The UK uses a points-based system to decide whether migrants from outside Europe can come to or remain in the UK to work or study.
The following are the main groups who are not subject to immigration control and do not need to apply through the points-based system:
- migrants who have been given permission to settle in the UK (known as 'indefinite leave to remain'), and those who have been given permission to stay here as their partners
- Commonwealth citizens who have the right to live and work in the UK because of their UK ancestry
- non-European nationals who are family members of nationals of European Economic Area (EEA) countries (including the UK) and Switzerland, as long as the EEA or Swiss national is lawfully residing in the UK - see the page in this guide on employing European workers
- asylum seekers whose registration card says they have permission to work - see the page in this guide on employing asylum seekers
You can employ these migrants without restriction, until their permission to stay and work in the UK expires (where applicable).
Other non-European migrants who want to work in the UK must apply to the UK Border Agency (UKBA) under the points-based system.
You cannot employ any other types of foreign national (eg those in the UK as visitors).
The points-based system
Applicants under the points-based system must pass a points assessment before they can get permission to enter or stay in the UK.
Each of the system's five tiers has different points requirements:
- Tier 1 - for investors, entrepreneurs and those with exceptional talent.
- Tier 2 - for skilled workers with a job offer.
- Tier 3 - for low-skilled workers filling specific temporary labour shortages. This tier is currently suspended.
- Tier 4 - for students.
- Tier 5 - for temporary workers and participants in the Youth mobility scheme.
Points may be awarded to reflect the migrant's ability, experience and age, and the level of need in the migrant's chosen industry. In Tiers 2, 4 and 5, the migrant needs a 'sponsor' in order to score points.
How can I employ a migrant under the points-based system?
Migrants under any category of Tier 1 do not require a sponsor. You can employ them until their permission to stay in the UK expires. The only restrictions for employing Tier 1 migrants are:
- they are not able to work as doctors or dentists in training; and
- entrepreneurs and graduate entrepreneurs can only work in their own business
Migrant students under Tier 4 are sponsored by their education provider. If they are 16 years old or over, they may have the right to work while they are in the UK, and their employer does not need to sponsor them. Where they do have the right to work their employer can employ them until their permission to stay expires.
There are limits on students' working hours that depend on when they applied for permission to come to or stay in the UK, the type of course they are studying and the type of sponsor they are studying with:
- If they applied using a valid Certificate of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) before 4 July 2011 and they are studying:
- a foundation degree course or degree courses at QCF or NQF level 6 (and equivalents) or above, they can work 20 hours a week during term time and full-time during vacations
- below QCF or NQF level 6 (and equivalents), (except students on foundation degree courses), they can work 10 hours a week during term time and full-time during vacations
- If they applied using a valid CAS on or after 4 July 2011 they can work 20 hours a week during term time and full-time during vacations if:
- they are studying at degree level (QCF or NQF level 6 (and equivalents)) or above and their sponsor is a recognised body or a body that receives public funding as a higher education institution; or
- their sponsor is an overseas higher education institution and they are on a short-term study-abroad programme in the UK
- If they applied using a valid CAS on or after 4 July 2011 they can work 10 hours a week during term time and full-time during vacations if they are studying:
- at below degree level (QCF or NQF level 6 (and equivalents)) and their sponsor is a recognised body or a body that receives public funding as a higher education institution; or
- at minimum QCF or NQF level 3 (and equivalents) if their sponsor is a highly trusted sponsor (at a minimum QCF or NQF level 4 if their sponsor is not a highly trusted sponsor) and a publicly funded further education college
Students cannot work if they do not fit into any of the above categories.
The following restrictions also apply:
- they must be 16 years old or over
- they must not fill a permanent, full-time vacancy (except where they are on a recognised foundation programme or as a students union sabbatical officer)
- they must not provide services as a professional sportsperson or entertainer (except where they are undertaking a course of study in music or dance at NQF/QCF 6 or SCQF 9 or above), but they are able to undertake work placements which involve a professional performance, where the performance has been arranged by their sponsor and is an assessed part of the course)
- if you employ them on a work placement, this must be authorised by their education provider and must form an assessed part of their course of study (for which they were assigned the CAS under their current leave)
Migrants under Tier 5 (Youth mobility scheme) are sponsored by their national government. They do not need to be sponsored by a UK employer. You can employ them until their permission to stay expires, but you must not employ them as professional sportspeople (including as sports coaches) or as doctors in training.
If you want to employ a skilled or temporary worker under Tier 2 or Tier 5, you must agree to sponsor them before they can apply for permission to enter or stay in the UK and work for you. Before you can sponsor them, you must decide which Tier 2 or Tier 5 category is most suitable for them, and apply for a sponsor licence in that category (if you do not already have one).
For more information, see the pages in this guide on the points-based system: categories of migrant that must be sponsored by their employer and the points-based system: becoming a sponsor.