Long Read  

Can pressured businesses recruit from abroad?

Can pressured businesses recruit from abroad?
(David Watkis/Unsplash)

Emerging from the pandemic, businesses are facing challenges in recruiting and retaining staff.

There are often not enough suitable applicants in the UK, so many businesses look globally to hire the best talent and find themselves navigating the UK’s costly and bureaucratic immigration system.

In most cases employers must sponsor anyone who is not a British or Irish national and first have to register as a sponsor with the Home Office.

Employers must submit very specific information and evidence to show they are active and trading and, as a condition of holding a sponsor licence, they must comply with a range of onerous reporting and record keeping obligations – immigration officers may visit unannounced at any time.

Employers must also ensure they only sponsor individuals in roles meeting the relevant skills and salary thresholds and that the individual is filling a genuine UK vacancy. It costs thousands of pounds to sponsor a worker and employers wanting to do so urgently are often shocked to discover that it takes weeks for sponsor and overseas visa applications to be processed.

The process is particularly slow currently, with all overseas priority processing suspended while Home Office resources have been diverted to process Ukrainian visas. 

Sponsorship is therefore only a realistic option for the most senior or skilled roles. Indeed, it is not possible for employers to sponsor individuals in roles that the Home Office deem to be low skilled, including many jobs in sectors such as retail, hospitality and manufacturing, where employers are facing particular recruitment difficulties.

Limited options

Many businesses hoped that the several new immigration categories announced in Spring 2022 would make it easier to recruit non-UK/Irish nationals, however this has not been the case so far.

The first new route, the Senior and Specialist Worker route, is a rebranding of the previous Intra Company route, and enables employers with the appropriate sponsor licence to transfer employees from an overseas group company to the UK office. The only real change is that the minimum salary increased to £42,400 a year.

This route is only open to those coming to the UK to undertake a senior or highly skilled UK-based role and assumes that an individual is based in the UK, working for a UK employer. In reality, as businesses adapt to post-pandemic remote working, individuals are increasingly international, often based in a different jurisdiction to their employer.

Yet, the government has not addressed this and it remains a challenge to find a suitable immigration route for those who are based overseas, wishing to come to the UK to work for a few weeks or months annually. 

The Service Suppliers route is aimed at contractual service suppliers and self-employed, independent professionals who are based overseas and need to undertake an assignment in the UK to provide services. However, this scheme, like its predecessor, is limited to services covered by one of the UK’s international trade agreements.