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International agreement route for temporary workers coming to the UK

International agreement route for temporary workers coming to the UK

The International Agreement visa route is for temporary workers who want to come to the UK to provide a service underpinned by international law.

Essentially, international agreements ratified by the United Kingdom require the United Kingdom to have these immigration routes. There are three categories:

  • Private servants in diplomatic households or in the households of officials working for recognised international organisations
  • Employees of overseas governments and recognised international organisations
  • Contractual service suppliers and independent professionals – that is, workers coming to the UK to service a contract under specific international trade agreement commitments under which the UK has relevant commitments.

Previously, the International Agreement route was a sub-category of the Tier 5 (Temporary Worker) route in Part 6A of the Immigration Rules.  Under the ‘new’ Immigration Rules, the rules can now be found in Appendix Temporary Work – International Agreement.

In this brief guide, we’ll focus on contractual service suppliers as this is probably the most popular of the three categories.  In Spring 2022, the contractual service supplier category will be rebranded in one of the five pathways available in the new global mobility visa.  Don’t worry, this guide is still relevant and applicable! The government’s 2021 Strategy Statement confirms that the requirements for the route are very likely to remain the same.

Dependent family members can apply to come to the UK in this route, but it does not lead to settlement.

What is a contractual service supplier and why is this route useful?

A contractual service supplier is a company who supplies services in a specific sector, under a specific international agreement listed in Table A of the Sponsor Guidance.  The company must not have a commercial presence in the UK.

The overseas service supplier is completely disconnected from the UK and yet, to use this immigration route, they need a UK sponsor.  You might ask yourself, why would a UK company want to bother taking on onerous sponsorship duties and sponsoring someone else’s employees to come to the UK?

Cue the ‘B’ word.  Before Brexit, the EU was a major recruitment pool for UK business, particularly when it came to tradespeople. That pool has slowly dried up since the end of free movement, contributing to labour shortages.  This route is useful because it allows UK companies to temporarily fill the skills gap and maintain business continuity.

Although there is no English language requirement, the route has strict eligibility requirements.  It’s a last resort if there are no other immigration routes available to get tradespeople over to the UK.  Because of how strict the route is, independent professionals tend not to get involved, so we’ll refer on contractual service suppliers throughout this guide.

Requirements for the UK sponsor

There are requirements for the UK sponsor, the overseas service supplier and for the visa applicant. Let’s start with the UK sponsor.


  • Having a licence

The UK sponsor must have an A-rated, Tier 5 International Agreement sponsor licence. Applying for a sponsor licence is beyond the scope of this article, but there is detailed guidance on the Home Office website.


  • Having a genuine contract approved by the Home Office

The service supplied must be in line with a genuine contract for a period not exceeding 12 months.  The contract must have been awarded through an open tendering procedure.

The Home Office take this requirement very seriously.  Before the UK sponsor can assign a CoS under the International Agreement contractual service supplier route, they must first contact Sponsor Change of Circumstances, with a copy of the signed contract for services.  SCOC must review and approve the contract and then approve the CoS allocation request.

If you assign a CoS in relation to any other contract that has not been approved, the sponsor licence will be revoked.

  • Being the final consumer of the service

Sponsoring contractual service suppliers and then supplying them to another organisation is prohibited.  The UK sponsor must be the final consumer of the service.

  • Assigning a valid Certificate of Sponsorship

Failure to draft and assign the CoS correctly is very likely to result in a refusal. There are a few key differences compared to a Skilled Worker or Intra-Company CoS, explained below.

  1. An undefined CoS is required for entry-clearance applications.
  2. The role summary should specifically state that that they are being sponsored on the International Agreement route and as a contractual service supplier.
  3. Select a suitable SOC Code at RQF Level 3 or above (more on this below).
  4. If the UK sponsor is not paying the salary, this must be entered as £0.01 and details of the payment arrangements must be explained in the free text box below the salary field.
  5. You must provide the details of the specific, eligible international agreement and the name and duration of the contract. This field is located at the bottom of the draft CoS. Interestingly, this field is missing when you PDF the CoS. If you have a few of these to assign, it’s useful to keep a note of what you enter here and copy and paste it over for uniformity.
  6. Maintenance is usually certified on the CoS, primarily to keep the list of supporting documents to a minimum.

Requirements for the overseas service supplier

  • The work must fall within the scope of commitments in a specified international agreement
  • They must be established in the country or territory of that is signatory to the agreement
  • No commercial presence in the UK

Requirements for the temporary worker

The worker must meet the validity, suitability and eligibility requirements.  We’ll do a quick tour through the validity and suitability requirements first, then focus on the detail under the eligibility requirements.

