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Understanding the visa routes and immigration process

If you’re considering hiring someone from outside of Scotland or the UK to work for your company, you’ll need to understand more about the hiring routes available to you. Some will require your business to register as a sponsor, and some won’t. Find out more about the available visa routes and immigration processes.

The points-based immigration system

Most non-British and non-Irish nationals are subject to the new points-based system if they wish to live and work in the UK. The points-based immigration system includes a number of visa routes, some of which are covered on this page.

The Skilled Worker route allows employers to sponsor certain non-British and non-Irish employees to work for them in the UK. Employers who wish to do this must be registered with and approved by the Home Office as a sponsor and be able to offer a role which is: 

There are other criteria which must be met under this visa category, such as the English language requirement. 

Find out more about the full requirements for the Skilled Worker visa on GOV.UK opens in a new window .

A Skilled Worker Eligibility Checker Tool opens in a new window  has been published on GOV.UK. This may help you establish whether a specific recruit is eligible to be sponsored under this route.  

We recommend that you also consult the Skilled Worker Route guidance for sponsoring a worker opens in a new window  when using this checker tool.

Eligible occupations

Not all roles are eligible for sponsorship — only those which are classed as medium-skilled or above, which is set at RQF Level 3 (broadly A Level and equivalent).

The list of roles deemed eligible for sponsorship opens in a new window  can be found on GOV.UK. Each eligible role is given a job code, a four-digit code that will be needed for the application process.  

It’s important for the job code to be the best fit for the role that's being recruited for. 
There’s also a list of occupations for which there are not enough resident workers to fill vacancies. This is known as the Shortage Occupation List opens in a new window .
Further details on eligible roles can be found on GOV.UK opens in a new window .

Minimum salary

Those being sponsored must also be paid the minimum relevant salary. This is usually £26,200 per year or the going rate for the job code — whichever is higher and subject always to a minimum of £10.75 per hour.

However, there are some cases where a sponsored worker can be paid less and still be eligible for sponsorship. For example:

  • The job is in on the shortage occupation list 
  • The recruit is considered to be a new entrant under the rules (which includes those under 26, certain individuals who are studying or are recent graduates, or those who are undertaking certain professional training)
  • The recruit has a PhD in a STEM subject or a PhD relevant to the role in question 

If any of these apply, the recruit may obtain 'tradeable' points, which means it may be possible to pay the sponsored worker less than the normal baseline of £26,200.

See further details on when a skilled worker can be paid less on GOV.UK opens in a new window .

Before starting the recruiting process for the Skilled Worker route, you should match the role you plan to recruit for with the most appropriate Standard Occupational Classification Codes (SOC Code). You also need to ensure the SOC Code represents a skill level that's sufficient for sponsorship.  

You’ll find a list of eligible occupations and their occupation codes on GOV.UK opens in a new window  

To find the occupation code that best fits your role, you can search the ONS occupation coding tool opens in a new window

As well as being included on the list of eligible occupations, the role you’re recruiting for will need to: 

  • Be at Regulated Qualification Framework (RQF) level 3 or above – this broadly means roles that are at English A-level/Scottish Higher level or above, but details of the specific roles that are eligible are listed on the GOV.UK site
  • Pay the required minimum salary

Understanding minimum salaries

SOC Codes list the job description, minimum pay rates and skill level for that particular type of role. Examples include 'New Entrant' and 'Experienced'. 

  • The 'New Entrant' salary is usually 30% less than the 'Experienced' salary for any job, subject always to a minimum of £20,960
  • An 'Experienced' worker salary is a minimum of £26,200 for most new applicants, or the going rate for the relevant SOC Code (whichever is higher)
  • There are some cases where the minimum salary for an 'Experienced' worker will be lower, for example where the role is on the Shortage Occupation List opens in a new window  or the migrant has a PHD (including in a STEM subject)
  • In any case, the minimum salary is always subject to a minimum of £10.75 per hour

Find out more about when your overseas worker could be paid less on GOV.UK opens in a new window  

Once the relevant SOC Code has been identified, you should: 

  • Check the job description of the role you’re recruiting for against the description in the SOC Code to ensure that the code accurately reflects the role
  • Check the rate of pay for the post you’re recruiting for meets the minimum salary rate listed for the relevant SOC Code
  • Check the skill level of the SOC Code to ensure that you can sponsor any migrant applying under that route
  • Print it out to retain on the person’s file

There is also a Shortage Occupation List. This is a list of sponsorable job codes where there is a recognised shortage of workers in the UK.

