You may have seen recent reports stating that almost 200,000 international workers – around 10% of the UK's hospitality workforce – have left the sector since the pandemic.

This has contributed to a staffing crisis in the sector and, in some cases, a reduction in operations. While this is an alarming statistic, there is immense potential within the international labour market that employers could be tapping into to help fill the shortage and recruitment gap.

Following Brexit and the end of freedom of movement for European nationals, the UK's immigration system has undergone huge change. A revised Points-Based System (PBS) was introduced in 2020, which enables businesses to employ overseas nationals who do not have an alternative route of entry to work in the UK. The Residential Labour Market Test has been abolished, the list of skilled occupations eligible for sponsorship has widened and the salary threshold has been lowered. All of these factors make it easier to recruit overseas workers under the PBS.

There are a number of business immigration routes into the UK under the PBS. In this article we focus on the Skilled Worker route, which is the most common route of entry.

What is a Skilled Worker visa?

A Skilled Worker visa allows migrant workers to come to the UK to do an eligible job with an approved employer. Skilled Worker visas can be granted for up to five years, after which individuals can apply to settle permanently in the UK.

What is an eligible job?

There is a misconception that the Skilled Worker route is only for the highest skilled and highest paid jobs, however, this is not the case.

The minimum skill level for Skilled Worker roles is RQF Level 3 or above, which equates to A Levels or equivalent. The job must be an eligible job (of which there are many) and the applicant must be paid at least £25,600 per year, £10.10 per hour or the "going rate" for the role (whichever is the higher) to be eligible for a Skilled Worker visa.

Which hospitality roles can be sponsored?

A full list of the Skilled Worker eligible occupations can be found here. Examples of relevant roles in the hospitality industry include:

  • Hotel and accommodation managers and proprietors
  • Restaurant and catering establishment managers and proprietors
  • Chefs
  • Catering and bar managers
  • Leisure and sports managers
  • Marketing associate professionals

If you are interested in tapping into the overseas talent pool and utilising the skilled worker route but are unsure how, read on to find out what you need to do.

Step 1: Become an approved employer

To be able to sponsor, and employ, overseas workers through the PBS, your organisation must be a Home Office approved employer, which is achieved by holding a valid Sponsor Licence.

A Sponsor Licence is permission given to an organisation by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) to sponsor migrant workers in its business.

Your organisation must apply for a Sponsor Licence online by proving certain eligibility and suitability criteria, which UKVI will use to determine whether to grant the licence, such as whether the organisation has the required key personnel and operating functions to comply with its sponsor duties, and whether the vacancies being offered are genuine.

In order to apply for a Sponsor Licence you must pay an application fee of £536 (if you are a small/charitable company) or £1,476 (if you are a medium/large company). It takes up to eight weeks for a decision to be made or, for a fee of £500, organisations can use the priority service to receive a decision within 10 working days.

Step 2: Assign a Certificate of Sponsorship

Once your Sponsor Licence is in place you can assign a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) to the candidate, which is an important digital document setting out details of the role and the length of sponsorship. The CoS will have a unique reference number, which you must provide to the individual.

Step 3: Apply for the visa

Once you have assigned a CoS to the applicant, they must use the unique reference number to complete an online Skilled Worker visa application form and provide a number of supporting documents.

They must then provide their biometric information (photograph and fingerprint ID) at a visa application centre in the country they are applying from, or by using the UKVI Immigration app if they are an EU national.

Once they have done this the application will be processed, which can take up to three weeks (for an application made outside the UK), or up to eight weeks (for an application made inside the UK). A priority service (which speeds up the decision) is available for an additional fee.

Step 4: Carry out a right to work check

Once the applicant has their visa in place, you must conduct a Right to Work check before their employment in the UK starts. For more information, see here: Changes to right to work checks from 1 October 2022.

Hiring workers from around the world can help you to fill gaps in staffing and to compete with your rivals by having a team of top international talent in place. That said, the sponsorship process can be time-consuming and difficult to navigate, particularly if you are doing it for the first time and therefore preparation and planning is key. We can help with all of this so please get in touch if we can assist you in achieving your workforce plans.

This article is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice.