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Skilled Worker visa – how to hire from abroad

Employer looking at visa application

With many industries across the UK struggling with labour shortages, a Skilled Worker visa offers employers a chance to fill their roles with workers from outside the country. But complicated rules and changing regulations can make business owners wonder if it’s worth the trouble.

But to try and boost productivity in struggling sectors, visa regulations could make it more worthwhile for employers. Read on to find what your responsibilities are as an employer and how a recent review of legal migration could change things in 2024.

What is a Skilled Worker visa?

If someone from abroad wants to work in the UK, one of their main options is to get a Skilled Worker visa (formerly known as a Tier 2 (General) work visa). People with a Skilled Worker visa can live and work in the UK with their partner and children for up to five years.

Any potential employee needs a certificate of sponsorship and a confirmed job offer from an employer before they can apply for a visa – but first, you should check they qualify.

What are the requirements for a Skilled Worker visa?

While it isn’t solely your responsibility to make sure someone meets the visa requirements, you should check they:

Not all jobs are eligible occupations, so double check the role you’re hiring for is on the list and make a note of the occupation code as this will help later.

How to sponsor a skilled worker from abroad

As mentioned before, to sponsor a worker you need to send them a certificate of sponsorship. To do this, you need to be registered with UK Visa and Immigration (UKVI) and apply for a sponsor licence. When you have one, you can apply for a certificate through the sponsorship management system – it should only take a day to be processed.

But there are some costs to consider. The fee for a standard worker certificate is £239 and it needs to be paid before the certificate can be sent. This is why it’s important to make sure the person you want to hire is eligible for the visa before you go ahead with the application.

The employee will then apply for their visa themselves, submitting your sponsorship certificate as part of this process.

What are your responsibilities as an employer?

Sponsoring a worker from outside of the UK can seem complicated as it’s sometimes difficult to know what is and isn’t your responsibility as an employer. But as long as you take a few steps you should reduce the chances of any issues.

When you sponsor an employee for a Skilled Worker visa you need to make sure:

  • the worker has the necessary skills and qualifications to do their job, with documents to prove it
  • the role is suitable for sponsorship
  • you let UKVI know if your employee isn’t following the conditions of their visa
  • you comply with UK employment law for role you’re offering
  • you report any significant changes to your business (within 20 working days) to UKVI

Check your HR systems

Your HR systems play an important role in helping you to comply with UKVI’s regulations. You need a system that can:

  • record attendance
  • keep contact details up to date
  • monitor immigration status
  • store documents for sponsored workers, including right to work checks
  • tell UKVI if there’s an issue with your employee

If you don’t follow these regulations, your licence with the UKVI “may be downgraded, suspended, or withdrawn”.

What is the shortage occupations list?

In an effort to support industries struggling with labour shortages, the government introduced a shortage occupations list. If a profession is on the list, the rules for sponsoring a worker for that role from abroad are more relaxed and the fees are lower.

In August 2023, the shortage occupations list was reviewed, with many roles in construction being added while roles in hospitality missed out.

If you’re experiencing a shortage of skilled workers in your industry and struggling to fill a role, it’s worth checking the list to see if you could hire someone on a Skilled Worker visa.

The government sets minimum salary requirements for people working in the UK on a Skilled Worker visa, based on a ‘going rate’ for different trades. Those eligible for a role on the shortage occupations list can receive 80 per cent of this salary requirement for their trade (or more). This gives employers more flexibility for the roles they hire for as the required salary can be lower.

However, rules around the Skilled Worker visa are likely to change in spring.

Legal migration rules review – what’s changing?

At the end of 2023, Home Secretary James Cleverly laid out a five-point plan to reduce legal migration. The Skilled Worker visa and the shortage occupations list both look set to change throughout 2024.

From April 2024, the new minimum salary to sponsor someone on a Skilled Worker visa will increase from £26,200 to £38,700. And the 20 per cent reduction in that minimum income allowed through the shortage occupations list will be scrapped “no earlier than April”.

With a general election on the horizon, it’s difficult to know if the rules will change further, so keep an eye on the Knowledge centre where we’ll cover any updates.

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Zach Hayward-Jones

Zach Hayward-Jones is a Copywriter at Simply Business, with seven years of writing experience across entertainment, insurance, and financial services. With a keen interest in issues affecting the hospitality and construction sector, Zach focuses on news relevant to small business owners. Covering industry updates, regulatory changes, and practical guides.

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