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Recruiting Overseas Workers For Engineering And Manufacturing Roles

POSTED 02/10/2021

Recent STEM initiatives within schools, colleges and universities are commendable, and will hopefully improve the flow of qualified, motivated and talented personnel in coming years, but these initiatives cannot help employers who need to recruit right now.

One way of meeting the need for high numbers of skilled engineers, technicians and other professionals is to recruit from overseas, whether that means from within the EU or from further afield. Whilst some organisations shy away from this prospect, fearing that it is complex, expensive and time-consuming, others have embraced the idea, and have reaped the rewards, with a virtually unlimited pool of global talent to source from. In this guide, we aim to demystify the process of recruiting from overseas, and to explain how the UK’s exit from the EU on December 31, 2020 has changed the rules for recruiting EU citizens.

Recruiting overseas workers prior to January 1, 2021

Before the UK left the EU at the end of 2020, workers from across the EU’s member states were free to live and work in the UK, without requiring a visa. If a UK firm wished to employ an overseas worker from outside of the EU, they had to satisfy a number of conditions, not least of which was the Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT). This test meant that an employer had to demonstrate that the vacancy could not be filled by a UK or EU citizen, before it could be offered to a candidate from outside the EU. For many, the RLMT was too complex and convoluted to be worth battling with, which discouraged recruitment from outside the EU, thereby contributing to the government’s immigration control targets.

For those employers who persevered, pre-Brexit employment of non-EU workers was subject to other rules, such as limits on numbers for specific occupations, tiers for skilled workers and so on. Much of this regulatory framework has been amended now that the UK has left the EU, and the current rules now apply to EU nationals as well as to workers from outside the EU.

Any EEA national who arrived to live and work in the UK before December 31, 2020 has a grace period of 6 months, during which they must either apply for settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme, or apply for a visa to work here, via the system outlined below.

Irish citizens are still free to live and work in the UK, without any requirement for a visa.

Recruiting overseas workers today

The first stage in the process for recruiting overseas workers is to apply for a Skilled Worker Sponsor Licence. If you already had a Tier 2 Licence prior to December 31, 2020, this will have been automatically converted to the new, post-Brexit licence.

In order to qualify for a Skilled Worker Sponsor Licence, you will need to demonstrate that you are able to offer employment at specific skill levels. These are relatively straightforward and the vast majority of professional or skilled vacancies within engineering and manufacturing will qualify. As you would expect, there are other requirements that you need to comply with, such as being a reputable company and designating someone within your organisation as responsible for monitoring your sponsored workers. Application for the Skilled Worker Sponsor Licence is via an online form on the government’s website.

Once approved, you will need to use the government’s Sponsorship Management System (SMS) to complete the necessary checks and paperwork associated with each sponsored worker you hire. It is through the SMS that you will issue Certificates of Sponsorship to your foreign hires - they will then use the certificate reference number to apply for a visa to live and work in the UK.

Just as with the previous system, a fee is payable for the issue of the Skilled Worker Sponsor Licence, and that fee varies depending on whether you are classed as a small or large employer. Generally, if you have less than 50 employees, have a turnover of £10.2 million or less, or have a balance sheet of less than £5.1 million, you will be classed as a small sponsor. Currently, the large sponsor licence costs £1,476 and the small sponsor licence costs £536. The licence is valid for up to 4 years, providing that you continue to meet all of the requirements and responsibilities for holding the licence over that time.

Once you are licenced, you are then able to issue Certificates of Sponsorship. These also incur a fee, which currently stands at £199 per worker. There is also the Immigration Skills Charge and the Immigration Health Surcharge to factor in - and whilst the Immigration Health Surcharge is legally payable by the employee, not the employer, most overseas candidates would reasonably expect this to be paid by the employer as part of the visa application process.

It’s important to note that if an overseas worker comes to work for you, and subsequently changes roles within your organisation, you will need to issue a new certificate of sponsorship, using the appropriate occupation code, and the worker will then need to apply for a new visa.

You can sponsor a foreign worker for up to five years. After that, they would need to apply to settle in the UK, if they wish to remain here.

Eligibility of roles

In order to recruit a foreign worker for a role, that role must fulfil certain criteria. Firstly, it must be skilled to Level 3 on the Regulated Qualifications Framework. This essentially means that the role involves a similar level of skill as is required for A Levels (although the candidate does not actually need to have any A Levels). It also needs to be on the list of skilled occupations, issued by the government.

Within the engineering and manufacturing sectors, the range of qualifying roles is vast, and it should cover most conceivable skilled vacancies. Occupations specifically listed include civil engineers, mechanical engineers, electrical and electronics engineers, IT managers, business analysts, programmers, technicians, CAD operators, transport and logistics managers, sheet metal fabricators and many more, at all levels.

In addition to being recruited for an eligible occupation, any foreign worker must also meet certain other criteria, in order to be eligible. The ‘points criteria’ require any worker to ‘score’ 70 points, with 50 of those points being mandatory, and 20 points being tradeable. In order to qualify for the mandatory points, the worker must have a certificate of sponsorship from a UK employer, must be being recruited for an eligible job, and must have attained a specific level of competence in the English language, in reading, writing, speaking and comprehension. The 20 tradeable points are related to salary, qualifications, whether the role is on the UK’s shortage occupation list, whether the role is within health or education, and whether the worker is a ‘new entrant’ to the labour market. For properly qualified candidates going into genuine roles, these requirements are not onerous and it is a simple and straightforward online process to apply for a visa to live and work in the UK.

Minimum salary levels are in place in order to prevent undercutting of the UK labour market, which is of course, entirely commendable. For every occupation listed on the skilled worker list, there is a minimum salary threshold, which will need to be met in order for the visa application to be successful. For short-term contracts, salaries are calculated on a pro-rata basis, and still need to meet those minimum thresholds.

UK Shortage Occupations List

The government’s shortage occupations list existed before the split from the EU, and it still forms part of the overseas worker visa criteria. It’s important to note that each of the devolved nations of the UK have their own shortage occupations list, so you need to check that you are referencing the correct list, depending on where in the UK you are based. It will come as no surprise to employers in the UK’s engineering and manufacturing sector that almost all skilled jobs within engineering, IT and manufacturing are included on the shortage occupations list.

Cartisian Can Help

Whilst we cannot offer legal or professional visa advice, we can provide informal guidance on how the process works, and we can source overseas workers on your behalf.  We have active recruitment campaigns in place throughout Europe and beyond, and we work carefully with our clients and candidates to ensure that everyone understands exactly what to expect and how the system works. Whilst there is a process to follow and costs that have to be incurred in order to recruit foreign workers, we believe passionately that the advantages easily balance these out, enabling firms to hire the right people, with the right qualifications and experience, at the right time.

Contact us today to discuss the benefits of opening up your recruitment to foreign workers, from the EU and from further afield.

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