Everything Your Start-Up Needs to Know About Recruiting from Overseas

A recent survey by PeoplePerHour found that one in five small businesses included a workforce comprising of three or more different nationalities.

For many business owners, non-residential talent offers a wider scope and range of skill levels and qualities and, as a result, many choose to look further afield when putting together their work-team.

Even with this in mind, SME owners and managers often find themselves at a loss when it comes to beginning the process of recruiting foreign talent. Expenses, resources and time are often a cause for concern, and many find themselves unsure of where to begin.

In an attempt to relieve some of these concerns and help small and new businesses to understand what the overseas recruitment process entails, this guide has been put together using insight from the Immigration Advice Service’s specialist business lawyers.


Step 1: Understanding the law

If you are looking to employ any workers from within the European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland, you can do so using the same process as you would employ UK workers, according to current Free Movement laws.

However, when employing anyone from outside of the EEA, you will be required to sponsor their work visa so that they can legally enter the UK to work for you.


Step 2: Sponsor Licences

Before applying for a Sponsor Licence, it is first important to establish the type of role your prospective employee will be taking on at your company or organisation. There are two categories of Sponsorship Licences – Tier 2 and Tier 5 – and these correspond with the type of work visa you sponsor.

A Tier 2 work visa enables its holder to work in a skilled role in the UK on a permanent basis, while a Tier 5 work visa is held by those filling skilled, temporary roles.

Tier 2 Sponsor Licences tend to be more commonly applied for by British companies. This is because most employers look to take on foreign workers for permanent roles rather than temporary, to make the most of the expenses and resources which go into hiring them.

According to figures published by the Home Office, approximately 8,000 applications for Tier 2 Sponsor Licences were made in 2016, with an 80% success rate.

You can make an application for your Sponsor Licence online, through the Gov.uk site, and the process takes an estimated 20-30 minutes. As a small business, the Home Office Sponsor Licence application fee is £536, for either a Tier 2 or Tier 5 Sponsor Licence, or you can apply for both types of licence for the same price.

To qualify as a ‘small business’, you must have an annual turnover of £10.2 million or less and employ 50 employees or fewer.

The Home Office processing time is usually between 8-10 weeks.


Step 3: Resident Labour Market Test

Once you have received your Sponsor Licence from the Home Office, you can begin undergoing the process of recruiting talent from outside the EEA.

In order to demonstrate that hiring non-domestic talent is necessary for your business, you must prove that you have adequately advertised the job to residential (UK or EEA) candidates before you can look further afield. This process is called the Resident Labour Market test, or RLMT.

According to the RLMT, you as an employer are required to advertise the vacant role(s) to residential candidates for a minimum of 28 days. This advertisement must be on an authorised, regulated platform and you must keep evidence of this. If you receive applications from British and EEA nationals, you must appropriately review and consider them, and you must be non-biased when doing this. If you have genuinely been unable to find an appropriate candidate during this time you can then advertise the role to individuals from outside the EEA.


Step 4: Shortage Occupations

The RLMT is a compulsory procedure in most overseas recruitment processes, with the only exception being when the vacant role is listed as ‘in-shortage’ in the UK.

This can be determined by checking the UK Shortage Occupation List, which lists all roles and job titles which are suffering from a skills-shortage in the UK and are therefore officially in need of foreign talent. If any of the roles you are advertising are featured on this list, you can bypass the RLMT and begin advertising the job(s) to non-residential candidates immediately.


For start-up businesses, widening your labour net certainly has its benefits. Not only do foreign labour pools offer access to more varied and high-quality skills, but many reports have also found that having a multi-national staff can diversify your workplace and result in a more creative and productive working environment.

Luna Williams is a business writer and correspondent from the Immigration Advice Service.