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Business Immigration: Managing Foreign Workers & Business in the UK

There is a wide range of considerations that businesses must remember when hiring and managing foreign workers in the UK.

For more information about our business immigration law advice and how we could help manage your business, reach out to us today. Call us on 0333 4149244, or contact us online.


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    What is Business Immigration?

    Business immigration is a broad term that describes the migration of foreign workers from one country to another.

    The issues relating to business immigration can be complex and intricate, meaning that leaders and managers often have to account for significant time and effort in making sure that the correct policies and procedures are followed.

    This has been especially the case in recent years, with Brexit culling opportunities for EU workers to come to the UK without having to apply through convoluted visa and immigration routes.

    However, there are many simple things that your business can do if you want to invest in foreign workers.

    Some of these, such as obtaining sponsorship licences and carrying out right-to-work checks, is an integral part of any business immigration plan. Meanwhile, others, such as organising the right type of employment contracts or HR policies, might not be so evident at first glance.

    Sponsoring Foreign Workers to the UK: Obtaining a Sponsor Licence

    The very first step in being able to sponsor foreign workers to come and work for you in the UK is to obtain a sponsor licence.

    There are two types of licences: Worker licences, which cover most forms of skilled and long-term employment, and Temporary Worker licences, which cover specific types of temporary employment and visas.

    In order to be eligible for a licence, you must first confirm that you both:

    • Do not have unspent criminal convictions for immigration offences or certain other crimes, such as fraud or money laundering
    • Have not had a sponsor licence revoked in the last 12 months

    You must also demonstrate that you have adequate systems in place to monitor sponsored employees and that you have staff who will be able to manage the sponsorship process by filling certain roles.

    These roles include the following:

    • Authorising officer – a senior employee who manages and oversees the staff using the sponsorship management system (SMS)
    • Key contact – your main point of contact with UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI)
    • Level 1 user – an employee responsible for the day-to-day management of your licence using the SMS

    You will need to apply for your sponsor licence online through the Gov.uk website. Licences cost between £536 and £1,476, depending on the size of your business and the type of worker you wish to sponsor.

    Sponsoring Foreign Workers to the UK: Visa Management

    Most foreign workers will need to use a certificate of sponsorship in order to obtain a valid UK work visa.

    You will need to ensure that the foreign worker you are sponsoring will be working in a job that: meets the minimum rate of pay and skill level for their visa and also meets the other criteria necessary for their visa.

    These may include specific eligibility criteria that you will need to be aware of during the sponsorship and hiring process.

    For example, one of the stipulations of the Skilled Worker visa is that only certain occupation codes on the ONS occupation coding tool are eligible to be offered as positions.

    Meanwhile, sponsorship on the Creative Worker visa route means that you must either comply with the creative workers code of practice or ensure that the job is on the shortage occupations list.

    Other visas, such as the Representative of an Overseas Business visa, may not require sponsorship at all.

    It’s important that you’re aware of each visa type and its own specific restrictions and requirements when being used for business immigration.

    Sponsoring Foreign Workers to the UK: Certificates of Sponsorship

    Issuing certificates of sponsorship to each and every foreign worker you hire is a crucial step in business immigration employment.

    Each certificate comes with its own unique reference number that the foreign worker must use when applying for a visa. The visa application must also be made no more than three months from the date the certificate was issued.

    There are two main types of certificates of sponsorship: defined certificates and undefined certificates.

    Defined certificates are for workers applying on a Skilled Worker visa from outside the UK. Meanwhile, undefined certificates are for Skilled Workers applying from inside the UK or applicants on all other visas, such as those on Global Business Mobility routes.

    Certificates of sponsorship cost between £21 and £199 to obtain, depending on the type of worker you wish to sponsor.

    Note that if you’re sponsoring someone on a Skilled Worker visa or a Senior or Specialist Worker visa, you may also have to pay the immigration skills charge.

    HR Support and Policies for Foreign Workers

    The regulations and policies relating to the recruitment and management of foreign workers are numerous.

