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Best UK Work Visa Options for UK Businesses Hiring Overseas Workers

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If your UK business is struggling to recruit after Brexit and the end of free movement for EU nationals it is important to understand the best UK work visa options to enable your UK business to hire overseas workers. In this article, our immigration and Sponsorship Licence lawyers look at your business immigration options so you can employ the right workers for your company.

UK Online and London Based Immigration Solicitors and Sponsorship Licence lawyers

For advice on UK immigration law on hiring and sponsoring overseas workers call the expert London Sponsorship Licence lawyers at OTS Solicitors on 0203 959 9123 or contact us online.

Best UK work visa options

The job of a business immigration solicitor is first and foremost to listen. That’s because the best UK work visa options totally depend on the recruitment needs of your company.  You cannot lump all SMEs or tech companies or digital businesses together and give universal immigration legal advice. It simply does not work in the best interests of your company.

There are a number of different types of work visa and business visa options. It is important that both UK employers and UK work visa applicants understand the available business visa and work visa routes. For example, not all visas that allow a visa holder to work in the UK actually require a sponsoring employer with a sponsor licence and not all work visas lead to settlement in the UK.

Available work visa options

First and foremost, it is important to acknowledge that there are a number of work visa options despite the government stressing that the focus is on UK business owners recruiting UK based workers rather than relying on skilled migrant workers. However, the UK points-based immigration system does not include a ‘no skill’ or lower skilled work visa save for some Tier 5 temporary worker visa options (such as the seasonal worker visa for workers in the edible horticulture sector).

Who needs a work visa?

Not everyone who is subject to UK immigration control requires a specific work visa to be able to work in the UK. Some visa holders can work even though the prime purpose of their UK entry clearance is not for the purposes of work. With many of these non-work visas there are limits on the work that can be undertaken. Examples of non-work visas that allow visa holders to work include:

  • The student visa – a student can do a limited amount of work in terms of hours.
  • The family visa or spouse visa.
  • The Hong Kong visa or British national (overseas) visa.
  • The investor visa.
  • The visitor visa – work activities are limited to permissible activities under the immigration rules.

In addition to these non-work visas, any EU national who was living in the UK before the 31 December 2020 was potentially able to meet the eligibility criteria for pre-settled status or settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme. Officially the deadline for settled status applications expired on the 30 June 2021 but some late applications are permitted.

The temporary work visa

The temporary work visa is in the news at the moment because the government  has announced changes to the immigration rules to allow applications by HGV drivers and poultry workers in the hope that these temporary workers will ‘save Christmas’. The temporary work visa may appear to be the solution for UK businesses to recruit migrant workers on a short-term basis for job roles that are not on the standard occupation code list and therefore don’t qualify for the skilled worker visa. That way UK employers could train the UK workers they need to take over once the temporary work visas have expired. Whilst that may sound attractive it is not an option for the vast majority of UK business owners as the temporary worker visa is very much restricted to seasonal workers in the edible horticultural sector or specialist sectors such as charity, religion or sports.

The skilled worker visa

The skilled worker visa is the main work visa under the UK points-based immigration system. It replaced the Tier 2 (General) visa in December 2020. Existing Tier 2 (General) visa holders can apply to switch to the new skilled worker visa if their Tier 2 (General) visa is due to expire and they don’t meet the residence requirement to apply for indefinite leave to remain in the UK.

With the skilled worker visa, a UK employer needs a Home Office issued sponsor licence. Sponsorship Licence lawyers say many sole practitioners or SMEs assume they are not big enough to apply for a sponsor licence but that isn’t the case as there is no minimum size or turnover.

To secure a sponsor licence to employ a skilled migrant worker on a skilled worker visa a UK employer must have a genuine job vacancy and in addition:

  • The job must have a standard occupation code or in other words be on a list of government approved jobs that qualify for the skilled worker visa.
  • The job must meet the skill threshold.
  • The job must meet the minimum salary threshold.

Depending on the nature of the job vacancy, a recruit may meet the eligibility criteria for the health and care worker visa, a category of the skilled worker visa for health workers.

The graduate visa

The graduate visa does not require a UK employer to hold a sponsor licence to recruit a job applicant who is in the UK on a graduate visa. Unlike the student visa, there are no limitations on how much work can be undertaken. Unlike the skilled worker visa, there is no requirement for the visa applicant to either have a job offer or be working in a job with a standard occupation code.

To qualify for a graduate visa, a visa applicant will need to have studied in the UK to undergraduate level or completed one of a number of specified professional courses. Unlike the skilled worker visa, the graduate visa does not lead to settlement in the UK. In addition, the graduate visa only lasts for two or three years (depending on whether the visa applicant has a PhD or masters). However, the graduate visa lasts for longer than the temporary work visa and is far more flexible, for both employer and employee, than either the temporary work visa or the skilled worker visa.

Another major benefit of the graduate visa is that whilst a visa applicant has to be in the UK on a student visa to be able to apply for the graduate work visa once they have secured their graduate visa, they can apply to switch to the skilled worker visa. The skilled worker visa  does lead to eventual settlement in the UK.

The intra-company transfer visa

For international companies the intra company transfer visa is an available work visa option.

Although your company may be international in nature, the UK branch or subsidiary of the company will need a Home Office issued sponsor licence in order to be able to transfer an existing worker from your overseas based business to the UK branch.

Just like with the skilled worker visa, there is a skill level and minimum salary threshold so this work visa is really only suitable for skilled migrant workers. However, unlike the skilled worker visa, the intra company transfer visa does not lead to settlement in the UK but an intra company transfer visa holder can apply to switch visa to the skilled worker visa so they can then apply for indefinite leave to remain once they meet the residence requirement for a successful settlement application.

Whilst a UK employer may be solely focussed on their current recruitment needs the reality is that a Sponsorship Licence lawyer will look at which work visas can leads to settlement as they may make your offer of employment and a certificate of sponsorship all the more attractive to an overseas worker who has the option of working and settling in a number of different countries.

UK Online and London Based Work Visa and Immigration Solicitors 

For advice on the immigration law and employment law aspects of recruiting from overseas any aspect of call the Sponsorship Licence lawyers at OTS Solicitors on 0203 959 9123 or contact us online

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