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Understanding the UK visa system: Six things business bosses need to know

Written by
Yash Dubal
Date of Publication:
03 August 2022

In the past two years the UK immigration system has undergone a range of fundamental changes that can often seem confusing and contradictory. Popular visa routes have been closed, while new ones have been opened. Some new visas are very restrictive, and only applicable for people who have won major awards and prizes while criteria for others have been relaxed.

To navigate this landscape, here are the six most important things businesses need to understand.

1: Skilled worker visa

In general, the UK's new system is liberal, this is proved by the record numbers of visas which were issued in the year up to March 2022. Most people who come to the UK to work do so on a Skilled worker visa. Only those people with a job offer and who meet the criteria for application can obtain a Skilled worker visa. The types of employment that a Skilled worker visa covers are not as 'skilled' as you may think. Some companies in the UK have used this route to sponsor store managers or shopkeepers. The route offers the possibility of securing settlement in the UK after a five-year residency.

2: Sponsor licence

Any business which employs an overseas worker on a Skilled worker visa must hold a sponsor licence. They are issued by the Home Office and to gain a licence a business must fulfil a number or requirements. It must have measures in place to monitor the worker and the correct protocols with which to share information with the Home Office. Hiring even a single employee from one of these countries without a right to work can result in a huge fine and even a prison sentence.

3: Shortage occupation list

The UK Shortage Occupation list is the official record of jobs that are recognised by the UK immigration authority as having staff shortages in the UK. If a job is included on the list, it is easier for employers to bring in overseas workers to plug those gaps. For this reason, it is prudent for business owners struggling to fill vacancies to regularly check the list, which is updated periodically. If vacancies are particularly acute in certain sectors, these are added to the list and sometimes temporary visas are issued for certain professions to overcome seasonal shortages.

4: Reduce delays

There are currently significant delays in visa processing after UK government resources were reallocated to help with the influx of applications from Ukrainian refugees. There are options to pay for priority services to have a sponsor licence application processed but that there is very limited availability. Skilled Worker visa applicants are experiencing several weeks delays and businesses should bear this in mind when recruiting and making job offers. Businesses and individuals are advised to make sure applications are properly compiled and filled in before submitting them as an incomplete or wrongly filled in application can further delay a decision.

5: Self sponsorship

Genuine investors looking to move to the UK and start businesses have limited options after the closure of the Tier 1 (Investor) visa earlier this year. There is an innovative answer however, in the shape of self-sponsorship. This new scheme offers an opportunity for those with a genuine intention to open a business in the UK with enough money to fund the expansion and proficiency in English to a level set by the UK government. To self-sponsor, overseas investors must first establish a UK company and then issue themselves with a Skilled Worker visa, allowing them to come to the UK to work for their own company and eventually to settle as a UK citizen.

6: Fees

Don't forget that there are a range of fees and costs for employers and visa holders. The fee depends on the type of licence or visa you're applying for and what type of organisation you are. Sponsor licence fees, for example, range between £536 and £1,476. Also payable by the employer when the Certificate of Sponsorship is issued is the Immigration Skills Charge. This is a levy on all sponsors, payable on an annual basis for each sponsored worker. The Immigration Skills Charge is £1,000 per year per migrant worker sponsored under the skilled visa. A reduced rate of £364 per annum applies to small businesses and charities.