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Recruiting from overseas for engineers and manufacturing roles

In the current market, skill shortages are common in the high-tech sectors, therefore many employers are looking to cast their net further afield. But what options are available? How does a business avoid the pitfalls of international recruitment – especially after Brexit?

Recruiting overseas workers before Brexit.

Until Britain left the European Union at the end of 2020, EU workers could live and work in the UK without a visa. To employ someone from outside the EU, employers had to fulfil various regulatory requirements, including the Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT). This was to demonstrate that the role could not be filled by the UK or European citizen. Many found this too difficult and off-putting.

With European Union workers now on an equal legal footing with those from outside (except Irish citizens, who still do not need a visa), much of the legislation has changed, and employers need to understand the new rules.

Recruiting overseas workers today means there are a variety of options available, this could include a employer sponsoring the individual or a future employee applying directly for a visa.

Employers Can Sponsor

First, you need to apply for a Skilled Worker Sponsor Licence, unless you already had a Tier 2 Licence before Brexit (in which case it will be converted automatically). You can apply online via the Government’s website.

To qualify, you will need to show that you can offer employment at specific skill levels, which should be straightforward, as most of the skilled manufacturing, process, and high-tech engineering vacancies will qualify. You will also need to show that you are a reputable company and have designated someone within the business to monitor your sponsored workers.

Once approved, you will need to pay a fee (how much depends on the size of your business) to gain your Skilled Worker Sponsor Licence. You can then use the Government’s Sponsorship Management System (SMS) to complete the paperwork for each sponsored worker you hire and issue them with a Certificate of Sponsorship, which they can use to apply for a visa.

The certificates also incur a fee, currently £199 each, and you need to factor in the Immigration Skills Charge and the Immigration Health Surcharge as well (the health surcharge is legally the employee’s responsibility, but most overseas candidates expect the employer to pay it).

If an overseas worker change’s role within a company, they will need a new certificate of sponsorship and a new visa. You can sponsor them for up to five years, after which they will need to apply to settle in the UK.

Eligibility of roles

Only certain roles are eligible for foreign workers. First, the role must be skilled to Level 3 on the Regulated Qualifications Framework (equivalent to A-Level, although your future employee does not actually need any A-Levels.) The job vacancy needs to be on the Government’s list of skilled occupations, which is vast and should cover almost all skilled vacancies in high-tech, engineering, and manufacturing.

The employee will also need to meet certain criteria under the new ‘points’ system, which requires them to ‘score’ 70 points, of which 50 are mandatory and 20 are tradeable. To get the mandatory points, they will need a certificate of sponsorship and an eligible job offer (which you should already have covered) and a specific level of competence in the English language. The 20 tradeable points relate to qualifications, salary, whether the role is on the shortage occupation list or in health or education, and whether the employee is a ‘new entrant’ to the labour market. These requirements are not difficult for most candidates, and it should be straightforward for them to get their visas online.

  • The minimum salary level, the general threshold of £25,600 per annum is there to prevent the UK labour market from being undercut. Though there are different salary rules for ‘new entrants’ at the start of their career.
  • A PhD relevant to the job.
  • A PhD in a STEM subject relevant to the job.

You will need to meet those criteria for the worker’s visa application to be successful.

UK Shortage Occupations List

The shortage occupations list existed before Brexit. It’s important to note that England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland each have their own shortage occupations list, so make sure you check the correct list. You probably will not be surprised to find that almost all skilled engineering, IT, and manufacturing roles are indeed shortage occupations.

If the employee wants to stay longer in the UK

There is no limit to how long employees can stay in the UK in total, but individuals will need to renew (‘extend’) their visa when it expires. Each extension can last from 1 to 5 years.

An employee may be able to gain indefinite leave to remain (IDLR) so they can settle permanently in the UK after 3 or 5 years, depending on which field of work and how they apply. This gives the individual the right to live, work and study here for as long as you they like and apply for benefits if eligible.

Tech Nation Visa

Another option for some individuals and businesses is via the Tech Nation Visa, known as the Global Talent Visa, which enables the brightest and best high-tech talent from around the world to come and work in the UK’s digital technology sector, contributing their expertise, creativity, and innovation to maintain the UK’s position at the forefront of the global digital economy.

Tech Nation is the official Home Office designated endorsing body authorised to assess endorsement applications from individuals with expertise in digital technology and who want to come to the UK under the Global Talent visa.

The Tech Nation Visa is for founders and employees with technical or business backgrounds, including tech sectors like AI, Machine Learning, Video Games, Mobile Apps, SaaS, etc. The visa is valid for up to 5 years, enabling employees to work, change employers or be self-employed without the need for further authorisation.

Examples of Technical Skills:

  • DevOps/ SysOps Engineers
  • Principal Software Engineers/Developers
  • Data Scientist
  • Machine Learning experts (AOI, NLP, ML)
  • Operating Systems Designers
  • UX/UI Designers
  • Cybersecurity Experts

Future employee applies to the Home Office direct

The alternative option is for a foreign employee to apply directly to the Home Office. As part of the application process, the individual will need to prove identity and relevant application documents. Once an application has been made online, an individual will usually get a decision on a visa within:

  • 3 weeks, if outside the UK
  • 8 weeks, if inside the UK

It costs £608 to apply. If the individual includes a partner or children in the application, they will each need to pay £608. There is also a healthcare surcharge as part of the application - this is usually £624 per year for each person applying.

If you would like professional guidance through this process, or your business would like to discover how you could benefit from opening to overseas workers, or if you just have a few questions on how aspects of it work, get in touch today.

For more information, from a trusted partner with over 40 years of experience in knowledge-led recruitment in the Electronics and High Technology arena, please contact David Collins on 01582 450054 or email


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