Immigration & Visas: Getting your team on the ground in the UK

As Immigration Rules change frequently, any information in this guide is subject to change and should not be substituted for legal advice specific to your situation.


The UK currently operates a Points-Based System (“PBS“) for all migrants applying to work or study in the UK from outside of the EEA and Switzerland.  There are five “tiers” of entry to the UK under the PBS, but only four of which are currently operational:

  • Tier 1 is the route for “high value” migrants and those with “exceptional talent”;
  • Tier 2 is the route for skilled migrants with a job offer from a UK company;
  • Tier 4 is the route for students, and;
  • Tier 5 is for youth mobility/temporary workers.

Do all your employees have a legal right to work?

As an employer, you must check that all your employees have the right to reside and work in the UK. You are liable for a fine of up to £20,000 per worker if you negligently hire an illegal worker. If you employ an individual who you had “reasonable cause to believe” is an illegal worker, you have committed a criminal offence, punishable by an unlimited fine or up to 5 years in prison.

Tier 2: what is a Sponsor Licence?

The Tier 2 regime is generally the most relevant for employers. It involves a lot of obligatory steps. Under Tier 2, in order to employ a migrant, your organisation will need to apply to the Home Office to obtain a “sponsor licence”.  Once this is obtained, “certificates of sponsorship” (“CoS“) must be assigned to individual migrants before they are permitted to apply for their individual visa to work in the UK.  Before assigning the CoS, an employer will need to carry out certain procedural and administrative steps, which may include undertaking a “Resident Labour Market Test” by advertising the role in question for 28 days.

If an employer intends to sponsor a migrant who will earn less than £159,600 per year and who will apply for their individual visa overseas, it will need to apply to the Home Office for a “restricted CoS” from the annual limit on migrant workers (which is currently set at 20,700).  Sponsors must also comply with various reporting and record-keeping obligations as a condition of obtaining and keeping the licence.

A migrant’s spouse or partner and dependent children may be permitted to accompany the migrant to the UK.  A migrant’s spouse or partner can, generally, work in the UK without the need to be employed by a sponsor and a migrant’s children can attend school without the need to obtain their own separate visa.