The Skilled Worker Visa: a Guide for UK Employers on Getting the Standard Occupational Classification Code Right
Most UK employers know that employees can be a bit precious about their job titles. To some workers the distinction between assistant manager and manager is profound even if there is only a nominal salary differential. When it comes to recruiting an overseas worker on a skilled worker visa it is just as important to get the new recruit’s job description and title right. If your sponsor licence key personnel get the SOC code wrong the skilled worker visa may not be granted.
In this blog , the business immigration team looks at the skilled worker visa and getting the allocated SOC code right.
UK Online and London Based Immigration and Employment Solicitors
Why do SOC codes matter?
When our immigration solicitors provide training on sponsor licence management, we are asked ‘Why do SOC codes matter?’.
It is a good question as many HR staff can't comprehend why the nuances of a job title or job description are so critical. However, if you include the wrong SOC code on the sponsor licence management system and on the allocated certificate of sponsorship, the new overseas recruit could have their skilled worker visa application refused or rejected. That will cost the company time and money. Given the recruitment crisis in some industries, such as the construction industry and hospitality sector, many UK companies can't afford to risk delays in the recruitment process.
What is an SOC code?
For a new overseas recruit to be allocated a code seems a bit impersonal but the SOC code isn’t about the job applicant but the job they are filling.
A SOC code is required in every skilled worker visa application. The SOC or standard occupational classification codes are produced by the government. They are regularly updated.
The appendix of SOC codes for the skilled worker visa make it easier for a UK employer to ascertain if their available jobs meet the occupation criteria for a skilled worker visa as well as the skill and minimum salary threshold criteria.
The four-digit code is crucial when it comes to the minimum salary threshold and the going rate for the job. That’s because once the code has been allocated to the job an employer can work out if the salary offered to the overseas job applicant either meets the minimum salary threshold or is the going rate for the SOC code. If it doesn’t then the job applicant may still qualify for a work visa if they meet the new entrant criteria, thus reducing the salary threshold.
When should an employer look at SOC codes?
It is best that a UK employer looks at SOC codes as soon as they realise that they have jobs available, especially if the business is in an industry or sector, such as construction, where there is a real UK skills shortage. Knowing that the business has a Home Office issued sponsor licence to sponsor skilled workers and that the available jobs meet an SOC code description plus the business is offering the minimum salary threshold (or the going rate for the job) will make the recruitment process so much easier.
The certificate of sponsorship and SOC codes
If a job does not fit within a SOC code then your business won't be able to recruit a skilled migrant worker to fill the post. That is because only occupations included in the SOC code list can enable an employer to sponsor a new employee on a skilled worker visa.
If an overseas job applicant is recruited then the correct SOC code for the job needs to be inserted in the certificate of sponsorship. The certificate of sponsorship is then used by the successful job candidate to apply for their skilled worker visa.
Using an incorrect SOC code
If an employer is desperate to fill job vacancies and because of the UK skills shortage they can't find a suitable UK job applicant (a British citizenship or person with indefinite leave to remain or settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme) the employer may feel driven to make an SOC code fit the job on offer. That may appear to be a fix to a recruitment crisis but it actually makes things worse. That’s because an employer can have their sponsor licence downgraded, suspended or revoked if they don’t comply with sponsor licence management duties.
If a sponsor licence is revoked a UK employer will not be able to recruit any new job candidates on skilled worker visas and furthermore the employer won't be able to continue to employ existing workers who are sponsored on old style Tier 2 (General) visas or skilled worker visas. Not only could the employer lose a significant proportion of their workforce but their sponsored employees will lose their employment. The employees will have to leave the UK unless they can get another job with an employer who holds a sponsor licence. The job has to be secured during the sixty days the skilled worker visa holders are usually given to find a new job with a sponsoring employer.
Even if a simple mistake is made with the SOC code the Home Office will need to accept that a mistake was made and to agree to amend the code. This bureaucracy could extend the skilled worker visa processing time. If the error doesn’t come to light at the time of the recruitment it could still be discovered during a Home Office sponsor licence compliance audit.
Tips on choosing SOC codes
The best tip a business immigration solicitor can give to an employer or busy HR executive when looking to allocate an SOC code to a job is to prepare. That means the business should anticipate recruiting from overseas and know, before awarding the job to the skilled migrant worker, that there won't be an issue with the SOC code allocation as the work on the SOC code was put in before the recruitment process started.
Another tip is to not focus on the job title as the job title can be very misleading. In addition, the person specification can be very different to the job role. Some person specifications make it sound as if the job role is that of an accountant rather than accounts clerk.
The best way to allocate an SOC code to the job you have filled with a skilled migrant worker is to look at the job specification and to ensure that managers either approve the job spec or write it themselves. That is the best approach as it is how a Home Office official will consider the SOC code allocation when considering the skilled worker visa application, certificate of sponsorship and job description.
The next tip is to check codes as they are subject to changes and tweaks so an employer can't assume that things haven’t changed since they last recruited a skilled migrant worker to fill a particular role within the company.
Finally, given the consequences to the business of getting the SOC code wrong, check any concerns with your business immigration solicitor as they will want to give proactive advice to avoid later issues with your sponsor licence renewal or even problems during a Home Office audit and compliance visit.
UK Online and London Based Immigration and Employment Solicitors
OTS Solicitors are experts in employment and immigration law . We can help your business with its sponsor licence application and with sponsor licence compliance offering a full sponsor licence management service. Call OTS Solicitors on 0203 959 9123or complete our online enquiry form. Appointments are available through video conference or by telephone appointment.