Brexit: recruiting overseas workers

Like it or not, Brexit is now a reality, and it is already having an impact on businesses of all sizes. One of the key changes is in the recruitment of talent from abroad: previously, workers could live and work anywhere in the European Union without restrictions, but as of 1 January, staff from outside the UK (excluding the Republic of Ireland) must meet a specific set of requirements in order to obtain a visa.

“In essence, this will mean that all EU nationals and non-EU nationals will be treated equally for the purposes of entering the UK, and will be subject to the same immigration rules,” explains Lisa Alexander, Senior HR Consultant at HR outsourcing consultancy Fitzgerald HR. “This means that EU nationals will be required to pay for and apply for a visa well in advance of their travel.”

Points mean placements

Although there are other routes by which workers can become eligible to live and work in the UK (the Global Talent route for highly skilled workers; the graduate route for international students completing a degree in the UK; intra-company transfers; and specialist visas for those working in start-ups and innovation, health and care, the creative industries, sport and horticulture), the majority of businesses will employ staff through the Skilled Worker route.

“The skilled worker visa is granted to individuals with a job offer, who are required to earn a minimum of 70 points to be eligible,” says Lisa. “There is a two-stage test for those points. For stage one, an applicant must meet all of the criteria, which will gain them a maximum of 50 points, and then for stage two an applicant must earn a minimum of 20 points to make them eligible to apply for the visa. The criteria in stage one are mandatory, whereas those in stage two are interchangeable and can be traded for another.”

The mandatory criteria are as follows:

  • The applicant has a job offer from a Home Office licensed sponsor
  • The job offer is at the required skill level – RQF 3 or above (A Level and equivalent)
  • The applicant speaks English to the required standard

In addition, a salary requirement must be met, which is the higher of either:

  • The general salary threshold of £25,600, or
  • The specific salary requirement for their occupation, known as the ‘going rate’

If the job offer is less than the minimum salary requirement, but no less than £20,480, an applicant may still be eligible if they have:

  • A job offer in a specific shortage occupation
  • A PhD relevant to the job
  • A PhD in a science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) subject relevant to the job

Obligations for employers

Under the new regulations, employers must apply to become a registered sponsor if they wish to recruit through the Skilled Worker scheme – a process that takes eight weeks. There are also associated costs – for medium and large organisations sponsoring a worker for the maximum five years, this could be as much as £5,000.

A key consideration for businesses, Lisa emphasises, is preparedness. “Sponsorship needs to be in place before you recruit a worker from outside the UK. So, if you don’t currently hold a sponsorship licence, you should consider applying for one,” she advises.

In addition, it’s important to be aware that your existing employees who are EU nationals are now obliged to register under the EU Settlement Scheme. “Employers should encourage them and qualifying family members to register under the EU settlement scheme as soon as possible; although they can’t enforce that, they can encourage and promote it. Employers can also consider ramping up internal communications about what the recruitment process will look like in future and reviewing their internal processes to factor in the relevant timelines for going down the sponsorship route,” says Lisa.

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