    However, there are a few fundamental policies that all businesses must follow when employing foreign workers. These include:

    • Checking that your foreign workers have the necessary skills or qualifications to perform their roles, and keep copies of documents demonstrating this
    • Only granting certificates of sponsorship to workers when the job is suitable for sponsorship
    • Informing UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) if your sponsored workers are not complying with the conditions of their visa

    In addition to this, you are obligated to have HR systems in place that allow you to:

    • Monitor your employees’ immigration status
    • Keep copies of relevant documents for each employee, including passport and right to work information
    • Track and record your employees’ attendance
    • Keep employee contact details up to date
    • Report to UKVI if there is a problem, such as if your employee stops coming to work

    You must also use the UK visa sponsorship management system to manage your business’ sponsorship licence and sponsorship activities.

    We provide support and advice concerning hiring & managing foreign workers. Get in touch with us today to discuss.

    Right-to-Work Checks and How to Conduct Them

    Before employing a foreign worker, it’s imperative that you conduct a full right-to-work check to verify that they are legally allowed to work in the UK.

    You can do this by either checking the worker’s right to work status online (using their date of birth and right to work share code) or by checking the worker’s original documents and following Home Office procedures on how to conduct a thorough check.

    If checking the worker’s original documents, you must follow a variety of steps. These include (but are not limited to) checking the following:

    • The documents are genuine, original and belong to the person who has given them to you
    • The worker still has valid and legal right to work in the UK
    • Any photographs look like the applicant
    • Dates of birth are the same across all documents
    • The worker has permission to do the type of work they’re being employed for

    You will also need to remember to make follow-up checks and also take clear and complete photocopies of their documents.

    If the worker is unable to show their documents for any reason, you may apply to the Home Office for a Positive Verification Notice to confirm that they have the right to work in the UK.

    Which Contract Types Are Right for You?

    It may be the case that the type of contract you offer will be dictated by the requirements and restrictions of the specific visas your foreign workers apply for.

    In addition, you must ensure that the type of employment contract you offer fits within the guidelines of any specific visa.

    For instance, there is no explicit rule stating that workers on a Skilled Worker visa must be sponsored for a job with a specific type of contract.

    However, there are strict Home Office guidelines on the type of work that may be considered to be acceptable if the foreign worker is working contractually or as a self-employed individual, as opposed to being a full-time employee.

    In most cases, the sponsor must always retain primary responsibility for all of the duties, functions and performances that the worker will be carrying out.

    The basic requirements of minimum salary expectations must also be adhered to, including if the worker is employed on a part-time basis.

    Whether you wish to employ people on a full-time, part-time, fixed-term, self-employed or permanent basis will very much depend on your own business needs and requirements. Regardless of how you employ people, however, you must always stay within the relevant Home Office guidelines.

    What Are Licence Ratings?

    There are two licence ratings that businesses can have. These are the A-rating and the B-rating.

    Most businesses will receive an A-rating after successfully applying for a sponsor licence. This means that you will be able to start issuing certificates of sponsorship to foreign workers.

    Your business will only be downgraded to a B-rating if you don’t meet your sponsorship responsibilities, such as not adhering to Home Office guidelines on HR policies.

    If your business is at a B-rating, you won’t be able to issue new certificates of sponsorship until you’ve made the necessary improvements and been upgraded to an A-rating again.

    To be upgraded back to an A-rating, you’ll have to purchase an action plan from UKVI and follow the necessary steps to bring your business back up to regulations. Action plans cost £1,476 each.

    However, if you still need to make other improvements, you’ll be given a second B-rating and will have to follow a new action plan.

    If you still need to make improvements after receiving your second B-rating in the space of 4 years, you will lose your sponsorship licence.

    Get in touch with our team today to learn more about our professional services and to find out how we can help.

    What Are the Penalties for Employing Illegal Workers?

    There are strict penalties in place to ensure that businesses carry out adequate right-to-work checks and deter illegal working.

    If you’re found to be employing someone who you knew didn’t have the right to work in the UK, you could face a jail sentence of up to 5 years, plus an unlimited fine.

