million in total.

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

This is 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 didn’t need a sponsor. However, 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 lead directly to settlement in the UK for the individual. This means that they won’t be able to work for 5 years in the UK on this visa and then automatically apply to stay here indefinitely, although they may be eligible to switch into another immigration category leading to settlement. This may make these routes less attractive to applicants.

Scale-up visa

In addition to the Global Business Mobility routes, another sponsored route introduced in August  2022 was the Scale-up visa. This is intended for talented individuals working for fast growing businesses 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 after that they can undertake work for any UK employer.

High Potential Individual visa

The Government also introduced a new route in May 2022 that does not require sponsorship at all. The High Potential Individual visa is a route for individuals who have a degree from a ‘top global university’ awarded in the last five years.

However, this visa only lasts for two or three years and does not automatically lead to settlement for the individual, although they may be eligible to switch into another immigration category leading to settlement at a later date.

More information

For further information or advice on sponsoring a migrant worker or the best route for your business, contact our team of immigration specialists.

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