Essential Steps to Lawfully Employ Foreign Workers in the UK

In today’s global economy, attracting and retaining skilled foreign workers is a strategic advantage for many UK businesses. However, the process of lawfully employing non-UK residents involves navigating a complex legal framework. From obtaining the necessary visas to ensuring compliance with employment laws, businesses must be diligent at every step. This guide outlines the essential steps employers must take to lawfully employ foreign workers in the UK, ensuring both legal compliance and a smooth transition for international employees.

Understand the Points-Based Immigration System

The UK uses a points-based immigration system (PBS) to manage the flow of workers from outside the country. Under this system, foreign workers must score a certain number of points to be eligible for a visa. Points are awarded based on specific criteria, including salary, job offer at an appropriate skill level, English language skills, and resources. Employers looking to hire from abroad should familiarize themselves with the tier system and the criteria for each category to effectively sponsor potential employees.

Obtain a Sponsor Licence

Before you can hire any non-EU worker, your organization must obtain a valid sponsor licence. This licence is crucial as it shows your business can meet its responsibilities as an employer hosting foreign workers. To apply, you’ll need to prove that your company is a genuine business operating lawfully in the UK, provide relevant documents, and pay the associated fee. Once granted, this licence will need to be renewed every four years.

Sponsor Licence Guidance

For those unfamiliar with the process, sponsor licence guidance is available to help navigate the application steps and maintain compliance. This guidance outlines the responsibilities and duties of being a sponsor, including how to manage your sponsorship licence, the importance of keeping accurate records, and reporting any changes in your employees’ status. By adhering to this guidance, businesses can ensure they remain compliant with immigration laws and avoid penalties.

Advertise the Job Locally

Before offering a position to a foreign worker, ensure you meet the resident labour market test (if applicable). This involves advertising the job in the UK for a set period to give resident workers a chance to apply. The advertisement must meet certain criteria to be valid under PBS rules. This step is crucial to demonstrate that the role cannot be filled by the local workforce, a common requirement for various visa types.

Conduct the Necessary Checks

When you have identified a potential candidate, you must conduct several checks before employment can begin. This includes verifying the candidate’s right to work in the UK, which involves checking and copying their visa and passport documents. It’s also wise to conduct background checks according to the nature of the job, especially if it’s in a sensitive field like healthcare or education.

Apply for the Visa

Once you have completed the preliminary checks and ensured that the job advertisement meets the PBS requirements, you can proceed with supporting your candidate’s visa application. This typically involves issuing a certificate of sponsorship, a unique reference number that the candidate will use to apply for their visa. The certificate confirms that the candidate has an offer for a job that meets the visa requirements and that you are willing to sponsor them.

Prepare for the Employee’s Arrival

Preparing for the arrival of your foreign employee is the next step. This includes arranging for their accommodation, setting up a bank account, and possibly providing a relocation package. It’s also important to help them understand their legal rights and responsibilities, particularly regarding their employment terms, health insurance, and tax obligations in the UK.

Continuous Compliance

Once your employee has started working, your responsibilities as a sponsor are not over. You must ensure continuous compliance with immigration laws, which includes notifying the Home Office if there are significant changes in your employee’s work circumstances or if they stop working for your organization. Regular audits and record-keeping are essential to maintaining your status as a licensed sponsor.


Employing foreign workers allows UK businesses to access a broader talent pool and promotes diverse workplace cultures. However, the legal obligations involved are rigorous and require careful attention to detail. By following these essential steps and utilizing available resources like sponsor licence guidance, employers can navigate the complexities of immigration law and contribute to a successful, compliant international employment strategy. This not only benefits the business but also supports the UK’s broader economic and cultural goals.

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