Should I apply for a sponsor licence now?

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Gateley Legal

On 31 December 2020, free movement between the UK and the EU will come to an end.  Any EU nationals entering the UK after this date will be subject to the same immigration rules, regulations and restrictions as non-EU nationals.

A new points-based immigration system is to be introduced with effect from 1 January 2021 and, in most cases, employers are going to need a sponsor licence to employ both EU and non-EU nationals in the UK.

Whilst a number of employers will already hold a sponsor licence, many more will not.  On 30 September 2020, the Home Office launched a marketing campaign to help ensure businesses are ready for the introduction of the new immigration system.  In particular, employers are being encouraged to consider whether they will need a licence to sponsor EU nationals. 

The Home office's updated guidance

The Home Office has also updated its Tier 2 and 5 guidance for sponsors to include the following advice to employers who are considering making an application for a sponsor licence:

  1. You will need to show that you will be able to offer genuine employment skilled to level RQF3 or above.
  2. On your application form, you should provide as much information as you can on how many migrant workers you are likely to employ during the first year of your licence, including any you wish to sponsor at RQF level 3 and above from 1 January 2021.
  3. You are encouraged to apply early, even if you are not currently in a position to sponsor migrants under the existing system or are not sure if or when you will need sponsor migrants under the new system from January 2021. In such cases, provided you meet all of the other requirements set out in this guidance, we can grant you a licence but will not allocate any CoS to you at this stage. Once you know that you will need to appoint migrant workers, you can request the number of CoS you need.

Should you make an application?

The Home Office is clearly encouraging applications even where the employer may not currently have a specific vacancy to be filled by an EU (or non-EU national).  However, it is still important for prospective sponsors to consider whether their circumstances align with the sponsorship conditions and to factor this into their application.  In particular, applications should ideally cover the following:

  1. The ability to offer genuine employment: Employers will need to explain its requirement for a particular role or roles and submit information on its financial status to evidence that it can cover the relevant employment costs. It is likely that smaller businesses will be subject to more onerous evidential requirements, including a detailed rationale for the prospective recruitment of EU nationals. 
  2. Details of prospective hires: Strong applications will include as much detail as possible in this regard, e.g. planned employment dates, job titles, job descriptions and salaries for specific roles to be filled by EU nationals.
  3. Meeting all other requirements of the Tier 2 and 5 Sponsor Guidance: Prospective sponsors need to be familiar with the 209-page Tier 2 and Tier 5 Guidance for Sponsors and have personnel and procedures in place in order to meet the duties and responsibilities contained therein. 

Our view:

Employers should be assessing now whether their business would benefit from holding a sponsor licence.  If the answer is, “yes”, we recommend applying sooner rather than later even if there is not an existing vacancy or immediate need to sponsor.

In doing so, it is still vital for the prospective sponsor to demonstrate to the Home Office that it is in a position to meet all relevant conditions and that it is likely to have genuine vacancies which will meet the criteria for sponsorship.  If an application is refused, the employer can be subject to a cooling-off period which prevents a further application for six months.  Therefore, it is vital that applications are carefully prepared with reference to the latest Tier 2 and Tier 5 Guidance for Sponsors.

How we can help:

Our team of senior advisers is highly experienced in helping employers obtain, and retain, a licence to sponsor migrant workers.  Our services include:

  • Audit and analysis of your current workforce and job types to determine whether a sponsor licence is required
  • Review of your existing HR practices and recommendations to ensure sponsor compliance
  • End-to-end support with the sponsor licence application process
  • On-going support with sponsor management and compliance
  • Acting as a Level 1 or 2 User on your sponsor management system
  • End-to-end support with sponsored visa applications
  • In-house training

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