Recruiting overseas workers in 2021

Recruiting workers from overseas, whether from the EU or further afield, requires employers to navigate the UK’s immigration rules. For employers who are used to relying on the free movement of workers from Europe, the points-based system (“PBS”) is more complex and expensive than they are used to. For employers who are experienced in recruiting overseas nationals under the PBS, some changes have been made that will simplify the recruitment process.

From 1 January 2021, the tier system (specifically Tier 2 and Tier 5) is replaced by the Worker and Temporary Worker system. Worker visas include Skilled Workers and Intra-company transfers. Temporary Worker visas include Charity Workers, Creative or Sporting Workers, Seasonal Workers, and the Youth Mobility Scheme.

Under the Worker and Temporary Worker routes, employers must hold a sponsor licence. Sponsor licences are described by the government as a privilege, not a right. Employers must demonstrate that they run a business in the UK, are trustworthy, and have the HR systems in place needed to comply with their sponsor obligations. Employers who hold a sponsor licence will be able to offer jobs to non-settled workers by issuing them with a certificate of sponsorship, which the worker will need to make their visa application.

The Skilled Worker route will be relied upon by employers to recruit a non-settled worker into an eligible job which meets a minimum skill level and for which the required salary will be paid, governed by the government’s prescribed occupation codes. The good news is that there is no longer a cap on the number of skilled workers jobs that can be filled each month and the previous requirement to undergo a protracted recruitment process has ceased. Employers must demonstrate that they are filling a genuine vacancy and should still retain evidence of how the particular employee was recruited, should they be subject to an inspection by the Home Office.

The Intra-company route will be relied upon by employers to move an employee to the UK from an overseas group company. As with the Skilled Worker route, the worker’s job role must be a skilled role for which they will be paid the required salary under the occupation codes.

As noted above, the PBS is expensive. As well as a fee to issue a certificate of sponsorship, employers must also pay the immigration skills charge (unless exempt) which may cost as much as £5,000 per employee. This may have the unfortunate consequence of limiting the pool of workers from which a business may recruit for those employers who simply cannot afford the associated costs.

It should be noted that there are a number of other routes for which non-settled workers may qualify outside of the Worker and Temporary Worker routes. For example, European workers who qualify for Settled or Pre-Settled Status will continue to enjoy free movement under the terms of the Settlement Scheme, and will not fall under the PBS.

Short term business visitors to the UK may also be able to utilise a standard visitor visa, which allows them to come to the UK to carry out certain business activities – such as attend meetings and conferences, negotiate and sign contracts, and take instructions from a UK-based client – as long as the individual does not do any work or provide services while they are here. Employees from overseas companies can also visit a group company in the UK to liaise with UK-based staff on internal projects, such as troubleshooting problems, providing training, and sharing skills and knowledge.

We work with employers to identify the best way to recruit non-settled workers and how to meet the requirements of PBS. If you have any questions about recruiting overseas workers, please contact our employment law solicitors.