Sponsor Licence

Hiring Migrant Skilled Workers With A Sponsor Licence

By Amer Zaman

on May 16, 2022

Read Time: 9 Minutes

How obtaining a sponsor licence can support your business’s ambitions and growth

One of the most important parts of any company is its workforce. Not only do such personnel help to keep the company running, but they can also bring with them many skills that benefit the organisation as a whole.

While you may initially recruit new employees from the UK, there can be many benefits from looking to other countries for suitable workers. Since the conclusion of the Brexit transition period at the end of 2020, employers have generally needed to obtain a sponsor licence in order to hire most workers from outside of the UK.

Let us take a closer look, then, at how obtaining a sponsor licence could support your own firm’s efforts to achieve sustainable growth.

What is a sponsor licence?

Since the end of the Brexit transition period, from 1st January 2021, there has generally been a requirement for non-UK nationals to have a sponsor if they are coming to work in the UK.

The Home Office states: “You’ll usually need a sponsor licence to employ someone to work for you from outside the UK. This includes citizens of the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland who arrived in the UK after 31 December 2020. This includes unpaid work, like running a charity”.

There are some groups that do not need a sponsor to come to the UK and work, these include:

  • Irish citizens
  • Anyone with settled or pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme
  • Anyone with Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR)
  • The spouse of a British citizen
  • Someone with an ancestry visa
  • The dependant of a sponsored migrant

The sponsor licence application process has been undergoing a review, and new measures are now in place for businesses that wish to employ migrant workers.

Who can apply for a sponsor licence, and are there any fees?

Currently, there are no restrictions on what type of company can obtain a sponsor licence. However, the application process and associated fees do relate to the type of business you run.

Small businesses or charities will pay a smaller fee than medium or large-sized companies. The Home Office lays out what it considers to be a small or large company.

  • Small or charitable companies (two of the list must apply)
  1. An annual turnover of £10.2 million or less
  2. Total assets worth £5.1 million or less
  3. 50 employees or fewer
  • Charitable companies
  1. A registered charity in England or Wales
  2. A registered charity in Scotland
  3. A registered charity in Northern Ireland
  4. An exempt charity
  5. An excepted charity
  6. An ecclesiastical company set up for charitable purposes

Those applying from Northern Ireland will be expected to prove their charitable status for tax purposes from HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), unless they are on the register.

As well as the sponsor licence itself, your business may need to pay additional fees or charges for the following:

  • Certificate of Sponsorship fee

There is no charge for this if the employee comes from one of the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, or Turkey.

  • Immigration Skills Charge

There is no charge for the following:

  1. Anyone on an Intra-company graduate trainee visa
  2. Anyone switching from a UK study visa
  3. Chemical scientists
  4. Biological scientists and biochemists
  5. Social and humanities scientists
  6. Natural and social science professionals not elsewhere classified
  7. Research and development managers
  8. Higher education teaching professionals
  9. Clergy
  10. Sports players
  11. Sports coaches, instructors or officials
  12. Immigration healthcare charge

This is paid per year to cover the cost of any NHS treatment.

These fees along with the sponsorship licence fee may change, so it is important that you always check to find the latest information.

Who are classed as skilled workers?

If your organisation is looking to recruit migrant workers, then you will be pleased to know that the Home Office has signalled an intention to prioritise skilled workers since the UK’s departure from the EU. However, you may not know who would be classed as a skilled worker for these purposes, or the difference between high skilled and low skilled.

  • Examples of low skilled roles include:
  1. Carers – many care homes employ migrant workers, but this can also include private care companies and private hospitals
  2. Drivers – many roles could fit into this category such as HGV drivers, private car firms, delivery drivers, and logistics companies.
  • Examples of high skilled roles include:
  1. Construction and building trades – specific roles are not defined
  2. Agriculture trades – as with construction, the specific roles are not defined, but it won’t include fruit picking roles or other low-skilled jobs on farms
  3. Health and social care – both government and private health and social care firms will be covered by this
  4. Occupational therapists
  5. Teachers – this can include private schools as well as mainstream education. It could be especially useful for schools that can’t find the right skills in the UK
  6. Scientists – again, there could be useful skill types in other countries that cannot be found in the UK. It can also be useful for international companies who want to share knowledge
  7. Engineers – this can be important if there is a technology that requires someone from the company to supervise or teach local engineers how to use it
  8. Doctors and nurses

Why has the Home Office revamped the sponsorship licence process?

When Brexit was completed, the UK no longer accepted migrant workers from the EU who did not hold a valid visa. The sponsorship licence was developed as a way for companies to legally bring migrant workers over to the UK. However, the application process was long and took a lot of time to complete.

