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Sponsored immigration

New hires What sponsored visas or work permits are available to employers seeking to hire foreign nationals in your jurisdiction? What are the eligibility criteria, application procedures and maximum period of stay for each?

The sponsored visa route is the Tier 2 visa category. The route is divided into two categories: general and intra-company transfer.

Tier 2 (general) allows employers to move staff for permanent roles in the United Kingdom. The following criteria must be met:

  • a six-year maximum stay;
  • after five years’ continuous residence, a sponsored employee may, subject to meeting additional criteria, apply for permanent residence in the United Kingdom (known as ‘indefinite leave to remain’);
  • a minimum salary of £30,000 per annum is required;
  • mandatory advertising of the role is required if the job attracts a salary of less than £159,600 (known as the ‘resident labour market test’) – advertisements for the job must be placed in two different media for a minimum of 28 calendar days; and
  • applicants must meet the English language requirement in one of the following ways:
    • be a national of a majority-English-speaking country;
    • hold a degree that was taught or researched in English and is equivalent to a UK bachelor’s degree or above;
    • have passed an English language test at the appropriate level; or
    • have met the English language requirements when given a previous grant of leave.

The Tier 2 (intra-company transfer) route is an alternative route and enables employees to transfer existing employees to the United Kingdom on a temporary basis. This category does not lead to permanent residence. Two sub-categories exist:

  • Tier 2 (intra-company transfer) long-term route has the following criteria:
    • a five-year maximum stay (or up to nine years if the migrant earns £120,000 or more);
    • a minimum salary of £41,500 per annum; and
    • the migrant must have worked for the overseas company for a minimum of 12 months (an exemption applies if the salary is £73,900 or more per annum).
  • Tier 2 (intra-company transfer) graduate trainee route has the following criteria:
    • migrants from the overseas organisation must be part of a structured graduate training programme;
    • a 12-month maximum stay;
    • the migrant must have worked for the overseas company for a minimum of three months; and
    • a minimum salary of £23,000 per annum. 

Intra-company transfers What sponsored visas or work permits are available to multinational employers seeking to transfer foreign employees to your jurisdiction? What are the eligibility criteria, application procedures and maximum period of stay for each?

See above.

Do any special rules govern secondments?

The Tier 2 (intra-company transfer) route provides sponsored employers a means of transferring overseas workers to the United Kingdom on a temporary basis. This can include working on new projects or providing extra personal capacity in the UK branch of the company.

Sponsor requirements and considerations What are the eligibility and procedural requirements for employers to sponsor foreign employees?

An employer must obtain a sponsor licence before sponsoring migrant workers. The employer is usually required to submit a number of mandatory documents to the Home Office and explain the reason for applying for the licence. Applications are made via an online portal and demand a fee.

What ongoing reporting and record-keeping requirements apply to sponsors?

Licence sponsors must meet and maintain compliance in a number of critical areas:

  • Sponsor licence details must be kept up to date (including named personnel) on the licence. Any changes must be reported to the Home Office via the online sponsor management portal.
  • Sponsors must ensure that migrant duties and salary comply with the information contained in the certificate of sponsorship.
  • The sponsor licence HR systems must ensure compliance in the following areas:
    • monitoring immigration status and preventing illegal employment;
    • maintaining migrant contact details;
    • record keeping and recruitment practice;
    • migrant tracking and monitoring; and
    • other general and specific sponsor reporting duties.

In what circumstances (if any) must the employer submit to resident labour market testing before hiring or transferring foreign employees? Do any exemptions apply?

Migrants sponsored under the Tier 2 (general) route must conduct the resident labour market test. The test must be undertaken before any migrant worker can be sponsored.

The following exemptions apply:

  • a job offer with a salary of £159,600 or above (classed as the ‘high earner threshold’);
  • a job which is featured in the shortage occupation list as defined by the Home Office;
  • an extension application where the migrant worker is working for the same sponsor; and
  • switching from a Tier 4 student visa and having been awarded a recognised bachelor’s or master’s degree. 

