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Recruiting Non-UK staff after Brexit

14 December 2020

Free movement with the European Union will end on the 1st January 2021 and the UK will introduce a points-based immigration system. Under the new system, anyone coming to the UK to work must apply for a visa and meet a specific set of requirements.

This new system will not apply to EEA and Swiss citizens who are currently resident and working within the UK or Irish Nationals. However, all EEA and Swiss citizens who arrive in the UK before 31st December 2020 should apply to EU Settlement Scheme to protect their status. The deadline for applications to this scheme is 30th June 2021 and more information can be found in the EU Nationals and Brexit article.

For anybody who is currently recruiting from outside the UK, you will find the new system more expensive and there are also a few more steps to go through so be prepared that it will take more time and effort.

There are two notable changes in the points-based system compared with the previous system. Firstly, the cap on the number of skilled workers that can come into the UK has been removed.
Secondly, the Resident Labour Market test no longer applies. Therefore, employers are not required to advertise the position they want to fill for a 28-day period. This should cut at least 4 weeks off the typical time to apply for a Certificate of Sponsorship.

Any businesses looking to hire from out with the UK must first become a sponsor. Before applying to become a sponsor, it is important you check that you can afford to pay the salaries set in the skilled worker route and that you are aware of your sponsor compliance duties. The steps to becoming a sponsor are as follows:

  • Check that your business is eligible. The only things that would make you ineligible are unspent criminal convictions for immigration offences/certain other crimes or if you have had a sponsor licence revoked in the last 12 months.
  • Select which licence you wish to apply for. You can either apply for a Workers Licence which would let you employ skilled workers on a long term or permanent basis. Alternatively, you could apply for a temporary worker licence for seasonal workers coming to the UK for up to 6 months. This is 6 months in any 12-month period not a calendar year.
  • Select the people who will manage the sponsorship management system within your business
  • Apply online and pay the appropriate fee.
Type of LicenceSmall businessesMedium Sized Businesses
Worker Licence (Skilled)£536£1,476
Temporary Worker Licence (Seasonal)£536£536

In most cases, you will have a response to your application within 8 weeks. Once you have successfully been granted a sponsor licence, you will be able to bring in as many or as few migrants as needed to fill the jobs in your business over a 4 year period from when your licence was granted.

If you already hold a sponsor licence because you are currently recruiting from other parts of the world then there is no need to re-apply. The application process is for those who have not held a sponsor licence in the past. However, those currently with sponsor licences would be advised to check the expiry date on them.

In order to come to the UK to work, people will need to meet a set list of criteria under the new scheme:

  • A job offer from an employer who has a sponsor licence and visas will then be awarded to those who score enough points.
  • Meet criminality thresholds – i.e. does not hold a criminal record
  • Need to speak English to an intermediate level
  • The job they are going to be doing needs to be at RQF3 level (Scottish Highers/A Level or above). It is the job that is at that level rather than the person’s qualifications.
  • The job must meet the salary threshold – this will either be the general threshold of £25,600 or the ‘going rate’ for that job, whichever is higher. You can find the going rates for jobs in this table.

There is some flexibility within the salary threshold to allow people to come in and earn less than the going rate or the £25,600 level, if they met one of three criteria (these are called tradeable points):

  • if they are working in a role that is deemed to be in shortage – find a list of these jobs here
  • if they have a PhD that is relevant to the job that they are doing
  • If there are new entrants to the job market – to reflect the fact that people earlier in their careers tend to earn less than the going rate.

Currently, there are no agricultural jobs that appear on the Shortage Occupations List meaning that the likelihood is that businesses will need to meet the general salary threshold of £25,600.

If any of the above criteria did apply, you can find worked examples of tradeable points here

Under the new scheme, there will be no route for businesses to recruit low skilled workers – jobs which have a salary of less than £ 20,480 or a skill level lower than RQF3.

Once a business has been awarded a sponsor licence, they can then assign a certificate of sponsorship to people they are looking to hire. This is an electronic record which workers can use to apply for a visa. Applications are usually approved within one working day.

Certificates are free for citizens of the following countries:

Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden or Turkey.

For other citizens, you need to pay for each certificate.

Type of CertificateCost per Certificate
Worker (Skilled)£199
Temporary Worker (Seasonal)£21

When hiring skilled works, businesses will also need to pay an immigration skills charge.

PeriodSmall BusinessesMedium Sized Businesses
First 12 months£364£1000
Each additional 6 months£182£500

A total of 70 points is needed to be able to apply to work in the UK.

Offer of job by approved sponsorMandatory20
Job at appropriate skill levelMandatory20
Speaks English at required levelMandatory10
Salary of £20,480 to £23,039 or at least 80% of the going rate for the profession (whichever is higher)Tradeable0
Salary of £23,040 to £25,599 or at least 90% of the going rate for the profession (whichever is higher)Tradeable10
Salary of £25,600 or above or at least the going rate for the profession (whichever is higher)Tradeable20
Job in a shortage occupation as designated by the Migration Advisory CommitteeTradeable20
Education qualification: PhD in a subject relevant to the jobTradeable10
Education qualification: PhD in a STEM subject relevant to the jobTradeable20

As part of the application, there is also a healthcare surcharge to allow workers coming to the UK to use NHS services. This needs to be paid at the time of application and the charge would be £624 per year totalling £3,120 for a 5-year visa. However, this can be re-couped through the workers salary as long as it is agreed in the contract.

The sponsor licence route won’t suit all businesses, so it is important to stress that there are still other routes open to bring non-UK workers in that do not need a sponsor licence such as the previously mentioned EU Settlement Scheme. However, time is running out to apply to this scheme so act quick! To get pre-settled status, you only need to show you’ve lived in the UK for 1 day out of the last 6 months. Therefore, if you had a worker who was with you in October but has now left the UK, they could still apply to this scheme and if accepted, you could bring them back into the UK next year. Non-UK residents could stay in the UK for a further 5 years from the date they are granted pre-settled status and then apply to change this to settled status once they’ve got 5 years’ continuous residence.

Please don’t underestimate the amount of time it will take to become familiar with the new system. It is never too early to start the process. This handy guide has more information on the process or to start the application process, click here


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