Since 1 December 2020, it has been possible to hire Thai or Vietnamese chefs under a Home office sponsor licence – a welcome development for restaurants who often struggle to find local talent with the necessary skillset. You, the employer, will need a Skilled Worker sponsor licence in order to sponsor the chef and allow them to apply for their Skilled Worker visa.

Being able to hire a Thai or Vietnamese chef from overseas (or one already in the UK) is 90% about getting the sponsor licence and certificate of sponsorship in place. Getting the visa is the relatively easy part. Here we answer 10 frequently-asked-questions to help you decide whether sponsorship is right for your business.

Step 1: Can the chef satisfy the English language requirement?

Although I said getting the visa is the easier bit, you do need to check that your chef will be able to satisfy the English language requirement. If they do not have a degree taught in English, then they will normally need to pass the English language test at Level B1 in all four components: speaking, listening, writing, reading. The test must be taken at a Home Office approved test centre. There are lots of these in the UK, and also in major cities in Thailand and Vietnam.

thai chef

Step 2: Are there any other visa requirements?

If the individual has been living in Thailand or Vietnam, then they will need to take a TB test within six months of applying for their visa.

For the visa application, the individual must satisfy the financial requirement (not to be confused with the financial rules around how much you must pay a chef, see below). However, as employer and sponsor, you can tick a box when assigning the certificate of sponsorship, to ‘certify’ the chef’s maintenance, meaning the chef does not need to show any savings. If you do not tick this box, the chef will need to show he or she has at least £1,270 in savings.

Step 2: Can you pay the chef enough?

There are minimum salary thresholds that you must pay a sponsored chef. You will normally need to pay your chef at least £25,600. This is based on a working week of up to 48 hours – if they work more hours the pay threshold goes up accordingly.

However, if the individual is a ‘new entrant’, then you can pay considerably less – just £20,480. New entrants include individuals under the age of 26, as well as ‘recent graduates’ from UK universities.

Its worth noting that the minimum salary threshold for skilled workers is set to surge by a third, soaring from £26,200 to £38,700. This will be implemented on 4 April 2024.

Step 3: Do the costs of sponsorship make this worthwhile?

Applying for a sponsor licence and sponsoring someone comes at a financial cost, so it worthwhile?

The pros are self-evident: through sponsorship you get access to a global workforce of skilled chefs, many of whom still see the UK as an attractive place to live and work. Furthermore, when the chef gets their visa, it is a condition of their visa that they work for you. They can’t ‘jump ship’ and work for a different employer once they arrive in the UK.

The cost of a sponsor licence is £536 for a small company, or £1,476 for a medium/large business. You will need to pay £199 for a certificate of sponsorship, to sponsor one individual. If you are recruiting from overseas you will need to pay something called the Immigration Skills Charge. This is £364 per year per sponsored individual (or £1,000 for a medium/large business). For further information regarding fees, including the fees the individual must pay, take a look at our detailed guide here.

Step 4: Who will manage your sponsor licence?

When you apply for a licence, you must nominate certain Key Personnel, these roles can be filled by the same person. The Authorising Officer has overall responsibility for the licence. The Level 1 User is responsible for the general administration of the licence. There is also a Key Contact.

The Home Office will carry out background checks on whoever is filling these roles. The Home Office is interested in prior criminal offending or immigration issues, as well as financial soundness.

Step 5: Can I comply with my sponsor duties?

The Home Office sees holding a sponsor licence, and sponsoring individuals, as an important responsibility and therefore places certain duties on you, the licence holder. These include the likes of record-keeping duties and reporting duties. You will need to have adequate systems in place to comply with your duties.

Restaurants are a high target area for inspection by the Home Office, so you will need to have your HR in order. You could be inspected either before or after they grant a licence. Are you carrying out Right to Work checks properly? There is a lot more to say in respect of compliance, but I always stress that having a licence is an ongoing commitment.

