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On 31 December 2020, the transition period between the UK and the European Union (EU) came to an end. As a consequence, free movement rights for EU citizens working and living in the UK also ceased. 

As an employer, this will present significant changes in the way that you handle hiring a new employee from overseas. You will now require a UK Sponsor Licence if you wish to employ international talent from within the EU, the European Economic Area (EEA) or from outside the bloc (for example, America or India).

During the Brexit transition period in 2020, the UK Business Secretary Alok Sharma sent a letter to British firms on the subject of hiring a foreign employee in the UK. In this, he urged them to familiarise themselves with the steps they need to take and be ready to do business in the post-Brexit UK. In particular, with respect to employing EU workers and updates to the UK's immigration system aligning the hiring of EU workers with overseas workers from further afield.

What is a UK Sponsor Licence?

A UK Sponsor Licence will allow your organisation to issue Certificates of Sponsorship.

A foreign national can then use this electronic certificate as part of their visa application under the Skilled Worker Visa scheme, to work in the UK as an employee of your business.

If you are successful in obtaining a Sponsor Licence, you must meet strict Home Office compliance duties. This is especially important as the changes to employing EU workers have changed substantially from previous migrant worker rules.

A significant part of your application will be focused on proving to the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) department that you can meet the Sponsor Licence duties, and responsibilities of hiring a foreign worker from day one.

Therefore, before making an application, it is essential that you meet the new immigration system requirements:

  • have robust HR systems that can adequately meet recording duties towards employing international workers. The type of system you must have depends on your business type and size. For example, a small restaurant operating from a single location, employing one migrant worker can meet their duties with a simple system such as an Excel spreadsheet. A large, multi-location construction firm with numerous overseas workers will require a more sophisticated system.

  • detail your key personnel. These are:  
  1. Authorising Officer - a senior person who is accountable for the employment of a migrant worker and guaranteeing that all sponsor duties under the new immigration system are met by the company.
  2. Key Contact - the main link between UKVI and the sponsor (employer). 
  3. Level 1 User - has full access to the Sponsorship Management System (SMS) and is responsible for the day-to-day operation of the licence and employee administration.  

  • instruct an experienced immigration lawyer to conduct an audit to check that your HR systems are capable of meeting compliance for employing EU citizens and hiring other international workers. Any weaknesses in your systems or proposed application can be quickly identified at the audit and advice given as to corrections to meet the new immigration system.

Applying for a Sponsor Licence

Your Sponsor Licence application has the best chance of success if you keep in mind that the UKVI will want to see evidence of the following in your application and/or when they visit your premises:

  • your business is genuine and operating lawfully within the UK
  • you are honest, dependable and reliable, posing no risks to UK immigration control (i.e. you have not been convicted of an immigration offence or other white-collar crimes such as money laundering)
  • your business has the systems in place to comply with the reporting and record-keeping duties required
  • you have not had a Sponsor Licence suspended or revoked in the past

You can complete the Sponsor License application online. Supporting documents can be scanned and emailed or posted. You will need to pay the required fee.

Before granting a Sponsor Licence, representatives from UKVI may visit your premises to ensure that the facts stated in your application are correct and that your HR systems can comply with Sponsor Licence duties and responsibilities. 

What if my application is refused?

The most common reasons for Sponsor Licence application refusals are:

  • supporting documentation was incomplete or incorrect
  • fee paid was incorrect (fee depends on the size of your organisation)
  • reasons for requiring a Sponsor Licence were not convincing or weak
  • upon visiting premises compliance officers found inadequate HR systems and/or selected key personnel would not be able to fulfil their responsibilities to employing international workers, or failed background checks

A Sponsor Licence refusal cannot be appealed. 

However, if you believe the refusal was due to the caseworker making an error when considering your application, you can apply to have the decision reviewed.  

It is vital to invest in legal advice when making a sponsor licence application. Refusal will result in not only lost money (the application fee is non-refundable) but a 'cooling-off' period may be imposed before you can make a new application and you will not be permitted to make another application until this period has passed.

Can my Sponsor Licence be suspended or revoked?

If you breach Sponsor Licence reporting, and/or recording duties or fail to carry out adequate Right to Work checks when employing EU citizens or other foreign nationals, your Sponsor Licence can be suspended or revoked. 

In the case of suspension, you will be unable to recruit talent from overseas until the UKVI conducts a further investigation or you action improvements to the way you employ a skilled worker. Sponsor Licence revocation can have serious consequences for your organisation, as it can mean that a migrant worker will no longer be able to work for you.

To mitigate the risk of non-compliance, it is best to work with an experienced lawyer throughout the lifecycle of your Sponsor Licence. They can advise you of any immigration law changes you need to be aware of and help you with your application, issuing Certificates of Sponsorship, and inputting data in the Sponsor Management System.

Final words

Hiring international employees to work in the UK was relatively complex before Brexit. As we have now left the EU, the process impacts more businesses and employers. It is critical that if the prospective employee for a role in your business comes from another country, you need to fully comply with the new process towards employing international workers and their visa application.

Most applications (8 out of 10) are dealt with in less than 8 weeks. UKVI may need to visit your business. You may also be able to pay £500 to get a decision within 10 working days. You'll be told if you can after you apply.

If your business relies on EU/EEA talent, you need to start the application process for a Sponsor Licence as soon as possible. Follow this simple checklist:

  • determine if you require a Sponsor License to employ a worker
  • ensure your HR systems are up to the required standard to hire an overseas worker
  • complete the application process and pay the required fee
  • invest in legal advice to safeguard that your application is correctly submitted

In closing

Nothing in this article constitutes legal advice on which you should rely. The article is provided for general information purposes only. Professional legal advice should always be sought before taking any action relating to or relying on the content of this article. Our Platform Terms of Use apply to this article.

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