Employing Foreign Workers


The end of EU freedom movement and the introduction of a new immigration system have impacted UK employers’ recruitment programmes. The reforms saw a new points-based system applicable both to EU and non-EU workers coming to the UK, and in most cases, now require employers to apply to the Home Office for a sponsor licence to hire most non-UK resident workers.

In this guide for employers, we explain the rules on employing foreign workers and how to avoid falling foul of UK Home Office regulations.


Post-Brexit UK work visa rules

Since 1 January 2021, non-UK residents coming to the UK for work will in most cases require a work visa. Most visa routes require sponsorship by an employer.

This means that that to recruit non-UK resident workers, employers need to apply to the Home Office for a sponsorship licence that allows them to employ the type of worker they want to recruit.

The application requires considerable detail about your organisation, including showing that you are able to meet the compliance duties of hiring a sponsored employee in your workplace. Therefore, amongst other things, you have to be able to prove that you have a well-organised and efficient HR function.

Once you have the licence you still have to pay the Immigration Skills Charge, which currently costs £364 if you are a ‘small’ employer or £1000 if you are a medium or large employer per twelve-month visa per worker.

If you are granted a licence from the Home Office, you can assign the foreign national candidate a Certificate of Sponsorship, which they use to make their visa application.


Hiring EU workers post-Brexit

EU citizens who were already in the UK by 31 December 2020 were required to register under the EU settlement scheme by 30 June 2021. With EU settled status, EU workers and their families do not need a UK visa to live and work in the UK. Employers therefor do not need permission or a licence to hire workers with valid EU settled status.


Sponsor licence eligibility requirements 

Before committing to the licence application process, it’s advisable to understand the Home Office criteria you’ll need to meet. In summary, you’ll need to show that your organisation:

  • Is a legitimate and operational company that operates legally in the United Kingdom.
  • Is located in the UK
  • Does not pose a threat to immigration control (i.e., do not hire illegal workers) – employers must not have any pending convictions for immigration violations, money laundering, fraud, or similar offences.
  • Has not had a sponsor licence revoked in the preceding year.
  • Has trustworthy and dependable employees managing the employment sponsorship procedure.
  • Complies with the compliance standards of a sponsoring employer


You will also need to demonstrate that you meet the compliance duties, which include:

  • Operating an HR system that allows you to maintain accurate records on sponsored employees.
  • Implementing procedures to ensure that only suitable and competent foreign workers receive a Certificate of Sponsorship.
  • Reporting significant changes in circumstances to UKVI within the prescribed timeframes (e.g., if a sponsored worker does not arrive on their first day of work or if they quit your employment).


UK skilled worker visa 

The most common UK work visa is the Skilled Worker visa, although a number of new routes are now available, depending on the type of work and worker.

The Skilled Worker visa is for individuals who are sponsored by a UK employer and who meet certain criteria to attain points.

In order to be eligible to apply for a visa, your potential employee must score 70 points in the government’s points-based system. This is calculated as follows:




Offer of job by approved sponsor No 20
Job at appropriate skill level No 20
Speaks English at required level No 10
Salary of £20,480 (minimum) – £23,039 Yes 0
Salary of £23,040 – £25,599 Yes 10
Salary of £25,600 or above Yes 20
Job in a shortage occupation (as designated by the MAC) Yes 20
Education qualification: PhD in subject relevant to the job Yes 10
Education qualification: PhD in a STEM subject relevant to the job Yes 20


In addition, some elements are ‘tradeable’. For example, if the employee is not going to earn enough to receive any points, they can trade this for a PhD in a relevant subject.

The visa is granted for up to five years – its length depends on for how long you wish to sponsor your employee, i.e. how long you expect to want the employee to remain in their post.

There will be, as now, a shortage occupation list published by the government. If a job is on that list then the applicant will receive 20 more points for that, which could also be used to trade against a lower salary. Currently, a large number of jobs in science, engineering and the NHS are on this list.

For the most highly skilled, providing they have the required number of points, it may be possible under the new arrangements for them to come to the UK without a job offer. Such people must be endorsed by a relevant or competent body. This has been extended for the so-called STEM subjects, but the government intends to keep it under review.


Alternative UK work visa options 

A number of work visa options are available but suitability will depend on a number of factors, including the individual’s skillset, reason for coming to the UK, intended duration of stay, among other factors.

For example, the Health & Care Worker visa is specifically for healthcare professionals, while the Global Business Mobility visas are a set of visa routes for specific types of workers such as those being deployed to the UK on an intra-company transfer basis.


Immigration compliance 

All UK employers are subject to the prevention of illegal working regime, which requires them to verify a worker’s right to work in the UK. This applies regardless of whether you are hiring from overseas or if your workforce comprises only workers from the domestic labour market.

There are civil and criminal penalties if you employ a person illegally, i.e. someone who does not have the right to live and work in the UK.

You will commit a criminal offence if you employ someone when you have reasonable cause to believe they are an illegal worker. If found guilty you could face an unlimited fine and up to two years in prison.

If you are prosecuted under the civil scheme for employing an illegal worker you could be fined up to £20,000 per illegal worker. Your business may also be shut down if you are found guilty of employing an illegal worker and have received penalties for the same offence already.


Need assistance?

DavidsonMorris can provide clients with a complete employer sponsorship licence application service, with our team of UK immigration specialists highly experienced in all the documentary and evidentiary requirements vital to a prompt and stress-free process when applying for a sponsor licence. We also provide guidance on best practice in managing the licence and avoiding enforcement issues. For guidance on applying for a sponsor licence, contact us.


Employing foreign workers FAQs

How do I employ someone from outside the EU?

You can employ someone from outside the EU in the UK, provided they have permission to work in the UK and that you have a valid sponsor licence if the work visa route requires this. The UK's points based system, however, now applies to all non-UK workers, regardless of whether they are from the EU or outside the EU.

Can a UK company employ someone from abroad?

Yes, a UK company can employ someone from abroad if the worker qualifies for a work visa and provided the employer has any required permission to hire the individual, such as having a sponsor licence.

How do I pay a foreign employee?

You must pay a foreign employee working for you in the UK through the PAYE system and make National Insurance deductions for them in the usual way. This applies whether they are working for you on a temporary or permanent basis. Seconded employees must also be included in the PAYE system even if you do not actually pay them. They will receive a different tax code depending on, amongst other things, how long they intend to stay in the UK.

Do EU workers need a UK visa?

EU workers who hold valid settled, or pre-settled, status under the EU settlement scheme do not need a visa to live and work in the UK. EU nationals who do not have this status, and who came to the UK after 1 January 2021 will be required to have permission to come to the UK for work, usually in the form of a work visa.

Last updated: 22 January 2023 


Founder and Managing Director Anne Morris is a fully qualified solicitor and trusted adviser to large corporates through to SMEs, providing strategic immigration and global mobility advice to support employers with UK operations to meet their workforce needs through corporate immigration.

She is a recognised by Legal 500 and Chambers as a legal expert and delivers Board-level advice on business migration and compliance risk management as well as overseeing the firm’s development of new client propositions and delivery of cost and time efficient processing of applications.

Anne is an active public speaker, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals

About DavidsonMorris

As employer solutions lawyers, DavidsonMorris offers a complete and cost-effective capability to meet employers’ needs across UK immigration and employment law, HR and global mobility.

Led by Anne Morris, one of the UK’s preeminent immigration lawyers, and with rankings in The Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners, we’re a multi-disciplinary team helping organisations to meet their people objectives, while reducing legal risk and nurturing workforce relations.

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