For many reasons, British organisations are looking beyond the borders of the UK and EEA to source talent by recruiting under the Tier 2 visa UK route.

Organisations that take advantage of the Tier 2 visa system have access to a potential workforce numbering billions. This is vital at a time when businesses are struggling to source talent from the domestic labour market.

In June 2015, a study by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and recruitment agency Hays revealed 77% of businesses had experienced recruitment difficulties in the previous year. Recruiting internationally offers a solution.

Foreign workers can bring cultural diversity and a fresh perspective to a British organisation. They also offer the potential to expand into overseas markets with their cultural knowledge and foreign business connections.

Because their visas are tied to their work, sponsored workers have a loyalty to their employer that others may not. Sponsored staff can only switch employers if they make a further visa application and meet all of the necessary requirements.

Bu there are negative aspects of employing international workers, of course.

Because of the Government’s ever tightening squeeze on immigration, the opportunities for foreign workers are more limited than they once were.

The costs have increased, too.

A Certificate of Sponsorship carries a fee of £199. A Tier 2 (General) visa for a period longer than three years requires an application fee of approximately £1000. Each application for dependants carries similar fees.

Applicants and their dependants are also required to pay an NHS surcharge of £200 per year for the length of their visa and, from April 2017, an Immigration Skills Charge of £1000 per migrant, per annum (£364 for small businesses and those in the charity sector).

There is also a knowledge barrier. Immigration applications can be a regulatory minefield for those who are unfamiliar with the territory.

Faced with these challenges and potential opportunities, and given the current uncertainty surrounding Brexit, what do employers need to know about recruiting under the Tier 2 visa UK?

The Tier 2 Visa UK

If an organisation is thinking of employing a person from a country outside the EEA, and that person does not already have permission to live and work in the UK, it is usually necessary to obtain a Tier 2 Visa.

There are four sub-categories to this visa:

  1. General visas – for medium to high skilled workers with a job offer from a UK employer;
  2. Intra company transfer visas – for employees of multi-national companies, transferring between offices;
  3. Sportsperson visas – for internationally recognised coaches and sportspeople; and
  4. Minister of religion visas – for those who perform pastoral duties in recognised religions.

Sponsor licence

Before employing a foreign worker, an organisation must first obtain a Tier 2 sponsor licence.

We have previously detailed the requirements and procedure for securing a sponsor licence.

Licenced sponsors must appoint individuals to be responsible for particular management duties. If these duties are breached, an organisation may be served a civil penalty, resulting in the licence being withdrawn or downgraded.

Roles for international employees

For most employers seeking to hire foreign staff, the Tier 2 General visa is likely to be the most appropriate vehicle.

In most cases, an employer will need to apply to the Home Office for a ‘restricted certificate of sponsorship’ before employing an applicant. There is an annual limit to the number of restricted certificates the Home Office grants each year.

This annual limit does not apply to ‘unrestricted visas’ where an employee:

  • Is starting a new role with a salary of more than £155,300;
  • Is extending a visa or changing employer, and was originally granted a visa prior to 5 April 2011;
  • Already holds a visa in another immigration category and is seeking to switch to a Tier 2 General visa.

These visas are restricted to certain job types and minimum salary requirements, depending on the occupation.

The current minimum threshold for Tier 2 applicants are occupations that are listed by the Home Office to be “NQF level 6” or above.

For ‘new entrant’ employees, including UK graduates switching to a Tier 2 visa and applicants under 26, the minimum threshold salary is £20,800.

For ‘experienced workers’, not classified as ‘new entrants’, the Government recently announced the minimum salary would increase from £20,800 to £25,000 in autumn 2016 and to £30,000 in April 2017.

Some jobs require a higher minimum salary.

The Codes of Practice for Skilled Workers: Standard Occupational Classifications (SOC) Codes and minimum appropriate salary rates outlines:

  • the skill level for each occupation;
  • the minimum appropriate rates of pay for each occupation; and
  • examples of job tasks and titles.

Candidates must also meet English competency and maintenance (sufficient funds to support self) requirements.

Resident labour market test

Usually, before a company can hire a foreign worker, it must first carry out the Resident Labour Market Test.

This means placing two advertisements for 28 days, either continuously or in two stages.

They must be able to show that, after placing these adverts, they were not able to find suitable workers already living permanently in the UK.

However, this does not apply if the job appears on the Tier 2 Shortage Occupation List or the employee is switching from a UK student visa.

Recruiting under a Tier 2 visa UK can seem overwhelming but, with the help of an immigration law expert, sponsoring foreign workers can be an effective way to give a business a competitive edge in a tight labour market.