09 April 2024


In this guide, we provide a summary of the key routes for employers to consider when recruiting overseas nationals under the UK’s Points-Based Immigration System.

The Points-Based System (PBS)

All non-British and non-Irish nationals will require immigration permission to be eligible to work in the UK. Some individuals may be able to secure the right to work through a family connection, such as those who are the spouse or dependant of someone who has already settled in the UK. Others may obtain the right to work through the EU Settlement Scheme, which was set up to allow eligible EU, EEA and Swiss nationals (and their family members) to live and work in the UK following the UK’s exit from the European Union. However, many will need to apply for a visa under the PBS if they want to be able to work in the UK.

All routes under the PBS have criteria that the individual must meet in order to be eligible. Some routes have an additional degree of complexity, as they require the individual to be sponsored (typically by their employer) in order to apply.

The main immigration routes under the PBS (divided into sponsored and unsponsored routes) include:

Sponsored routes:

  • Skilled Worker – for overseas workers recruited to fill a wide range of skilled vacancies in the UK. A Skilled Worker visa can be issued for up to five years (and can be extended). As this is one of the most commonly used routes, we have provided more details on it below.
  • Global Business Mobility (Senior or Specialist Worker) – for highly skilled overseas employees moving to a linked UK entity. This visa can also be issued for up to five years (and can be extended in limited circumstances). As this is one of the most commonly used routes, we have provided more details on it below.
  • Global Business Mobility (Graduate Trainee) – for overseas workers who are undertaking temporary work assignments in the UK, where the worker is on a graduate training course leading to a senior management or specialist position and is required to do a work placement in the UK. This visa can be issued for up to twelve months.
  • Global Business Mobility (UK Expansion Worker) – for senior managers or specialists employed overseas and undertaking temporary work assignments in the UK related to a business’ expansion to the UK for the first time. This visa is usually valid for one year but can be extended by a further year.
  • Global Business Mobility (Service Supplier) – 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 agreements. This visa is issued for up to either six or twelve months, depending on the circumstances.
  • Global Business Mobility (Secondment Worker) – for individuals employed by overseas businesses who are seconded to a UK sponsor. The overseas organisation must hold a contract worth at least £50 million with the UK sponsor and the contract must be registered with the Home Office. This visa is issued for up to twelve months and can be extended by a further twelve months.
  • Scale-Up – for individuals with a skilled job offer from a “qualifying UK scale-up” (broadly speaking, a fast-growing business that holds a sponsor licence and meets certain criteria). This visa lasts for up to two years and can be extended by a further three years.

Unsponsored routes:

  • Graduate – for student visa holders living in the UK who have successfully completed an eligible course for a minimum period of time. This visa allows the graduate to stay in the UK for two to three years to look for, or undertake, work of any kind in the UK.
  • Youth mobility scheme – for eligible individuals aged 18 to 30 (or, in limited cases, 18 to 35) who are nationals of certain countries. This visa entitles the holder to work in the UK for up to two years. At the end of the two-year period, nationals of some countries can apply to extend their visa by a further year.
  • High Potential Individual – for individuals who have been awarded an eligible qualification from a top global university within the last five years. This visa lasts for two to three years (but cannot be extended) and gives the holder the right to work in most jobs.
  • Global Talent – for leaders or potential leaders in the field of academia or research, arts and culture or digital technology. This route requires either endorsement from a Home Office-approved body or for the individual to have won an eligible award. This visa lasts for up to five years and can be extended.
  • Innovator Founder – for individuals who have been endorsed by a Home Office-approved body to set up an innovative new business in the UK, which is different from anything else on the market. Visas last for up to three years and can be extended by a further three years.

The above is not an exhaustive list but provides an indication of some of the main immigration routes into the UK. Different qualifying criteria and requirements apply to each of the different routes, so it is important to seek advice in each case and determine whether an individual is eligible to apply and consider which is the most appropriate visa for that individual and their circumstances.

We can provide advice on all immigration routes into the UK, but this guide focuses on the Skilled Worker and Global Business Mobility (Senior or Specialist Worker) routes, as these are the routes most regularly used by businesses looking to employ overseas nationals in the UK.

Skilled Worker

This route is available to skilled migrants with a job offer from a UK employer which holds an appropriate sponsor licence (see below). Critically, employers must only sponsor migrant workers where there is a genuine vacancy and must keep documents to show that this is the case.

In order to qualify for sponsorship under the Skilled Worker route, the applicant must meet certain validity, suitability and eligibility requirements. In many cases, meeting the validity and suitability requirements is straightforward and so much of the focus is on whether an applicant will meet the eligibility requirements. The main eligibility requirements are:

  • there must be a genuine vacancy for the role;
  • the job must be sufficiently skilled (i.e. the role must involve the application of knowledge and skills of at least RQF Level 3 or above, which is A-level or equivalent);
  • the job must meet certain minimum salary requirements: in most cases, this will normally need to be at least £38,700 per year or the “going rate” set by the Home Office for that particular role, whichever is higher (subject to certain exceptions and transitional arrangements mentioned below);
  • the applicant must be able to demonstrate their knowledge of English to the required level; and
  • the applicant must hold a prescribed level of funds (which a sponsor can certify on their behalf).

There can be significant costs associated with Skilled Worker visas and these costs (together with the visa processing times) need to be factored into recruitment processes.

A Skilled Worker visa can be issued for an initial period of up to five years but, provided the individual continues to meet the eligibility requirements, individuals can apply to extend their visa as many times as they like. This route also allows the individual to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (i.e. the permanent right to live and work in the UK without restriction) after five years, provided various criteria have been met.

