Having vision and clarity and a HR strategy in such times is tricky as those critical elements are constantly changing to meet the current challenges. The pandemic has accelerated the business plans of organisations, rapidly moving to new ways of providing services and goods. Fundamentally, businesses have had to take a hard look at the way of work for the future and, in the turmoil, are getting a keen sense of the balance required going forward.

Brexit and COVID-19 has meant employers have looked at their UK operations and supply chain and re-assessed which global jurisdiction best suits their hubs. This may be to the UK’s disadvantage.

A number of employers have had UK workers stuck in the pandemic in different countries, able to work remotely, and such employees have demonstrated the place of work is irrelevant to their ability to undertake the role and contribution to the business. At this stage of the home working shift, most are concluding that a hybrid working arrangement will be the way forward. Some organisations have set up new hubs overseas to accommodate the best talent but that generally also reflects the attractiveness of that location.

It is also difficult at the current time, with the UK having the undesirable badge of the new super spreading variant of Covid-19, to attract and recruit overseas talent who can start work in the UK soon. But this will pass – there is hope with the vaccine, in the rebuild and opportunities within the UK and the new platforms of trade post-Brexit. Therefore, employers will need to ensure they can recruit the very best to work in the UK and have diversity in their workforce, because it is the collective diversity of thought that drives performance and innovation.

Legalities

Many EU workers will have continued rights to work in the UK under the Settled or Pre-Settled Status. Employers need to analyse whether that option is available or why it is not being pursued.

If an employer wishes to recruit anyone from overseas, then the platform will be sponsorship via a Sponsorship Licence which is now much easier. If employers do not have a Sponsorship Licence, then the first step is to obtain a licence and that process has been made smoother and more efficient. There is a priority service so that once a licence application is submitted, the UKVI will process within 10 days. However, companies should factor in time to complete the application and realistically, it may take a month or two from beginning to actual grant.

The Skilled Worker visa is the successor to the Tier 2 visa, and that has been used by companies for several years to sponsor non-EU citizens. Importantly, for companies, it is much easier now to sponsor someone on a Skilled Worker visa as there are no monthly limits on numbers, there is a lower skills threshold (the equivalent of 3 A-levels), a lower salary level (approximately £25,600 gross per annum) and there is no longer a formalised Resident Labour Market Test.

This takes out 28 days from the previous process which was how long the role had to be previously advertised before a certificate of sponsorship could be given by a Sponsor to the new overseas hire. Applicants can be paid less than the minimum salary threshold as points are tradeable and this can be done if they are applying for a role that is on the shortage occupation list, listed health and education roles, hold a PhD relevant to a role or are a new entrant to the labour market. This last category is graduate, but this is a group that has been heavily impacted by the pandemic so there are a significant number of UK graduates already in the market. It is also possible for applicants to move to the Skilled Worker visa from most long-term visa routes.

At the moment, the new system is working well, but historically, an issue was the delay in processing visas by the UKVI. It is not clear whether this may be because relatively, there have been less applications as a result of the pandemic.

A sponsored employee has the same employment rights as a UK employee, and those protections and obligations coupled with Company enhancements make many UK employers attractive. There is also a revamped Intra-Company Transfer visa route which has removed the cooling-off period which means individuals can use this visa on a rolling basis.

There are additional costs for employing a Skilled Worker, such as visa costs and NHS surcharges and there are strict reporting requirements on a Sponsor. Under the new unified immigration system, a revisit by Sponsors to ensure they know their obligations and the process should be on the to-do list, along with ensuring existing contracts of employment for all meet future need. But the gap of effort and costs previously between sponsoring on a Tier 2 as opposed to an employee with a UK passport has closed, allowing companies to recruit from a wide global pool. Also as the new system is operated, employers can collectively lobby for change to make the system work better and this can be done at an industry level.

Recruiting overseas talent will only be one part of the HR talent and retention strategy sitting alongside continued development and training of staff and commitment to local communities. The fundamental political issues remain, restricting immigration restricts business and growth but increased immigration displaces opportunities especially when there have been so many redundancies, and the impact of the pandemic on jobs is not yet concluded.

To be able to attract the best talent requires a range of recruitment strategies, all with targeted focus, from grassroots to Board. However, the Employer’s value proposition as actually lived will ensure the best match.