This caused problems for companies looking to fill job roles, and so the government decided to overhaul the process.

The sponsorship licence is also a way for the government to ensure that migrant workers are not treated unfairly and that requirements such as the 48-hour working week are adhered to.

Together with online checks, the process requires data regarding PAYE from HMRC – so if your company does not use PAYE, you may need to submit this information separately.

The Home Office will also check the employer’s previous non-compliance with sponsorship, and any illegal immigration incidents.

What are the benefits of obtaining a sponsor licence for businesses?

When Brexit occurred and the pandemic hit, there was a huge drop in the number of migrant workers in the UK. This shortfall has caused some problems for companies, such as those in the logistics sector. Whether you are an established business or just starting, you may need to employ migrant workers to help boost your workforce.

Some companies see migrant workers as an insurance policy against future labour shortages. This can happen for a variety of reasons, and many companies like the flexibility that employing migrant workers can bring.

You may also have problems recruiting suitable candidates for certain jobs. This can be because no one has the skills available at the time in the UK. It can also be because there is a lot of competition for a particular role among companies.

The pandemic has also changed the way people work, which may become a permanent change. For this reason, you may be thinking of new options for your workforce.

Which companies could most benefit from having a sponsor licence?

There are many benefits that could come to your business from obtaining a sponsor licence. Some companies may find it has more benefits than others.

Haulage companies have benefited from migrant workers for many years. This is mainly due to the number of people from other countries that are willing to work in this type of field. There are also many migrant workers from the EU that have the relevant qualifications to drive HGVs and other large vehicles. This means companies don’t need to train or pay to train such drivers.

The healthcare sector is another area that has long relied heavily on migrant workers. Again, this can be partly attributed to similar factors to those outlined above for HGV drivers; such migrant workers often already possess the qualifications needed. There could also be barriers or other reasons why UK nationals have not applied for roles in the healthcare sector in sufficient numbers for the needs of employers.

One of the largest sectors to have relied heavily on migrant workers in the past is hospitality. The hospitality sector was hit hard by the pandemic and has also suffered from the reduction of migrant workers after Brexit. Obtaining a sponsorship licence can help businesses in this sector to recruit from the EU again.

Companies such as Amazon and Morrisons in the UK have long had high percentages of migrant workers in their warehouses. This is a sector that can also benefit from low-skilled migrant workers, especially if candidates in the UK are in short supply.

Apart from these specific job roles, the number of people who are graduates in other countries means that skills needed by companies can often be obtained elsewhere if they are not available in sufficient numbers in the UK.

Some countries have a higher percentage of graduates than the UK, so it can sometimes be easier to look elsewhere for these qualified individuals than the UK. There are many organisations that will help companies get in touch with the right candidates. There are also international job websites where you can advertise your post and it will reach the people with the qualifications your business needs.

How can your business secure a sponsor licence?

If you are considering applying for a sponsor licence as an employer, it is important that you have all the relevant documents and make sure you fulfil the other requirements before you apply. The Home Office has changed how the sponsorship licence is processed, so much of it is now completed online.

You don’t necessarily need to have a specific candidate in mind before you apply. However, a migrant worker who wishes to join a company in the UK will be expected to have a valid visa, and to be joining a company that has a sponsorship licence or is in the process of obtaining one.

The documents needed for a sponsorship licence needed to be submitted within five days of the application; however, when COVID-19 hit, the sponsor licence team at the Home Office reduced the document requirements. They also started to accept scanned documents instead of certified original documents. Whether this change will be permanent is unclear, so it is best to check first before applying.

If you are unsure about the best procedure for obtaining a sponsorship licence, it is always best to speak to an immigration law professional or solicitor so that they can help you with documents and requirements.

Once you have applied, the Home Office may want to conduct a compliance visit either during the application process or while the licence is running. These visits are designed to show the Home Office that you are complying with all the sponsorship rules and employment laws for the migrant workers you employ.

For any company that isn’t complying, the Home Office can have the migrant worker’s visa curtailed, and the employer’s licence withdrawn. The Home Office is putting a big emphasis on companies having a good compliance record.

For many companies, migrant workers are an important source of employees. If you are new to the process, we recommend that you seek the advice of a professional immigration solicitor. Even those companies that have employed migrant workers in the past may find the new process confusing. We want you to be able to employ the people you need, wherever in the world they may presently be.

To benefit from the most recent information and tailored advice on your own circumstances and needs as a business or individual, please feel free to reach out to our award-winning immigration solicitors in central London. You can call us today, on 0208 215 0053.

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