Ultimately, if you cannot comply with your sponsor duties, then the risks are a) you may be refused a licence, or b) you manage to get a licence and even sponsor someone, but are then inspected and have the licence taken away. In the latter case, you would need to terminate the employment of any sponsored worker. Getting your compliance in order early on is the best way to avoid this worst-case scenario.

Step 6: Do I have to advertise for the position?

There used to be something called a ‘resident labour market test’ you had to meet before you could hire someone. This has been abolished. However, the Home Office still wants to know the vacancy is ‘genuine’ and will normally want to see evidence of a job advertisement and transparent recruitment process.

You should not need to advertise if you can make a clear case why this is not necessary. One example given by the Home Office for when this is not necessary is where the person has previously worked for you, in this context as a chef. Another example is where someone makes a speculative application and you interviewed them and checked references.

Step 7: Can I sponsor other positions?

Here we have focused on restaurants and sponsoring chefs. However, many other positions can be sponsored. There is a minimum skills threshold for positions you want to sponsor (technically it is jobs recognised at RQF Level 3 or above). For example, floor managers, general managers and marketing or business development managers can all be sponsored. Waiters and bar staff cannot. You can see a list of occupation codes capable of sponsorship here.

I go into detail about identifying the correct code and appropriate rates of pay in my detailed guide, here.

Step 8: What are the timescales

If you are sponsoring from outside the UK, then you will first need to apply for a licence and then apply for something called a ‘defined certificate of sponsorship’. Once the certificate is ‘allocated’ to you, you must then ‘assign’ it to the individual. The individual then applies for his or her visa.

In terms of timing, the licence normally takes anything between two to eight weeks to be processed, depending on how busy the Home Office is (add on a few months if you are inspected). The application for the defined certificate of sponsorship is normally decided within a week and it can then be instantly assigned to the individual. The individual’s application can then be processed in around three weeks.

You can throw some extra money at the Home Office to bring down the waiting time at the licence application stage, as can the individual when he or she applies for the visa.

Step 9: Do I need a licence to sponsor EU nationals?

Generally, unless the EU national was living in the UK before 1 January 2021, and is eligible for the EU Settlement Scheme, then you will need to sponsor them, just as with any other nationality.

Step 10: How do I apply for a licence?

Applying for licence can be tricky and is always time-consuming. If you get it wrong, then your application will either be rejected or refused. If it is refused, then you have a minimum six-month ban on reapplying.

If you want to apply without the help of an immigration expert, then look at our detailed and practical guide here. This guide is built from extensive experience and is genuinely designed to help you apply on your own – rather than just parrot Home Office guidance.

Alternatively, you can ask us to assist you with the process. The benefits of us helping are:

  • Understand properly what you are getting yourself into

If you are not familiar with it, this is a complex and confusing area  – yes, the Home Office tells you what you need to know, in its 217 pages of guidance! We will break down the key issues, so you know what is essential.

  • Be guided every step of the way

We will tell you exactly what documents are required, and review them to make sure there are no gaps in your evidence. We will register your application for you (you must personally submit it). We will draft a cover letter on your behalf – as well as providing certain mandatory information, we will effectively present your case in a manner which will maximise the chances of it being approved.

We will send all documents to the Home Office. We will guide you through the various steps of requesting a certificate of sponsorship and assigning it to the individual. We will support the individual with their visa application.

  • Ensure the longevity of your licence

If you apply for a licence without really knowing what you are doing, you may if you are lucky be granted a licence. Even if you are granted a licence, but do not really understand the system, the chances are that you will store up problems in the long run, for if/when you are inspected.

Our Immigration solicitors at Truth Legal are experts in all areas of immigration and specialise in all matters around sponsorship. We have a special interest in advising restaurants looking to bring in chefs from overseas.

If you want to apply to apply for a Skilled Worker sponsor licence, or have any other issue relating to your sponsor licence, contact us for a free consultation today.

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Catherine Reynolds
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