What steps must UK companies take to legally employ foreign nationals from outside the EU?

11 June 2024

The United Kingdom, a hub for international business and industry, often requires the skills and expertise of foreign nationals from outside the European Union. However, to do so legally, there are several steps that companies must take. Navigating the realm of work visas, immigration laws, and employee sponsorship can be complicated, but it's necessary to ensure compliance with all legal requirements. Here, we delve into the process that UK companies need to follow when they want to employ foreign nationals from outside the EU.

Understanding the Basics of Immigration and Work Visas

Before a company can employ a foreign national, the understanding of the basics of immigration and work visas is essential. The UK immigration system uses a points-based system, which places applicants into five tiers. For companies seeking to employ foreign workers, the most relevant tier is Tier 2, pertaining to skilled workers with a job offer from a UK employer.

This system is designed to ensure that only those with the necessary skills and qualifications can enter the UK to work. A foreign national must earn a certain number of points in the Tier 2 category. These points are awarded based on a variety of factors, including English language skills, potential earnings, and the level of demand for the job in question.

To employ a foreign national, UK companies must obtain a sponsor licence. This licence provides permission to employ foreign nationals from outside the EU. It's not an automatic right; companies must demonstrate a genuine need for foreign workers and show that they are capable of meeting certain sponsorship duties.

Sponsorship Duties and Responsibilities

Once a company has obtained a sponsor licence, it's then responsible for meeting certain sponsorship duties. These duties include monitoring and reporting the immigration status of foreign employees. Companies must provide the UK government with accurate and up-to-date information about their foreign workers. They also have a duty to prevent illegal employment and ensure that their foreign employees have the right to work in the UK.

Employers are also responsible for maintaining appropriate HR records for their foreign workers. These records should include details such as the employee's contact information, a copy of their visa, and records of their work attendance. A company's failure to comply with these duties could result in their sponsor licence being revoked.

Applying for a Work Visa

After obtaining a sponsor licence and understanding the sponsorship duties, the next step is to apply for a work visa on behalf of the foreign national. The specific type of visa required will depend on the nature of the job and the skills of the applicant.

Typically, a company will need to apply for a Tier 2 General visa. This visa is for foreign nationals who have been offered a skilled job in the UK. The employer must issue a Certificate of Sponsorship to the employee as part of the visa application process. It's important to note that the job must be at a certain skill level and the employer must pay a suitable rate.

Ensuring Ongoing Compliance with Immigration Laws

After the work visa has been granted, the company must ensure ongoing compliance with immigration laws. This involves monitoring the immigration status of the employee, ensuring that they are performing the job they were hired for, and maintaining accurate records.

The UK government conducts regular checks to ensure that companies are complying with immigration laws. If a company is found to be in breach of these laws, it could face severe penalties, including fines, imprisonment of responsible parties, and the revocation of its sponsor licence. Therefore, businesses are encouraged to seek legal advice to ensure that they remain compliant with these regulations.

The Role of Skilled Workers in the UK Economy

With the complexities of sponsoring a foreign worker from outside the EU, one might ask, why bother? Well, foreign employees, especially those that are highly skilled, play a crucial role in the UK economy. They fill gaps in the labour market, contribute to innovation, and add to the cultural diversity of the UK.

Despite the rigorous process, companies continue to sponsor foreign workers due to the unique skills and perspectives they bring. They often hold expertise in specific fields that may be underrepresented in the UK, thereby giving businesses a competitive edge.

To sum up, employing a foreign national from outside the EU is a complex process that requires thorough understanding and strict adherence to immigration laws and regulations. By following these steps, UK companies can ensure they are legally employing foreign workers, contributing to the economic growth, and fostering a diverse workforce.

The Process of Securing a Sponsor Licence

The first step in securing a sponsor licence is for the company to submit an application to the UK Home Office. This application should include a detailed description of why the company needs to employ a foreign national, as well as evidence that the company is a reputable and legitimate business entity.

Upon receiving the application, the Home Office will conduct a thorough audit of the company. This audit will seek to verify the information provided in the application, and assess whether the company has the capacity to comply with sponsorship duties and responsibilities. Companies must demonstrate that they have robust HR systems in place to manage and monitor foreign workers.

If the application is successful, the company will be awarded a sponsorship licence, enabling them to issue Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS) to prospective foreign employees. A Certificate of Sponsorship is not a physical document, but rather an electronic record. Each CoS has its unique reference number which a foreign worker will need to enter on their visa application.

The Importance of Meeting the Minimum Salary Requirement

A key requirement for the Tier 2 General visa is that the job must meet the minimum salary requirement. This wage threshold reflects the UK government's goal of attracting high-skilled workers who can contribute significantly to the economy. It is set by the UK government and reviewed annually.

The minimum salary that a foreign national must be paid varies depending on the job and the circumstances. For instance, the job’s skill level, the applicant's age, and the length of the worker's contract can all affect the minimum wage that must be offered. It's crucial that businesses check the current salary requirements before making a job offer to a foreign national to ensure compliance with immigration rules.

Conclusion: Balancing Business Mobility and Legal Obligations

Global business mobility is a reality of the modern world. Businesses in the UK, like those in many other countries, often need to recruit talent from outside the EU to fulfill specific roles and drive innovation. However, the process of employing these individuals is governed by strict immigration rules and procedures.

From understanding the basics of immigration and work visas, obtaining a sponsor licence, issuing Certificates of Sponsorship, to meeting minimum salary requirements, the process is complex and requires a significant investment of time and resources. Companies need to balance their need for foreign talent with the necessity of compliance with these regulations.

However, the advantages of employing foreign nationals often outweigh the complexities involved. Their unique skills and perspectives not only fill gaps in the labour market but also contribute to innovation and cultural diversity. As such, despite the rigorous process, the benefits of employing foreign nationals from outside the EU can have a significant positive impact on business growth and competitiveness.

As such, while the process may seem daunting, with the right support and guidance, UK companies can navigate this legal landscape successfully, benefiting from the global talent pool without compromising on their legal obligations.

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