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Recruiting internationally: Employing overseas workers

The cessation of freedom of movement between the United Kingdom and the European Union has led to the implementation of a uniform immigration system that impartially assesses all applicants, regardless of their country of origin.

To employ individuals from overseas, with the exception of Irish nationals, it is imperative to ensure compliance with specific prerequisites and initiate the formal permission procedure.

Recruiting from Overseas

As of 1 January 2021, most non-UK nationals seeking employment in the UK must obtain a work visa. Typically, these visa applications necessitate sponsorship by an employer.

Consequently, to engage non-UK national workers, employers are required to seek a sponsorship licence from the Home Office. This licence grants them the authority to employ individuals falling within the desired worker category.

The application for this licence entails providing extensive information about the organisation; this includes showcasing the ability to meet the compliance responsibilities linked to employing sponsored workers within the organisation. This is usually evidenced by showing the existence of a well-structured and efficient HR function.

Additionally, even after obtaining the sponsorship licence, employers are still obligated to pay the Immigration Skills Charge for each sponsored worker. This charge currently amounts to £364 for ‘small’ businesses and £1000 for medium or large businesses for each twelve-month visa granted to a worker.

Upon being granted a licence by the Home Office, employers have the authority to issue a Certificate of Sponsorship to their foreign national candidate. This certificate is a crucial component in the candidate’s visa application process.

The Why and How of Overseas Recruitment

Numerous employers hold foreign workers in high regard because of the knowledge and skills they can apport to their organisation.

Employing overseas workers can provide significant advantages for businesses, including:

  • Hiring individuals with specialised skills, such as technical or language proficiencies, which may not be readily available within the UK labour market
  • Addressing critical skill shortages by recruiting highly skilled personnel, particularly in roles officially recognised by the government as ‘shortage occupations.’
  • Enabling international secondments or transfers, fostering professional development and introducing fresh perspectives to the UK-based organisation. These provisions are encompassed within the Global Business Mobility category, replacing the previous Intra Company Transfer route
  • Meeting temporary staffing needs that necessitate specific skill sets
  • Filling unskilled or low-skilled positions, particularly when labour shortages are prevalent
Monica Mastropasqua


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+44 20 7539 8021

Employing overseas workers can provide significant advantages for businesses.

HR professionals hold a pivotal role in this process, ensuring that the sponsoring organisation complies with relevant legal requirements and conducts pertinent checks for each sponsored individual.

The primary avenue through which employers will engage overseas workers is the ‘skilled worker’ route. Key components of this route include:

  • An occupation-dependent minimum skill benchmark set at RQF Level 3 (SCQF 6 in Scotland), equivalent to A-level occupations. This prohibits recruitment for roles demanding skill levels below GCSE, such as care workers, bar staff, and customer service roles.
  • A stipulated salary threshold of £26,200; although certain public service and shortage occupations entail lower thresholds (no less than £20,960). New entrants will observe a threshold 30% below experienced workers, applicable to skill shortage occupations (£20,960) and workers possessing relevant PhDs (£23,580).
  • An array of expenses for visa fees, sponsorship licence fee, and an immigration skills surcharge fee.
  • Streamlined overseas recruitment process up to 8 weeks.

To be considered as an eligible candidate under a worker route, an individual must score a minimum of 70 points from the stipulated list below. Some of the following attributes are negotiable.

  • Job offer from an endorsed sponsor – 20 points.
  • Occupation at the appropriate skill level – 20 points.
  • Proficiency in English at the requisite level – 10 points.
  • Salary ranging from £20,960 (minimum) to £23,579 – 0 points.
  • Salary ranging from £23,580 to £26,199 – 10 points.
  • Salary exceeding £26,200 – 20 points.
  • Role within a shortage occupation – 20 points.
  • Educational attainment: PhD in a job-relevant subject – 10 points.
  • Educational attainment: PhD in a STEM subject relevant to the job – 20 points.

Employers have been encountering a mole of administrative requirements and costs when recruiting overseas non-UK nationals. These include, in many cases, the cost of a sponsorship licence, visas (which could extend to migrant workers’ dependants), and the Immigration Skills Charge for each employee. Additionally, all non-UK nationals will be subject to an annual Immigration Health Surcharge amounting to £624, which some employers may opt to cover, with an exemption granted to health and care personnel.

In July 2020, the government introduced a health and care visa, offering a distinct visa route with a reduced application fee for eligible health and care professionals.

Immigration Compliance

Conducting UK right to work (RTW) checks is vital, offering protection for both employees and employers against illegal employment practices. Employers are legally obligated to conduct comprehensive RTW checks to ensure their hires possess the legal right to work in the UK, in accordance with Sections 15–25 of the Immigration, Asylum, and Nationality Act 2006.

Implementing legally compliant, consistently applied, and precise RTW procedures is a prudent risk management strategy. In larger corporate settings, it’s common for HR departments in different branches to implement RTW systems aligned with legal standards. However, disparities in practice, especially among senior personnel in subsidiary offices, can expose organisations to compliance risks, potentially triggering Home Office enforcement actions.

Failure to comply with RTW regulations can result in severe consequences, including Home Office audits, high scrutiny, substantial fines (up to £20,000 per breach), criminal prosecution, suspension or revocation of Sponsor Licences, and, in extreme cases, business closure. Therefore, strict adherence to RTW checks is imperative to mitigate these legal and operational risks.

How can we help

As experts in the field of business immigration, we can assist you in becoming a licenced sponsor and thereafter provide you with ongoing support to ensure you are:

  • Kept informed of any changes to the immigration laws which may affect your business;
  • Complying with your sponsor duties; and
  • Able to hire migrant workers with relative ease.

About this article

This information is for guidance purposes only and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. Please refer to the full General Notices on our website.

Monica Mastropasqua


View profile

+44 20 7539 8021

About this article

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