How can I employ an overseas national in the UK?

10 Dec 2019, 12 mins ago

A company wishing to sponsor an overseas national in the UK will first be required to obtain a sponsor licence. If you do not currently have a sponsor licence, you will only be eligible to employ a ‘settled worker’ in the UK. A settled worker is defined as: 

  • a national of the UK;
  • an EEA national or a national of Switzerland exercising their free movement rights in the UK;
  • a Commonwealth citizen who has been allowed to enter or to remain in the UK;*
  • a British overseas territories citizen.* 

*Please note that although defined as settled workers, different rules may apply for these types of workers.

Where a vacancy cannot be filled by a settled worker (as defined above), companies may seek to employ skilled migrant workers from outside the EU. Obtaining a sponsor licence essentially means that the business will act as a ‘sponsor’ allowing migrant employees to work in the company once the worker obtains a visa under the Tier 2 category.

It is important to note that a migrant worker must have a sponsor before they can apply to enter or remain in the UK for the purpose of employment.


A sponsor licence is granted for an initial 4-year period and can be renewed if the business intends to continue sponsoring migrant workers. As the holder of a sponsor licence, the business would be expected to undertake certain duties and responsibilities as set out in the Immigration Rules.


The Home Office uses four key criteria when considering an application for a sponsor licence: 

  • Is the business a genuine organisation operating lawfully within the UK? 
  • Is the applicant (key personnel named on the application) honest, dependable and reliable?
  • Is the business capable of carrying out the duties of a sponsor and evidencing compliance in a timeframe and manner set out in the ‘Sponsor duties’section of the guidance?
  • If applications are to be made under the Tier 2 (General) category, can the company offer genuine employment that meets the Tier 2 (General) skill level and appropriate rates of pay?

The Immigration Rules are subject to periodic change. Please note, however, that as of January 2021 they are expected to change substantially. It is unlikely that the changes will be retrospective but they may end certain visa categories and introduce new ones. The extent of the changes in the rules will depend on the outcome of the General Election on 12 December 2019. 

The current Immigration Rules allow for specific skilled workers to enter the UK provided they meet the relevant requirements. As free movement currently applies to EU nationals, they are not required to meet the skill requirements set out in the current immigration rules. 

However, post-Brexit, this may well change, and EEA nationals may be subject to the same requirements as non-EEA nationals and therefore may also require sponsorship from a UK employer in order to be granted a Tier 2 visa. 

The Conservative party have announced that they intend to introduce an Australian style Points-based system for all migrants as of January 2021. This proposal is currently being reviewed by the MAC Committee to see if the implementation of such a system would strengthen the UK’s labour market. It is hoped that this review will be reported on early next year.

If you are considering obtaining a sponsor licence, we would be happy to explain the above requirements in more detail.

Gherson has over 30 years’ experience in UK Immigration and acts for a large number of corporate clients and individuals with respect to the Tier 2 category. Should you have any questions or queries relating to sponsor licences, please do not hesitate to contact us

The information in this blog is for general information purposes only and does not purport to be comprehensive or to provide legal advice. Whilst every effort is made to ensure the information and law is current as of the date of publication it should be stressed that, due to the passage of time, this does not necessarily reflect the present legal position. Gherson accepts no responsibility for loss which may arise from accessing or reliance on information contained in this blog. For formal advice on the current law please don’t hesitate to contact Gherson. Legal advice is only provided pursuant to a written agreement, identified as such, and signed by the client and by or on behalf of Gherson.

©Gherson 2019


Natalie Acquaye-Nortey 

  Natalie Acquaye-Nortey

  Paralegal in our Corporate team