Can Businesses secure a Sponsor License to hire Talent from outside of the EEA after Brexit?

October 14, 2019

When it comes to securing the skills necessary to operate and grow your business, Brexit may pose a sizeable roadblock, especially if you have been reliant on workers from across the European Economic Area (EEA). 

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), EU net migration to the UK has already fallen to levels not seen since 2009 and immigration for work purposes has dropped to its lowest level since 2014. As a result, there have been numerous media reports of fruit ‘left to rot’ due to labour shortages, manufacturers facing the greatest shortage of skilled workers for 30 years, and the plight of the hospitality, healthcare, and leisure industries, to name but a few, all of whom are all struggling to find talent.

As a result, many pro-active businesses are applying for Tier 2 or Tier 5 Sponsor Licenses to enable them to recruit workers from outside the EEA.  But before doing so, and in order to make the right decisions, it is important to understand the purpose, scope, eligibility criteria, and obligations of the UK sponsorship system. 

What is a Sponsor License?

A Sponsor Licence, issued by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI), enables organisations to sponsor workers from outside of the EEA.  Applicants must satisfy strict conditions to be granted and then retain their license, including demonstrating their willingness and ability to:

  • Keep up to date and detailed records of sponsored employees, including copies of passports and important correspondence,
  • Maintain the Sponsorship Management System (SMS), which includes information on key events and immigration status,
  • Comply with strict reporting requirements in the event of specified breaches,
  • Comply with all law,
  • Offer sponsorship only in relation to genuine vacancies, and;
  • Always cooperate with the Home Office.

What are the types of Sponsorship License?

Under the current UK immigration policy, Tiers 2 and 5 of the points-based system (PBS) are considered primary immigration routes for people from non-EEA countries who wish to work in the UK.  

The types of Tier 2 skilled work visas include:

  • General
  • Inter-company transfer
  • Sportsperson
  • Minister of Religion

Tier 5 is used for temporary workers and those under the Youth Mobility Scheme; a programme for young people from certain countries who wish to reside, work and travel in the UK for up to two years.

What are the eligibility criteria for a UK Sponsor Licence?

To be eligible for a Sponsor Licence, you will be required to demonstrate, a) your business is a genuine organisation operating lawfully in the UK, b) you are honest, dependable and reliable, and c) for Tier 2 Visas, you are able to offer genuine employment that meets the Tier 2 (General) skill level and appropriate rates of pay.

What is a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS)?

A CoS is an electronic document provided by you to your sponsored employee and contains a sponsorship reference number, their personal information, and details of the job role.  On applying for your Sponsor Licence, you will be required to state how many certificates you are likely to need; these are referred to as unrestricted COS’s and are offered to employees earning over £159,600 or those switching to a Tier 2 visa within the UK.  Under this CoS type, there is no set limit to how many unrestricted CoS that can be issued.  

Restricted CoS are used for skilled employees who earn less than £159,600 per annum and family members of Tier 4 migrants switching to a Tier 2 visa, and have an annual cap allocated on a monthly basis.

Assigning Sponsorship Management roles

Having assessed your eligibility for a Sponsor License and determined which type you will require, you will then need to allocate individuals within your organisation to key roles, including an:

  • Authorising Officer – a senior and competent person responsible for the actions of staff and representatives who use the SMS
  • Key Contact – the primary point of contact for UKVI
  • Level 1 user – responsible for your day-to-day sponsorship activities and updating your Sponsorship Management System (SMS).  When applying, you will be required to nominate one Level 1 user (more can be added later), who must be a member of staff.
  • Level 2 user – typically has fewer permissions than the Level 1 user but can assign a CoS to workers and report worker activity to UKVI where needed.

Except for the Level 1 user (when first applying), all roles can be undertaken by the same person and/or an external nominee (e.g. an immigration Solicitor).  

The Sponsor License application process

Applications for a UK Sponsor Licences are made online, with supporting documents proving your business is genuine being sent by separate cover.  At this point you will also be required to submit payment for the application – the amount varies depending on which tiers are being applied for and whether you are a small/charitable, or a medium/large organisation.

Following the submission of your application and supporting paperwork, the Home Office will carry out a site visit of your premises before granting your Licence.  This is undertaken to ensure you have the necessary systems in place to meet the sponsorship compliance requirements defined by UKVI.  

In order to fully prepare for a site visit from the Home Office, it is highly recommended that you engage the expertise of an immigration Solicitor to conduct a mock audit of your systems, processes and procedures.  Immigration professionals understand the precise compliance requirements and will recommend any changes you need to make. This will include making sure you have the necessary processes in place to carry out a Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT) to verify there are no settled workers who are suitable to carry out the role you wish to fill.

Final words

With Brexit potentially on the immediate horizon, leading to a shortage of EEA labour, seeking guidance and representation from an expert on Brexit specialising in Sponsor License applications will ensure your business can recruit the talent it needs to grow, regardless of the political landscape.

If you would like to speak to any of our lawyers about Brexit-proofing your business, please enter an enquiry or call us today on 020 7148 1066 to speak to a member of our friendly Client Care Team.