Recruiting salon staff from overseas in post-Brexit Britain

by | 1 Nov 2021

'Help wanted' sign taped to a window

As an employer within the UK hair industry, these are trying times. Talent pools are dwindling with reduced apprenticeship uptake, and following Britain’s exit from the EU, the way salon businesses go about recruiting talent from abroad has had to change. Encouragingly though, the new hiring process may not involve as much red tape as first thought.

Keith Mellen, co-owner and MD at Anne Veck salon, has been investigating just where UK businesses stand when it comes to recruiting salon staff from overseas and discovered that the common understanding that hairdressing is not on the Home Office list of skilled workers is, in fact, mistaken. He successfully applied for a Sponsor’s License for Skilled Workers and is now permitted to hire hairdressing staff from across the EU (and anywhere else internationally) for the next four years.

In order to help other business owners and managers in similar situations, Keith has outlined how he went about obtaining the license, and shared some crucial things he learned along the way.

  • You need a license to begin hiring – To employ workers on a visa, you need to obtain a sponsorship license. They are only available to organisations – not individuals – and in applying, you assume certain compliance responsibilities and expose your organisation to Home Office scrutiny (in other words, the Government will carry out various checks before they even consider issuing you a license).
  • You need to be specific in the job description – Part of the process of obtaining a license is proving that your business has genuine roles that need to be filled. This means you will need to provide a job description for any openings you wish to promote that are as accurate as possible, but also match an ‘Eligible Occupation Code’ in the list of accepted job hires outlined by the Home Office.
    “Our successful application was for a training director,” Keith explains. “The job description included hairdressing duties, expert skills and lead role in in-salon education. For me, the interesting and useful point that I want to share with colleagues in the industry is that the phrase “salons manager” as stated in the Eligible Occupation Codes, appears to be a steer to applying for senior positions with management responsibilities rather than literally a salon manager. This means there needs to be a leadership element.” In the Eligible Occupation Codes list, ‘hairdressing and beauty salon manager and proprietor’ carries the code 1253.
  • Be aware of the suggested salary bands – They may not align with your planned wages for a role. “We pay £30,000- £38,000 for senior stylists and style directors and I was surprised to see the going rate of pay to be as low as the guide suggests at £19,300.” says Keith.* “As supporters of the Living Wage, it is more important for us at Anne Veck to recruit good people who will remain in the business for a significant term rather than go for the lower pay rates.”
  • Be ready to nominate key personnel – The Home Office requires you to name someone who will be managing the operation (hiring decisions, job role submissions etc.) of the license, known as the Authorising Officer (AO). At the point of application, you will also need to specify a key contact whom the Home Office will get in touch with in relation to your application and any matters relating to the licence on an ongoing basis. In small businesses, these can be the same person.
From start to finish, the process took Keith three weeks. He describes the forms that needed to be filed as requiring “considerable detail”, but admits that there was nothing that he found too complicated and none of the checks carried out by the Home Office caused any issues. The application fee for small businesses** is £536, and for large businesses who do not meet the small business criteria, the fee is £1,476.

Note that if your business’s application is successful, further fees for Certificates of Sponsorship (issued to your prospective hires in order for them to make their visa application – £199 per certificate); Immigration Skills Charges (£1,000 per year, per worker, or a reduced rate of £364 for smaller companies and charities); and additional fees for the sponsored worker’s visa application will likely apply.

To apply for a sponsorship license for your business and to find out more about eligibility, the conditions that must be met and how the new system for recruiting salon staff from overseas works, visit

*According to Government provided ‘going rates’ for Skilled Workers (based on a 39-hour week with pay at £9.52 per hour)
**A company will usually qualify as a small company if it meets two of the following criteria in its financial year: A turnover of not more than £10.2 million, a balance sheet total of not more than £5.1 million, it employs no more than 50 employees.

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