Britain’s EU divorce opened door for South Africans to work in the UK – Saskia Johnston Sable International

Businesses in the United Kingdom have been experiencing a shortage of workers with 1.19 million vacancies in the country. This is according to statistics released in November 2022 by the UK Parliament and a business survey by the country’s Office for National Statistics indicating that 13.3% of British businesses experienced a shortage of workers. The shortages are a result of the country’s decision to leave the European Union. While the door has closed for many Europeans; it has opened more opportunities for South Africans to live and work in the UK, which could lead to settlement. Saskia Johnston from Immigration specialists Sable International told BizNews that the new post-Brexit rules have opened opportunities for labour-intensive roles such as plumbers and bricklayers and there are many positions open for workers in the healthcare sector. Johnston has however warned that half-truths are circulating about the self-sponsorship route for business owners and said that mistakes could be costly. – Linda van Tilburg


Barriers to entry into the UK are less since Brexit 

On the ground we’re seeing the appetite for sponsorship increase considerably, and the barriers to entry are less. So, in order to sponsor someone in the previous regime, you had to complete what was called a resident labour market test. That’s where you had to advertise the position, interview for the position, and then apply to the Home Office [and explain] why there was no one in the UK or the EU that could reasonably do the job that the foreign candidate could. The Home Office has formally done away with that. But, we still have to justify to the Home Office that it is a genuine vacancy for genuine business. Presuming it is, and presuming the UK company has gone through their recruitment phase to find that South African, we are seeing a lot more international candidates from further afield come to the UK and because of Sable’s strong South African presence, definitely a lot more South Africans. 

Steps that need to be taken before business owners begin the immigration process

The biggest thing to bear in mind is that to use business as an immigration vehicle, business expansion has to happen as a precursor to any immigration. The business has to be incorporated in the UK and has to be a legitimate going concern. It can’t be a shell company that was incorporated yesterday. It has to have things like a UK bank account and one employee in the UK employed by that UK entity. It has to have an employer’s liability insurance, which is a legal requirement in the UK. When you employ someone, it has to have PAYE, HMRC reference numbers and office premises, a place of work. So just the normal logistical aspect that you would anticipate a legitimate running business could have. Those all need to be in place long before the immigration journey starts. It’s a great route if there is an entrepreneur or a businessperson in a foreign country that wants to expand that business to the UK or set up a new business, but they have to be mindful that it’s not as simple as just incorporating that entity. They have to make sure it is a legitimate running concern and hence the office requirements of a genuine business. 

Read more: Demand for overseas study at all-time high, but don’t panic – Sable International’s Brent Morris

More occupations are being sought by the UK including bricklayers, plumbers, and healthcare workers.

There is a definitive change pre- and post-Brexit in the UK. Beforehand it was really limited in terms of the type of occupations that would qualify for a Skilled Worker visa in the UK, whereas now the list is quite extensive. It has thousands of different occupation codes. It could either be a self-sponsorship route or a shareholder wanting to come across and then there are many different occupation codes. 

Historically, it was very much niche-specific skill sets coming over to the UK. It was really senior roles that were being sponsored, like chartered accountants that were coming over. But, since the equalisation of the immigration regime post-Brexit for EU and non-EU nationals, we are now seeing a much wider variety of roles being sponsored. I’ve seen roles from an office manager to a bar manager to a plumber, a bricklayer, and a foreman. Also, I think the sectors that we’re seeing more of that we never saw historically are in the health and care sector (so carers can now be sponsored) and workers in the building trades and manufacturing sectors. There are more labour-intensive roles where historically they were not really sponsored, whereas now we’re seeing a much higher uptake of those types of occupation codes that can be sponsored. That is not instead of the CAs,  IT, tech, data, and security roles. They are both growing. 

Self sponsorship for businesses is not as simple as 10 minutes at UK Companies House

The reality is that self-sponsorship has become quite a kind of catchphrase very specifically in the South African markets, whereas if you actually google it, there is no such thing as a self-sponsorship visa route. So, I think there are just a lot of misconceptions around the path and there is the possibility of sponsoring oneself through the business, but there are a lot more complexities to it than just that. There’s quite a definitive pre-and post-Brexit immigration regime in the UK. Before 2020 it was not possible for a shareholder in a business to be sponsored by that same business. For example, if I had my own business in the UK and I was living in South Africa and wanted to relocate to the UK, I couldn’t be a majority shareholder in that business. That changed in the post-Brexit immigration regime. An entrepreneur could set up a business in the UK and sponsor themselves. So, I think some of the mistruths have come in terms of the oversimplification of the process and the misunderstanding of what is entailed in the process of sponsoring oneself through their own business. 

I think it’s really important for clients to fully understand their immigration journey and clients who often act and say, I want to do self-sponsorship, I can incorporate a business tomorrow. It takes 10 minutes to get to the Companies House. It’s really not as simple as that. 

Read more: Parents or grandparents in the British Crown Service? You could be eligible for British nationality – Sable International’s Mishal Patel 

Immigration legislation is ‘exceptionally complex and mistakes could be costly

For an individual to embark on this process themselves, they’re probably going to have to self-study for hundreds of hours to make sure that they get it right and then they still run the risk of missing something that has an effect on their application. Coming to a professional firm like Sable that’s regulated in the UK, you make sure that the consultant that you have is regulated and authorised to provide the type of advice. The way Sable is set up really enables us to provide proactive, client-centric relationship-led advice and we are all specialists in our field. Internally we all work in different areas of immigration. I, for example, work in the business Immigration Department. We deal primarily with anything to do with corporate immigration or anything to do business. But because of the way we’re segregated and work internally, it really means that every department is a real specialist in that field. If you try and embark on that process yourself, it will take you so long just to learn one little area of immigration law. Whereas we’re really specialists in that field so we can take them through the full process and we can assess the application upfront to make sure that the likely outcome is positive. Therefore, you don’t go through the costly process of submitting the application yourselves. Home Office fees aren’t refundable if an application is refused. 

There’s so many nuances in immigration law and immigration laws are also changing all the time. I mean, I’ve seen it many times over my career that somebody will try to do something themselves. And if you have an application refused, there can sometimes  be a cooling off period. It can affect future applications quite severely and it can also be very costly because the Home Office fees are high and they’re non-refundable.