In order to create an immigration framework that would cover almost every job available, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) was tasked with designing a system that would allow employers to accurately grade jobs that they were offering to migrants. This allowed for the rapid gathering of statistics and created an opportunity to build the immigration framework that is used today.
So, how important are SOC codes? Very. The framework allows preference to be given to specific roles and sectors, allowing, in many cases, opportunities for jobs to be exempt from the resident labour market test, giving employers the flexibility to bring in the staff that they need at short notice. This categorisation system is vital to the UK's immigration system, and it is important that you understand it if you are looking to employ Tier 2 General Visa holders in the UK. Failure to correctly follow the guidelines can have devastating impacts on your ability to hire the staff that you need.
SOC codes layout certain conditions that are applied to a specific job role within a sector. In the vast majority of cases, this will be the minimum salary that is to be offered. Most SOC codes are split into two salary categories: New entrant and experienced worker. These minimum salary rates are important in ensuring that the appropriate worker gets paid the appropriate amount. As well as the minimum salary, there will also be guidance on what the job roles entail, which helps greatly with accurate categorisation. While many of the job roles will have different minimum salary rates, the vast majority will have a starting wage of at least £30,000.
Considering the vast array of jobs that are available in the UK, it is impossible for the SOC framework to accurately capture every job. If you cannot locate an exact (or even a very close) match, you will need to locate the code that is closest to the role that you are looking to advertise. It is vitally important that you follow this process to the letter, as failure to do so could end in the refusal of your applicant's visa application and potentially the suspension of your Tier 2 Sponsor Licence.
You must also bear in mind that unless the applicant's job role is on the Shortage Occupation List (or has another type of exemption - such as a high salary), the job will need to be subjected to the resident labour market test. This test is put in place to ensure that employers are not preferentially choosing migrants over domestic workers. The test involves advertising a role on at least two suitable job boards (as well as the government's own Find a Job site - unless the role is exempt) for a period of 28 days, which can be split into two stages, but each stage must be no less than seven days. Once this process is complete, you will need to prioritise applications from "settled workers" (EEA citizens or those with Indefinite Leave to Remain). If these applicants are unsuccessful, you will then be able to proceed to offer the job to a non-EEA migrant.
Because of the different rules (and salary requirements) that are applied to new entrants, it is important that you understand the clear distinction that exists between new entrants and more experienced workers. In general, a new entrant is defined by the criteria below;
As long as the applicant can satisfy these criteria, they should be able to apply under the new entrant option. Essentially, an experienced worker would be anyone outside of these criteria, but it is best to ensure that this is the case due to the preferential options that are applied to new entrants in the majority of SOC codes.
Please bear in mind that if you are sponsoring a new entrant, they will need to be paid the experienced worker rate (and perform the experienced worker role) by the time that they extend their visa (before their initial visa expires). This is due to the fact that new entrants can only apply for up to three years of leave in the UK and are unable to extend under new entrants salary brackets.
If you have accidentally assigned the wrong SOC code to your role, all is not lost. You may be able to rectify this before it is too late, but you must bear in mind that the Home Office may see this as a deliberate attempt to deceive them. If they believe that the code was used to gain sponsorship where the job would not have been eligible under the correct code, you may face sanctions such as your Tier 2 Sponsor Licence being suspended.
In the vast majority of cases, the selection of an incorrect SOC code will most likely result in the applicant's visa application being turned down. This can cause significant issues for both yourself and the applicant and should be avoided at all costs. If you are unsure as to which SOC code you should be using for your advertised role, get in touch and speak to a member of our team. We can help you to track down the correct SOC code and apply the correct measures to ensure that you are able to bring your prospective employee to the UK.
If you need more help with the SOC code framework or have any other Tier 2 Sponsor Licence query, please get in touch. Our experienced team of immigration solicitors can help you to accurately complete the process, and also help to ensure that your business is compliant with the regulations as they apply to Tier 2 Sponsor Licence holders. So for more information, call us today and speak to a member of our team.
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