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A spotlight on…navigating immigration law

Flora Mewies is a partner and immigration solicitor in our employment team at our Leeds office.

She specialises in helping employers recruit from overseas, supporting public and private sector organisations to navigate the complex waters of employee sponsorship and visa applications.

Here, Flora explains the key challenges the region’s businesses face in terms of immigration policies, shares her thoughts on how Yorkshire companies can manage the process correctly and why getting the right legal advice that caters for your organisation’s bespoke needs is crucial.

Navigating complex waters

Immigration has been a long-term, often complex challenge for UK businesses, both large and small. Following our departure from the European Union (EU), the rules became even more complicated. In December 2020, the Home Office introduced a new skilled worker route for foreign workers with a job offer from a UK employer. On 31 December 2020, EU free movement ended in the UK. As a result, newly arriving EU citizens now need permission to enter, live and work in the UK. This Spring, the government will also introduce a global business mobility visa which will establish a broader range of possible routes for global talent.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that immigration legalities around employees and workforces leave many businesses scratching their heads. Businesses face a myriad of challenges of which complexity is a key barrier. If businesses want to employ a person from outside of the UK there are many steps and processes involved. Via the skilled worker route, for example, an employer must firstly apply for a licence that will legally allow them to sponsor an employee. The application alone is a heavy lift and involves a lot of reading alongside a deep understanding of how the immigration system works – a daunting prospect for the majority of organisations.

Managing costs wisely

Another challenge is the cost involved to hire a non-UK worker, especially for smaller businesses where cash flow isn’t in abundance. As well as a cost to submit a sponsor application for a licence, there’s also an immigration skills charge which costs, for larger businesses, £1,000 per year of the visa. To put that into context, if a care home, tech developer or manufacturer was recruiting 10 workers from abroad each on a five-year visa, that’s £5,000 per person or £50,000 in total. There are also the individual’s visa costs too including an immigration health surcharge so that they can access medical care in the UK. Given the cost involved, it’s even more imperative that businesses manage workforce immigration policy correctly as there’s no second chances if they fail to comply with strict requirements.

Timing is everything

Another issue is around timing. A typical timeline of an immigration application process isn’t fast moving. To be approved and receive a sponsor licence takes approximately eight weeks in itself, so businesses really need to plan ahead as, on average, it takes around four to six months to complete all of the documentation and processes required to hire a non-UK based employee starting from scratch. We all know that time means money so it’s vital that businesses plan and prepare in advance of any international recruitment initiative.

Ask an expert

Ward Hadaway works with many different companies that have their own unique worker immigration issues and circumstances. We provide legal advice on what steps to take and why, and support with a wide range of immigration legislation including helping businesses recruit from overseas with skilled worker visas. We also support businesses that have overseas locations and need guidance on transferring employees between geographical offices. So, for example, we can help a company headquartered in Leeds that needs to relocate employees from an office here to an office in France through our connections in the Geneva Group International (GGI) network. We manage the process and put businesses in touch with the right people, at the right time, to enable a smooth and legal geographical relocation.

I’ve been specialising in immigration law for over eight years, and I know firsthand how much of a minefield it can be for anyone with little experience or pre-existing knowledge of the process. I strongly advise businesses of any size, in any sector, to seek guidance around international workforce recruitment plans. Choosing a solicitor to help guide you through your immigration process isn’t easy. Although there are some big multinational law firms to choose from, they often don’t have the breadth of experience required to ensure all potential visa options are considered.

Ward Hadaway, however, offers something different. We have strong Yorkshire roots with a dedicated team of solicitors at our Leeds-based office who practice immigration law on a daily basis. We have established local and international networks and we act on behalf of many regional businesses, ranging from manufacturing and engineering firms to technology companies and healthcare organisations, guiding them through the immigration process but, even before that point, putting them in touch with recruiters who we have worked closely with for years, to enable overseas recruitment. We’re a firm you can trust, a firm that will guide you through immigration policy complexities, explaining each step of the way with empathy, energy and expertise.

For a confidential chat about your current situation or future workforce plans, you can contact Flora Mewies on 0330 137 3156 or

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

This page may contain links that direct you to third party websites. We have no control over and are not responsible for the content, use by you or availability of those third party websites, for any products or services you buy through those sites or for the treatment of any personal information you provide to the third party.

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