  • Validity requirement

The validity requirements are similar to the requirements for most PBS routes under the new immigration system (but not the same).  The applicant must submit a valid visa application and pay the required application fee, Immigration Health Surcharge (if applicable), enrol their biometrics, submit their documents and have an assigned Certificate of Sponsorship issued no more than 3 months before the date of application.

You can’t switch into this route.  Any applications for permission to stay must be made by someone who last had permission in the International Agreement route.

A point to note regarding the requirement to enrol biometrics is that EEA nationals can skip this step if they have a chipped passport.  They can apply using the UK Immigration: ID Check app.  In my experience, the UK sponsor will want the worker to apply online, have a visa sticker (and if they are coming for 6 months or more, a BRP).  Hardcopy documents are less likely to be challenged and they reduce the risk of any delays on arrival and starting work on time.


  • Suitability requirement

The applicant must not fall for refusal under the grounds for refusal in Part 9 of the Immigration Rules.  If applying for permission to stay, they mustn’t be in breach of immigration laws except for the usual paragraph 39E (which contains exceptions for overstayers) and they must not be on immigration bail.

  • Nationality and residence requirements

The visa applicant must be a national of the country or territory in which the overseas undertaking is established.

There are also specific rules applicable depending on which international agreement is replied upon.  The most useful to know, is that those with permanent residence in a country or territory that have made a notification under General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) can also apply.  It’s not specifically stated in the sponsor guidance, in principle, this is possible under any of the international agreements provided you get assurance from the Home Office first (such as confirmation from the Sponsor Change of Circumstances team, see below).

  • Qualification requirement

The applicant must show they have a university degree or equivalent level technical qualification unless an exception applies.  The short and limited list of exceptions is available in the sponsor guidance.

The bizarre thing about this requirement is that the role must skilled to RQF Level 3 (A level), yet the applicant must demonstrate that they have a degree or a technical qualification demonstrating knowledge at an equivalent level.  An ‘equivalent technical qualification’ is not defined.  It is worth using ECCTIS to obtain a statement of comparability to confirm.

In addition, the applicant must hold any professional qualifications or registrations required to provide the services under UK law, regulations or sectoral requirements.

  • Professional experience requirement

The applicant must have at least three years professional experience in the sector in which they are supplying services unless an exception applies.  The list of exceptions is actually more prohibitive and requires certain professions to have six years of professional experience in the sector.

The applicant will demonstrate that they meet the requirement by submitting a CV listing their employment history. They must also confirm that they meet this requirement on the application form.

  • At least 12 months employment with the overseas service supplier

The applicant must have been an employee of the overseas undertaking for at least 12 months immediately before the date of application.

They must submit their last 12 months payslips and, if these are issued electronically, a payslip authentication letter on letterheaded paper.  There is an option to submit bank statements showing the salary going into the account, but if payslips can’t be supplied, you need to double check why this is.  At the last minute, you do not want to discover that the proposed workers are contractors and not actually employees at all.

  • Genuineness requirement

Finally, the applicant must genuinely intend to perform the role they are being sponsored to do.

When this route is all about securing certainty of a supply of labour to the UK sponsor, the last thing you want is a genuineness requirement.  The Home Office can subjectively assess the entire application, request more documents, ask questions and cause delays.

Because of this, it’s wise to prepare months in advance to gather all the required evidence (while heeding the time-sensitive documentary requirements of course).  In practice, the UK sponsor is likely to have started the process a year or so before.  They will have submitted the tender and sourced the potential overseas service supplier.

How much does it cost?

It’s comparatively cheap. There is no Certificate of Sponsorship fee.

If the worker is applying for entry-clearance for a period of less than 6 months (as if often the case with this route), they will be exempt from the Immigration Skills Charge and Immigration Health Surcharge.

For an entry-clearance application for a duration of less than 6 months, fees are as follows:

  • Application fee: £244
  • Any priority processing fees: Approx. £250

Nationals of CESC countries can no longer benefit from not paying a CoS fee or the application fee reduction of £55.

The fees vary slightly for applications made in-country. Fees are revised every April; see the Home Office website for the up-to-date list.

What will I get if my visa is approved?

An approval letter and a visa sticker valid for a given period, typically 30 days. (Due to coronavirus, visa stickers are currently being issued for up to 90 days, but it is not clear how long this will continue.) The worker must travel to the UK before that period is up and will most likely travel to arrive in line with the start date stated on their Certificate of Sponsorship in line with the UK sponsor’s timeline for completion of the work.

After arriving, if the length of stay is more than six months, the worker will be issued with a Biometric Residence Permit. Anyone applying using the UK Immigration app will receive digital immigration status instead of a physical permit.

The UK sponsor should complete a right to work check before the worker’s first day of employment as stated on their Certificate of Sponsorship.

How long can a visa be granted for?

A person on the International Agreement route can stay for a maximum period of between six months and two years depending on the international agreement.

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