Update: How to secure overseas workers to fill recruitment gaps

Photo 159834919 © Darren Baker |
Photo 159834919 © Darren Baker |

Shabana Muneer explains how construction companies can hire overseas workers to help plug skills shortages and recruitment gaps.

Which sectors are experiencing labour shortages in the UK?

In July 2022, the British Chambers of Commerce revealed that 76% of businesses (from the 5,700 it surveyed) were experiencing difficulties with recruitment. It highlighted Construction as the sector facing the most severe recruitment challenges, with 83% of businesses surveyed in this sector reporting difficulties. This was closely followed by production and manufacturing on 79%, logistics on 79% and hospitality on 78%.

How can overseas recruitment help?

Businesses are considering a number of strategies to boost their recruitment efforts. One option is to ensure they have access to the overseas migrant workforce, both within the EU and beyond.

For many organisations, one viable solution to help mitigate recruitment issues will be to obtain a Skilled Worker Sponsor Licence. Where they are struggling to fill roles from the resident labour market, sponsor licence holders will have the ability to sponsor non-settled workers in certain eligible roles.

What roles can be sponsored?

To be eligible for sponsorship, the role must be skilled to RQF level 3 or above (roughly equivalent to A-level standard). In an attempt to alleviate some of the foreseen labour shortages following Brexit, the Home Office reduced the minimum skill level from RQF level 6 (degree level equivalent) in January 2021. It means that significantly more roles are now eligible for sponsorship.

A wide range of roles relevant to the construction industry can now be sponsored, from building services managers and construction supervisors, managers and directors, to project managers, property developers and foremen.

The role must also meet the minimum salary threshold, which will depend on the specific role.  

Who can be a Skilled Worker sponsor?

To be in a position to sponsor non-settled workers, the organisation must hold a Home Office-issued sponsor licence.

To be eligible for a sponsor licence, the organisation must:

  • be a genuine organisation operating lawfully in the UK;
  • have appropriate HR and recruitment practices in place to be capable of carrying out sponsor duties;
  • be able to offer genuine employment that meets the skill level and any salary requirements; and
  • have at least one suitable employee who can take on Key Personnel roles including ‘Authorising Officer’ (to have overall responsibility for the sponsor licence), Key Contact and Level 1 User (for everyday management of the sponsor management system).
How much does a sponsor licence cost?

At the point of applying for a sponsor licence, the organisation must pay a one-off licence fee of either £536 (small or charitable organisations) or £1,476 (medium or large organisations).

Further costs will become applicable when the organisation proceeds with the sponsorship of a non-settled worker. This includes as the Immigration Skills Charge, which will depend again on the size and charitable status of the organisation.

The sponsor licence will be valid for four years. It will need to be renewed after this time. 

Who can apply for a UK visa as a Skilled Worker?

To be eligible for a Skilled Worker visa, an individual must:

  • have received a certificate of sponsorship from a licenced sponsor;
  • be paid a minimum annual salary of £25,600 or the "going rate" for the role (unless a discount applies,  e.g. if the role is on the shortage occupation list, or the individual is a ‘new entrant’ to the labour market);
  • have sufficient knowledge of the English language; and
  • satisfy a financial requirement.

Provided the role and the candidate meet the requirements of this route, they will be able to obtain permission to enter or remain in the UK for an initial period of up to five years, based on the employment with their sponsor.

How long does it take to obtain a sponsor licence?

Following submission, the standard processing time for a sponsor licence application is eight-to-10 weeks. In some circumstances (including during busy periods) it can take longer.

We would therefore advise applying for a sponsor licence before the need for one becomes pressing.

For an additional fee of £500, a business can have their sponsor licence application considered as a priority. This could mean receiving a decision within 10 working days.

When applying for a sponsor licence, there is no requirement to already have a worker lined up for sponsorship. It is possible to apply for one pre-emptively, on the basis that the organisation is experiencing difficulties finding appropriately skilled workers, and wants the option of sponsoring a worker if a suitable candidate can be found.

What about roles not eligible for sponsorship?

The Home Office has, in some circumstances, taken additional steps to create more lenient skill-level requirements to further support industries that have been hit with severe labour shortages, such as the care sector, HGV drivers and poultry farming. These changes were brought about primarily due to pressures from within the industry sectors.

Businesses may also want to consider employing individuals who already hold visas. Or can apply for one in a route that doesn’t require sponsorship.

Shabana Muneer is director and head of business immigration at Walker Morris LLP

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