UK business - how to hire workers from the EU post-Brexit

After Brexit, freedom of movement between the UK and Europe officially ended, which has taken a big toll on UK businesses that previously hired staff from the EU. Bar and restaurant workers, fruit pickers, care home workers, cleaners, tech workers, and even massive British institutions like the NHS face a shortage of staff due to the change of policy.

But there are paths that allow British companies to sponsor and recruit workers from around the world including the EU by using a sponsorship and points-based immigration system. Here’s a useful guide for UK employers on how to navigate the new system and hire workers from the EU post-Brexit.

Become a UK employment sponsor

In order to employ a worker from the EU (including unpaid posts such internships or charity work), you will first need to become a sponsor and obtain a sponsorship licence. The licence will allow you to employ citizens of the EU, including citizens of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

You won’t need a licence however if you employ Irish citizens or anyone who arrived in the UK before December 31st 2020 who have settled or pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme. Those who have indefinite leave to remain in the UK are also exempt from needing sponsorship and can work freely within the UK. (But be warned - sponsoring someone does not guarantee that they’ll be allowed to be able to set foot or stay in the UK so make sure you make your prospective employee aware of this caveat.)

How to get a UK employment sponsorship licence

To start the process, you first need to check that your business is eligible. That means as an employer you cannot have any unspent criminal convictions for immigration offences or other types of crime such as fraud or money laundering. You will also be denied if you’ve had a sponsor licence revoked in the last 12 months.

You will need to have must have Human Resources systems in place so you can keep track of your employees’ immigration status, including keeping correct copies of documents for each employee (such as passport details and right to work information), recording your employees’ attendance, keeping employee contact details up to date and reporting any problems to the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) department if your employee stops coming to work. The UKVI may even visit your business to make sure you’re trustworthy and capable of carrying out your duties.

Then you need to choose what type of licence you want to apply for which depends on the type of work or industry your business is involved with and what type of employment you want to offer. The two difference licences are ‘Worker’ for long-term job offers, or ‘Temporary Worker’. You can apply for one or both depending on how many people you want to employ.

How to apply for a UK 'Worker' licence

Having a 'Worker' licence allows employees to undertake long-term or permanent work. This includes:

  • Skilled Workers - providing the employee fulfils certain requirements (see the section below on Skilled Workers)
  • Intra-company Visas - for multinational companies which need to transfer established employees or graduate trainees to the UK
  • Ministers of Religion - for people coming to work for a religious organisation
  • Sportspeople - for elite sportspeople and coaches who need to be based in the UK for training purposes
    Temporary Worker licence

A ‘Temporary Worker’ licence will let you employ people on a temporary basis only which includes:

  • Seasonal Workers - for employees coming to the UK for up to six months to do farm work.
  • Creative or Sporting Workers – for example an entertainer or artist can work for up to two years with this licence, or a high-level sportsperson can work for up to one year.
  • Charity Workers - unpaid workers at a charity can work for up to 1 year.
  • Religious Workers – a person working in a religious order or organisation can work for up to 2 years.
  • Government Authorised Exchange Workers – an intern can work for up to one year and workers with research projects or medical and science training schemes can stay for up to two years.
    International Agreement Worker – workers covered by international law, for example employees of overseas governments.

Once you’ve decided which licence you want to go for, you can start the application by applying here online at the government's website. It costs between £536 and £1,476 to apply for, depending on the size of your company, its turnover and how many people you intend to sponsor. It normally takes 8 weeks for a sponsor licence registration to be processed. If your application is successful, you’ll be given an ‘A’ rating and once it’s approved, you can start issuing certificates of sponsorship to your intended employees. The licence will be valid for up to four years from the date of approval, but you’ll need to keep up your responsibilities as a sponsor during that time otherwise your licence will be downgraded to a 'B' rating and you will no longer be able to issue certificates.

The Points-Based Immigration System for Skilled Workers

If you want to sponsor a skilled worker, the first port of call before you apply for a sponsorship licence is defining the level of skill and salary of your employee. This also applies to their level of language skills in English. (If you’re hiring workers from Ireland, you can bypass this system altogether as they still have a right to work in the UK.) To hire someone from outside the UK (excluding Ireland), the employee must meet the minimum skill and salary thresholds:

  • The minimum skill level is set at RQF3 which is equivalent to an A level
  • The minimum salary threshold is either £25,600 or the ‘going rate’ for that job whatever is higher. However, it is possible to sponsor someone on less than that figure - but no less than £20,480 – by using the points system if there is a shortage of people with their particular skill in the UK or they have a PhD or equivalent relevant to the job. There are also different salary rules for workers in some health or education jobs, and for newly graduated employees at the beginning of their careers.
  • The level of skill in English must be of a good standard

For more information on skill levels and the salaries for all the jobs for skilled workers, you can consult this useful government compiled table which gives you a detailed range of different jobs and skills to check the requirements: Immigration Rules Appendix Skilled Occupations.

Intra-Company Transfers

If you have an employee that works in a branch of your business abroad and want to transfer them to work in the UK, you can apply for the Intra-Company Transfer route. Applicants will need to already be employed by the company and their UK job will need to meet the skills and salary thresholds which include:

  • being sponsored as an Intra-Company Transfer by the licensed sponsor.
  • having 12 months’ experience working for the overseas branch of the business which is owned by the same UK company they want to work for.
  • undertaking a role at the required skill level of RQF6 or above (graduate level equivalent)
  • be paid at least £41,500 or the ‘going rate’ for the job, whichever is higher

Please note that permission for workers transferred to the UK on the Intra-Company Transfer route is only temporary. They cannot get settled status in the UK. Workers can be assigned to the UK multiple times, but they cannot stay in the UK for more than five years in any six-year period. Workers paid over £73,900 do not need to have worked for the company for as long as 12 months and they can stay for up to nine years in any ten-year period.

Workers who are transferred to the UK as part of a structured graduate training programme for up to one year can apply for the Intra-Company Graduate Trainee route. The requirements are the same except there are different rules on length of overseas experience and salary.

Exceptions to the Rule

In order to attract recognised global leaders and promising individuals in science, humanities, engineering, the arts and digital technology, there is an ‘unsponsored visa’ that means they can work in the UK without being sponsored by an employer. However, these applicants will need to prove their qualifications, references and past career in some detail before being approved for this.

The Youth Mobility Scheme is also different in that it enables around 20,000 young people (aged 18 to 30 years old) to come to the UK to work and travel each year.

For more information on this and the full list of ways that workers can be hired to work in the UK, please go to the UK government’s points-based system introduction for employers document and if you have any further queries about whether your prospective employee can work in the UK, just take a look at the government right to work page.

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