    You may also be penalised if you had ‘reasonable cause to believe’ that someone didn’t have the right to work in the UK. This includes if:

    • They did not have permission to enter or remain in the UK
    • Their immigration permission had expired
    • They were not allowed to do certain types of work within the immigration rules
    • Their papers were incorrect or false

    You may also be penalised if you did not properly carry out the necessary right-to-work checks on an employee.

    If this occurs, you may receive a referral notice and be forced to pay a fine of up to £20,000 for each illegal worker you’ve employed.

    You will then be sent a civil penalty notice, and your business’ details may be publicly published by Immigration Enforcement as a deterrent to other businesses.

    We can help you with matters relating to business immigration. Contact us today.

    How Can IAS Help?

    Investing in foreign workers can hold significant advantages for any business looking to expand the size and diversity of its workforce. However, it’s imperative that you’re aware of the necessary checks, procedures and guidelines that govern the process of employing workers and how to minimise risk for yourself and your business when doing so.

    If you need additional help, advice or support in creating the right contracts and managing foreign workers or business immigration law in the UK, IAS can help.

    We are one of the UK’s leading law firms, consisting of an experienced business immigration team offering consultancy and support for businesses in the UK and globally. Our experienced business immigration solicitors can work with you on a close, one-on-one basis to help deliver the support you need to successfully navigate the challenges of employing workers from abroad.

    Whether you need advice regarding sponsorship licences, certificates of sponsorship, right-to-work checks or UK visas, our professional legal team can help guide you through the process and set you on the right path.

    We can also help advise your business if you wish to expand into the UK, such as through an Expansion Worker visa or an Overseas Business route.

    For more information about the services we offer and what we could do for you, reach out to us on 0333 4149244, or contact us online.

    Our expert employment support and advice sessions are available in person at our offices, or via the phone.

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    Frequently Asked Questions

    An Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) certificate is an additional requirement that some foreign workers will require before commencing work in the UK.

    You must check if the employee you’re sponsoring needs an ATAS certificate if:

    • You have a Student sponsor licence
    • You’re sponsoring the worker in one of the relevant occupation codes, which mostly cover science, medicine, engineering and technology
    • The worker will be carrying out research at PhD level or above in a ‘relevant subject’ – the full list of relevant subjects can be found on the Gov.uk website.
    • The worker’s nationality is not exempt from needing an ATAS certificate

    If the worker needs an ATAS certificate, you must tell the worker that they need to get one and include it in their visa application. You must then make a copy of the ATAS certificate and keep it for your records.

    The immigration skills charge is an additional charge you may have to pay when sponsoring a worker applying for either a Skilled Worker or Senior or Specialist Worker visa.

    If you need to pay the immigration skills charge, how much you have to pay will depend on the size of your organisation and how long the worker will work for you.

    The various charges are as follows:

    Small or Charitable Sponsors Medium or Large Sponsors
    First 12 Months £364 £1,000
    Each Additional 6 Months £182 £500

    If you’re sponsoring foreign workers under 18, you must ensure suitable care arrangements for all of the following:

    • Their travel to the UK
    • Their arrival in the UK
    • Their living arrangements in the UK

    You must also obtain both of the following:

    • A letter from their parents giving consent to the care arrangements that have been made
    • A Disclosure and Barring Service check on any of your workers who need it

    If you’re sponsoring foreign workers under 16, you must ensure that they’re on either:

    • A Creative Worker visa ( they may also need a performance licence)
    • A Government Authorised Exchange visa

    You will also need to check the rules about how many hours children can work, and if the child needs an employment permit from their local council.

    The sponsorship management system (SMS) is a system provided by the UK government to manage and keep track of your business’ sponsorships.

    You can use the SMS to do the following:

    • Manage or renew your organisation’s licence or services
    • Create and assign certificates of sponsorship to prospective employees
    • Create and assign confirmations of acceptance for studies (CAS) to prospective students
    • Report changes of circumstances of your sponsored employees or students, including withdrawals of sponsorship
    • Report changes to your own circumstances, such as a change of owner or a new address

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