This list is periodically reviewed by the Migration Advisory Committee. Sponsoring a role on the Shortage Occupation List can mean that certain concessions (including a lower minimum salary) can apply to the role you intend to sponsor.

Scotland has a separate list from the rest of the UK. You should check both lists to determine whether a Shortage Occupation SOC Code applies.

From 11 April 2022, the Global Business Mobility (GBM) route will assist overseas businesses that seek to establish a presence in or transfer staff to the UK for specific business purposes.  

There are five subcategories of overseas employees or workers who qualify. A UK business usually has to have a sponsor licence in order to sponsor eligible employees under this route. 

The route is split into five subcategories - follow the link for each for more information from GOV.UK: 

  • Senior or Specialist Workeropens in a new window  – for senior managers or specialist employees who are being assigned to a UK business linked to their employer overseas. This replaces the Intra-Company Transfer route. 
  • Graduate Traineeopens in a new window  – for workers on a graduate training course leading to a senior management or specialist position who are required to do a work placement in the UK. This replaces the Intra-Company Graduate Trainee route. 
  • UK Expansion Workeropens in a new window  –  this route is for senior managers or specialist employees who are being assigned to the UK to undertake work related to a business’s expansion to the UK. It replaces the Sole Representative of an Overseas Business route. 
  • Service Supplieropens in a new window  – this route is for contractual service suppliers employed by an overseas service provider and self-employed independent professionals based overseas, who need to undertake an assignment in the UK to provide services covered by one of the UK’s international trade commitments. This replaces the provisions contained in the Temporary Work – International Agreement relating to contract service suppliers and independent professionals. 
  • Secondment Workopens in a new window  – this route is for workers being seconded to the UK as part of a high-value contract or investment by their employer overseas. 

All of the subcategories are temporary routes and are subject to various minimum skills and salary requirements (which is a new requirement for UK Expansion Workers). Most employees being sent to the UK under the GBM route usually must have worked for their overseas employer for a specific period before qualifying. 

You can also get further guidelines on sponsoring a Global Business Mobility workeropens in a new window  on GOV.UK.

International students who complete their studies in the UK from summer 2021 may be able to apply to switch from their student visa into the Graduate route. This provides a two-year visa (or three years if the applicant is a PhD student) to remain in Scotland and undertake work at any skill level.

The individual can also search for work under this route. It’s an unsponsored route, but it's not extendable. Graduates need to switch into another visa category to remain in Scotland at the end of the two-year validity (or three years, if applicable). This provides both students and employers with a flexible option that doesn’t require sponsorship for an initial period.

The Graduate route is points-based. Those who apply will have to acquire points for successfully completing a degree at a UK higher education provider and must have a track record of compliance. The Graduate route does not have a maintenance or financial requirement and applicants do not need to prove their knowledge of English (given that they've successfully completed a degree at a UK university).

Find out more about the Graduate visa opens in a new window on GOV.UK.

Find out more about employing graduates on the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) website opens in a new window .

From 30 May 2022, individuals who have graduated from a qualifying top overseas university within the last five years may be eligible for the High Potential Individual (HPI) visa. A list of qualifying universities for the High Potential Individual visa opens in a new window  has been published on GOV.UK and will be reviewed annually.  

To qualify, a non-UK university must appear on at least two of the following university ranking lists: 

  • Times Higher Education World University Rankings 
  • Quacquarelli Symonds World University Rankings
  • The Academic Ranking of World Universities 

This route is not sponsored and there will be no minimum salary or skills requirements, so the individual can work in any role. Like the Graduate route, these visas will be granted to most individuals for a period of two years, or three years for those with a PhD.  

