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In this article we explore a number of option including the Frontier Worker Permit that could be the key to increasing employment in retail.

Retail was one of the worst affected industries during the pandemic and is desperate to return to full operations again, but the staff shortage is hampering business growth.

A further blow to the industry was the ending of free movement between the UK and the EU from 1 January 2021 which severely curtained the ability to hire EU retail workers.

The UK Government response is that businesses should train up UK staff. However, the staff are not available to train up to fill the vacant roles.

For retail businesses struggling to find sufficient staff domestically, we look at potential options for sourcing recruits from overseas.

The Frontier Worker permit

Retail businesses should consider EU workers who have previously carried out work for them (prior to 31 December 2020) and now wish to return to the UK to work.

To be eligible to apply for a Frontier Worker permit, an applicant must:

  • Be a citizen of the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein
  • Have returned to their country of residence at least once in every six-month period or twice in every 12-month period.
  • Be able to show that they began working in the UK prior to 31 December 2020 — an applicant must have worked in the UK at least once, prior to 31 December 2020
  • Be able to show they have continued working in the UK at least once every 12 months since they started working here — exemptions apply, including an inability to travel to the UK to work because of COVID-19 travel restrictions.

 A retail worker must have commenced their cross-border working pattern before 31 December 2020 to be eligible, but other than that, the criteria are very wide and capture a host of different working patterns, arrangements and retail roles.

There are no minimum skill or salary thresholds that must be met and no minimum hours that an individual must have worked in the UK. In addition, it can be used by employed or self-employed individuals. Once granted, a Frontier Worker permit can be extended indefinitely provided that the holder continues to meet the eligibility criteria.

The Skilled Worker route

It is a misconception that the Skilled Worker visa (which replaced the Tier 2 General Visa) is only available for highly skilled workers. The Home Office reduced the skills threshold in light of Brexit from degree level to A-level. As a result, the list of roles for which overseas nationals can be sponsored to work in the UK grew considerably to include some senior retail positions, including retail managers, merchandisers, sales supervisors and customer service managers.

The Skilled Worker route does impose a minimum salary level of £25,600 or the ‘going rate’ for the role (if this is higher). However, it is possible for a lower salary to be paid in certain circumstances, for example, if the worker is a recent graduate.

A Home Office sponsor licence is required to sponsor an overseas worker.

Graduate visa

Retail businesses wishing to recruit should consider partnering with local universities to identify talent. Options include offering work placements and educating students on potential retail career paths.

The Graduate visa allows a student who has completed an eligible UK degree to stay in the UK to work, or look for work, for two years (three years for those being awarded a PhD) after they have completed their studies.

Youth Mobility Scheme visa

The Youth Mobility Scheme visa is for young adults (aged 18 – 30) from participating countries and territories who wish to experience life and work in the United Kingdom for a period of up to two years. A Youth Mobility Scheme visa holder is permitted to carry out any role and there are no minimum salary requirements.

A retail worker on a Youth Mobility Scheme visa cannot renew after two years but they can apply to switch into another route (e.g. Skilled Worker route) before expiry.

How can we assist?

We provide a complete business immigration service. Our team of UK business immigration specialists are highly experienced in all the documentary and evidentiary requirements vital to a prompt and stress-free process when applying for a sponsor licence and sponsorship of overseas workers. We also provide support and guidance in managing the licence and compliance with sponsor duties and responsibilities.

Our Frontier Worker permit product will assess the eligibility of any individual considering applying for a Frontier Worker permit. If an applicant fulfils the criteria, then they will receive a comprehensive pack containing our step-by-step guide to the application process

For further information on the Frontier Worker permit or any other options listed in this article, get in touch with our immigration solicitors.

Should you require advice about any retail-related issues, our dedicated team of retail solicitors will be happy to speak with you.