Are there any annual quota limits or restrictions on certain positions that can be filled by foreign nationals?

The Home Office publishes a list of standard occupational codes relating to the job roles for which a migrant worker may be sponsored. The roles must also meet the prescribed salary.

The number of Tier 2 (general) restricted certificates of sponsorship which can be issued annually is 20,700. This quota allocation is spread evenly per calendar month. 

Are there any immigration exemptions or other special schemes for shortage occupations in your jurisdiction?

The Home Office lists shortage occupations based on existing shortages in the skilled workforce. Migrants sponsored under a shortage occupation are exempt from the resident labour market test. The list also includes a number of roles which would not normally attract sponsorship (eg, chefs).

How long does it typically take to obtain a sponsored visa? Is expedited visa processing available?

The Home Office has a standard processing time of up to eight weeks to process new sponsor licence applications. At present, there is no expedited service. 

What rules govern the hiring of foreign third-party contractors?

Migrants sponsored by Company A may proceed to work as a contractor for Company B on its premises. However, the migrant’s sponsor must maintain full control of migrant duties and responsibilities.

What are the penalties for sponsor non-compliance with the relevant immigration laws and regulations?

Non-compliance of a licensed sponsor may result in:

  • the downgrading of a sponsor licence to a B rating – this prevents the licensed sponsor from sponsoring any new migrant workers and the sponsor would also be subject to a three-month action plan by the Home Office;
  • licence suspension; and
  • revocation of the sponsor licence – any migrants currently sponsored will have their current immigration leave (permission) curtailed.

Are there any other special considerations for sponsors in your jurisdiction?

Special considerations are covered by sponsors – see above.

General employee requirements Must sponsored employees meet any language requirements?

Migrants sponsored under the Tier 2 (general) route must attain a B1 standard in the English language requirement. This can be met in various ways. Migrants sponsored under the Tier 2 (intra-company transfer) route are not required to meet the language requirement.

Are sponsored employees subject to any medical checks?

Migrants who reside in certain countries and who are seeking entry for more than six months must undergo tuberculosis testing at an approved overseas Home Office clinic. 

Must sponsored employees meet any medical or other insurance requirements?

Subject to meeting the tuberculosis requirement, sponsored migrants are not required to meet any other medical or insurance requirements. UK Visas and Immigration has the authority to refer any passenger who, in its opinion, is in poor physical or mental health to the port health authority for medical assessment. 

Are sponsored employees subject to any security or background checks?

Sponsored migrants are subject to Home Office checks at the point of applying for a visa. This can include checks on the criminal records database and the immigration database.

Are sponsored employees subject to any restrictions on studying or working second or volunteer jobs?

Sponsored migrants are permitted to undertake supplementary employment in addition to the job for which they are being sponsored. This supplementary employment must be for no more than 20 hours per week and must be related to the profession for which they are being sponsored.

Secondary employment is permitted only with a licensed sponsor. A new application will need to be submitted in the United Kingdom after the applicant has been assigned a certificate of sponsorship and the migrant has commenced work with the first sponsor.

Voluntary work is permitted as long as no payment is received.

Are there any rules or standards governing the equivalence of sponsored employees’ foreign qualifications?

The National Recognition Information Centre (NARIC) is the agency responsible for confirming whether academic qualifications meet the English language requirements and are the equivalent of a UK bachelor degree. This is necessary for applications submitted under the Tier 2 (general) category. Migrants who have obtained their degree from a non-English-speaking country must submit their degree to NARIC for verification. 

What are the penalties for employee non-compliance with the relevant immigration laws and regulations?

A sponsored migrant may have his or her sponsorship withdrawn by the employer should certain criteria (eg, attendance) not be met. In addition, employers holding a sponsor licence have a duty to inform the Home Office of any relevant matters such as unauthorised absence.

Sponsored migrants may face fines and detention to facilitate removal from the United Kingdom. 

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