This is not a route to settlement in the UK, but individuals can bring certain qualifying dependants with them and switch from this visa to other more permanent visa routes from inside the UK if they qualify.

Find out more about the High Potential Individual visa opens in a new window  on GOV.UK.

The points-based immigration system also includes the Global Talent immigration route.

Workers will need to work in a qualifying field and meet the relevant criteria in order to obtain endorsement from an approved endorser.

Each endorser will have their own criteria which details how applicants qualify as either a recognised leader (exceptional talent), or as an emerging leader (exceptional promise) in the following fields:

  • Academia or research
  • Arts and culture
  • Digital technology

Find out more about the Global Talent visa on GOV.UK opens in a new window  

The points-based system also contains some routes for eligible growing businesses under the Scale-up route but also routes specifically for temporary workers, including the Government Authorised Exchange route, UK Ancestry visas, and the Innovator Founder.

Further information on these routes is available in our quick visa reference guide

You can also explore all visa options on GOV.UK opens in a new window

Switching or extending a visa 

When recruiting, you may receive applications from people who are already in the UK on different types of visas. In certain circumstances it may be possible for them to change their visa.

Switching visas

Changing from one visa category to another while in the UK is known as switching.  

  • Tier 2 (General) or Skilled Worker route — If a person is on a Tier 2 (General) or Skilled Worker visa and wishes to change from their current employer to your business, you’ll need to go through the same sponsorship steps as you would for any other migrant worker, and provide them with a new certificate of sponsorship.  
  • Visitor visas — If a person is here on a visitor visa, they cannot switch to any other category while in the UK. You cannot employ them until they’ve returned to their country of origin and applied for a new visa from there. 
  • Other visas — If a person is on another type of visa, as an employer you should check the relevant Home Office policy guidance document for the visa they wish to switch to. This should confirm if it's possible to switch, and what you need to do as an employer.  

Extending visas 

There's no limit to the amount of time you can spend in the UK under the Skilled Worker Route, previously known as Tier 2 (General). 

However, for some routes, such as the Temporary Worker or Global Business Mobility routes, an extension cannot be granted beyond a certain limit. The requirements for an extension are similar to those for initial entry. It may be possible to switch into alternative visa categories, which might lead to permanent residence from the Global Business Mobility route. 

If you’re hiring someone on a temporary visa, you’ll need to make a note of when their visa expires and conduct another right-to-work check once this has expired. They’ll need to be able to prove that they’ve either extended their visa or successfully applied for a different one.

Checking international qualifications 

If you’re considering applications from overseas applicants, you might need to compare their qualifications to those in the UK.  

Ecctis provides an international qualifications comparisons database opens in a new window  that may help – although you’ll need to become a member and may need to pay a fee.

You could also ask applicants for a Statement of Compatibility opens in a new window  from ENIC to show how their qualifications compare to those in the UK. Ecctis can also provide this service. 

Academic Technology Approval Scheme 

The Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) applies to all international students and researchers (apart from exempt nationalities) who are subject to UK immigration control and intend to study or research at postgraduate level in certain sensitive subjects. As an employer, you may need to declare whether the individual applying for the relevant role does or does not require an ATAS certificate.  

Find out more about ATAS certificates 

Sponsoring someone to work in the UK

If the person you’re hiring is coming to Scotland using the Skilled Worker visa route or other sponsored route, you’ll need to sponsor them first. They’ll need to provide a certificate of sponsorship from you during their visa application.

To sponsor someone, you’ll need to apply for a sponsor licence. The job that you’re hiring for will also need to be eligible. Read our guide to find out more about the sponsorship process

Understanding the right to work

You should always complete a right to work check when hiring someone new — never make assumptions based on things like appearance and accent. These checks are important. If you employ someone who doesn't have permission to work in the UK, you could face a fine of up to £20,000.

Read our guide to learn about who has the right to work in the UK and what checks you need to do.

Get support from TalentScotland

Got a question about hiring talent, immigration, visas, sponsorship, or something else? Get in touch with our helpful team and we’ll let you know about the support we can offer.