Matching the role you are recruiting for with the relevant occupation code, or SOC code, is a crucial step when hiring a new sponsored worker. It will be important for the sponsor to allocate the correct occupation code to avoid issues with the Home Office and potential refusal of the visa application.
Caseworkers do investigate the roles, so it is advisable to ensure you have matched and selected the correct SOC code to avoid issues or delays with the application.
In this article, we explain how to use the occupation classification system correctly when hiring skilled workers, and highlight the common pitfalls to avoid.
What are SOC Codes?
To sponsor individuals under the Skilled Worker visa route (formerly the Tier 2 visa) or for an Intra Company Transfer visa, employers must ensure the role they are offering meets the visa conditions. For example, that the role is at the required skilled level and pays the relevant minimum salary.
To help the Home Office determine if a role meets the visa requirements, jobs that are eligible under the Skilled Worker or Intra-Company Transfer route are listed by occupation code within Appendix Skilled Worker of the Immigration Rules. The latest SOC code list for 2021 of eligible occupation categories can also be found in the Appendix on the .gov website.
Each role is given its own four-digit Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) code. The classifications are taken from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) common classification of occupational information for the UK. The codes are currently taken from the ONS’ SOC 2010 system, which was designed to cover all types of paid jobs in the UK economy.
The occupation codes are used to identify the relevant going rate and salary threshold for each job, both at ‘new entrant’ and ‘experienced’ rates, and provides details such as example job titles associated with that specific occupation code.
Only occupations featured on this list can qualify for the Skilled Worker or ICT routes.
With the relevant SOC code selected, the employer can then assign a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) to the applicant.
Using the wrong occupation code
The rules require sponsors to provide correct information and to only assign a CoS where you intend to employ the individual per the application details (or in any related sponsor note). Matching the wrong occupation code can lead to unwanted issues with the Home Office. Whether you are sponsoring from within the UK or from overseas, the implications are the same.
If issues with the SOC code come to light as part of the employee’s visa application, the Home Office can refuse the application for failure to meet the visa requirements. This may mean making a new visa application with a corrected code, in which case, you would have to outlay again for the Immigration Skills Charge, Health Surcharge and the visa application itself.
If a shortage occupation code had initially been provided, and as such the lower application fee paid, and the Home Office subsequently determines the incorrect code was used and that the role is a non-shortage occupation, the sponsor will have to pay the fee difference before the application can be processed.
If the wrong code is selected and it is found to have been a genuine error, it may be possible to rectify the mistake. However, the Home Office can investigate further and depending on their findings, may take enforcement action against the organisation by, for example, suspending the sponsor licence.
In any event, an incorrect code will inevitably result in delayed processing. This may be particularly frustrating if the sponsor has paid the Priority Service fee (£500); if the Home Office has processed the application within the 5-7 working day standard but then requested further information which delays, processing, a refund of the priority processing is unlikely since the Home Office have met their part of the service within the timeframe.
If the Home Office determines the sponsor had provided false information, they may take action to revoke the organisation’s licence.
How the Home Office investigates codes
The caseworker can check against the job title/description and codes to make sure that the correct code has been selected and the correct fee has been paid. They have powers to investigate the codes provided within the application by examining information such as:
- Role – whether the CoS been assigned for the same job or a job other than the one described in the CoS application?
- Salary – do records show the stated salary on the application matches what is being paid?
- Skill level – has the appropriate occupation code been used to meet the skill level?
Caseworkers have access to the Sponsor Management System and can check against the information given on the application form and the assigned CoS. They can also request to review documents such as the worker’s employment contract and job description, and can also interview the sponsored worker to verify the actual responsibilities of the job.
If they dispute whether the code chosen is the most relevant for the role, they can request an explanation as to why it was selected when another code might be more suitable.
Incorrect occupation codes can also be identified following a Home Office compliance inspection.
Finding the right occupation code
From this list of occupations, employers are required to provide the SOC code which most closely matches the role they are recruiting for.
In practice, it is not always obvious for employers or HR personnel to know which SOC code to use, particularly if assigning a CoS for the first time, or employing for a new type of role or skillset.
There are usually two ways to search for the right occupation code.
One option is to use the occupation coding tool on the ONS website to search by job title. Once the tool has identified possible occupation codes, sponsors should read the descriptions to identify the correct SOC code for the job they are offering.
An alternative to the coding tool is to search through the alphabetical index of job titles in ‘volume 2’.
To match the SOC code, sponsors should focus on the duties and responsibilities of the role, and not the job title. When considering an application, the Home Office will apply the most appropriate match based on the job description in the application, and will not necessarily rely on the SOC code stated by the applicant or their sponsor.
If the job role does not match an eligible occupation, either because it is not at the correct skill or salary level, you will not be allowed to sponsor the individual for that role. Any visa application relying on an ineligible occupation code will be refused.
One of the biggest problems for employers is that the SOC code list is subject to change. Sponsors need to check the latest version each time they issue a CoS for a migrant worker. It may be, for example, that a code you had previously relied on has been taken off. Or, if salary levels have been changed and you issue a CoS at a salary that now falls below the minimum threshold, it will result in the applicant’s visa application being refused for not meeting the visa salary requirement.
There are also many exceptions that apply, so it is advisable to take professional guidance where you are uncertain.
SOC Codes & recruitment strategies
We recommend sponsors take a strategic approach to using SOC codes, in the context of their organisation’s broader recruitment aims.
Ideally, the SOC code should be identified at the outset of the recruitment process to ensure the role does in fact meet the skilled worker and ICT requirements for skill and salary level.
While there will always be potential for change to the codes, the advantages of taking a planned approach to future recruitment should not be overlooked.
The codes of practice give a good insight into how you can create job titles to match your future skills needs, and also how to map out the career paths and progression of foreign employees in the future as well as an indication of the salaries required under the SOC codes.
If a job title does not appear to match to a code, yet you are confident it should qualify, take a step back; the assigned job title may just be the starting point. Consider the tasks the role will entail on a regular basis and how it fits in the wider organsational map. Also think about how that role will develop. Then consider the details within the occupational codes and job titles.
This may require further discussion and detail with technical managers in your organsation, to ensure you are covering all angles and are not overlooking any codes that could be an appropriate match.
As experienced advisers to businesses on all aspects of corporate immigration, global mobility and Home Office applications, we can assist with any questions you may have about SOC codes, CoS allocations or the Skilled Worker or ICT visa in general.
SOC code FAQs
What does SOC code mean?
SOC code refers to the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC), an ONS system used to classify all types of paid jobs in the UK economy.
Do I need an occupation code for a visa?
If you are sponsoring an individual under the Skilled Worker or Intra-Company Transfer visa route, the role you are recruiting for must be eligible by skill and salary level. All eligible roles are assigned are listed in the Immigration Rules Appendix Skilled Occupations.
Which occupations are eligible for the Skilled Worker visa?
Occupations from all across the economy are featured in the eligible occupations list in Appendix Skilled Occupations. The key criteria is that the role demands a skill level of RQ3 (A’ level equivalent) or above.
Last updated: 23 June 2021