Transitional Arrangements – Skilled Worker

On 4 April 2024 significant changes were made to the Skilled Worker route, most notably to the minimum salary thresholds (with the general salary threshold rising for most individuals from £26,200 to £38,700 per year). Read more about these changes in our article here.

Although the changes took effect from 4 April 2024, transitional arrangements apply to individuals who were assigned a valid Certificate of Sponsorship under the Skilled Worker route prior to the changes coming into effect. Where these transitional arrangements apply, lower salary requirements will apply until 3 April 2030, provided that the individual has maintained continuous permission since their visa was granted under the same route. Where such individuals are applying for further permission under the Skilled Worker route, the applicable minimum salary threshold will typically be the higher of £29,000 and a lower, transitional “going rate” for the role (subject to certain exceptions).

Global Business Mobility (Senior or Specialist Worker)

The Global Business Mobility (Senior or Specialist Worker) route allows a UK company (holding an appropriate sponsor licence) to sponsor an overseas national from an overseas group company. The role must be sufficiently skilled (it must be at “RQF Level 6”, which is at or above degree level) and must meet minimum salary requirements (usually £48,500 per year – unless transitional arrangements apply – or the going rate for the role, whichever is higher). Importantly, there is no requirement for the individual to meet any English language requirements.

Global Business Mobility (Senior or Specialist Worker) staff can stay in the UK for a period of up to five years in any six-year period or nine years in any ten year period if they are a ‘higher earner’ (earning over £73,900 per year).

This route does not lead to settlement as time spent in the UK does not count towards the qualifying period needed to obtain Indefinite Leave to Remain.

Transitional Arrangements – Global Business Mobility (Senior or Specialist Worker)

Some transitional arrangements apply until 3 April 2030 to individuals who were assigned a valid Certificate of Sponsorship under the Global Business Mobility (Senior or Specialist Worker) route prior to 4 April 2024. However, these only apply in very limited circumstances. Where they do apply, a wider list of occupations eligible for sponsorship will be available and the requirement to meet the general salary threshold (normally £48,500 per year) does not apply. However, individuals will still be required to meet the applicable going rate for the role and there is no reduction to these rates under the transitional arrangements.


Migrants who are working under the Skilled Worker or any of the Global Business Mobility routes must be sponsored. In order to sponsor an individual, the relevant organisation must hold a sponsor licence, which involves making an application to the Home Office. It typically takes around eight weeks for the Home Office to process the application once it has been submitted, although a priority processing service is available in some circumstances.

There are a number of requirements to become a sponsor and the Home Office may arrange a compliance visit to ensure that the sponsor licence is genuinely required and that the business understands and is able to comply with the duties that come with it (see below).

Sponsor duties

Employers with a sponsor licence must comply with a number of duties as a condition of their licence. These sponsor duties include (amongst others):

  • reporting various matters to the Home Office within a prescribed time frame (such as absences or changes in the sponsored employee’s or the employer’s circumstances); and
  • record-keeping (including retaining copies of passports, contact details, adverts and recruitment documentation).

The Home Office monitors compliance on an ongoing basis, and it may undertake an audit at any time to ensure the business is complying with its duties. Visits can be impromptu or pre-arranged. Sponsors will be required to show that they have systems in place to prevent illegal working and to comply with their sponsor duties. Information about sponsored employees will also need to be readily available for inspection.

Failure to comply with sponsor duties can lead to severe penalties, including revocation of the sponsor licence. If a licence is revoked all sponsored individuals will have their leave curtailed, typically to 60 days, at the end of which they would have to leave the UK if they had not secured alternative immigration permission.

Standard Visitor route

The Standard Visitor route is not intended for those looking to come to the UK to work. Visitors coming to the UK under this route are strictly prohibited from taking employment in the UK, doing work for an organisation or business in the UK or providing goods and services unless it is expressly permitted under the immigration rules. These are known as “permitted activities”.

Examples of permitted activities for Standard Visitors include attending meetings, conferences and interviews, gathering information for their employment overseas, being briefed on the requirements of a UK-based customer (provided that any work for the customer is performed outside of the UK) and undertaking activities relating to the visitor’s employment overseas remotely from within the UK, providing this is not the primary purpose of their visit. The list of permitted activities is limited but in some cases the Standard Visitor route may be an appropriate route for short visits to the UK for a purpose that falls within the scope of the “permitted activities”.

Preventing illegal working and right to work checks

All UK employers (whether sponsors or not) are required to prevent illegal working by conducting a right to work check on all employees before the start of their employment. If an employer is found to have employed an illegal worker and has not conducted valid right to work checks, they risk a civil penalty and potentially criminal sanctions. The maximum civil penalty for a first breach is £45,000 per illegal employee and £60,000 per illegal employee for repeat breaches.

An employer will have a defence to the civil offence (known as a “statutory excuse”) if it can demonstrate it carried out a compliant right to work check. We provide more guidance on right to work checks here.

Employers will need to make sure that they have systems in place to conduct and record right to work checks in a legally compliant way, and that they avoid any discriminatory treatment of individuals in how these checks are carried out.

We advise many of the UK’s best-known employers, as well as overseas businesses, on the immigration and employment aspects of recruiting and employing overseas nationals in the UK. If you have any questions, please get in touch with our Business Immigration team.


This guide gives general information only and is not intended to be an exhaustive statement of the law. Although we have taken care over the information, you should not rely on it as legal advice. We do not accept any liability to anyone who does rely on its content.

Key contact

Megan Summers

Megan Summers Senior Associate

  • Employment
  • Business Immigration Services

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