Sponsor Licence

Why should a UK restaurant have a sponsor licence?

By Amer Zaman

on June 7, 2023

Read Time: 8 Minutes

It is well-documented that restaurants around the UK continue to face great challenges in their efforts to hire and retain staff. Indeed, it was reported just in May 2023 that the owners of hospitality businesses were being forced to hike wages and offer further incentives for workers in order to tempt them. It cannot be overly surprising, then, that wages for London waiters, chefs, bar staff, and other hospitality personnel went up by 11.5% over the past year. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the number of job vacancies for the hospitality sector for the first three months of 2023 – 132,000 – was 22% lower than during the equivalent period the previous year. However, this figure was still 48% higher than before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Could a sponsor licence be the answer to your restaurant’s staffing struggles?

If you are the owner or a key decision-maker within a hospitality business such as a restaurant, the dilemmas described in the above reporting might be more than relatable for you. The 2022 Christmas season was a particular flashpoint for many such firms, some of which were reportedly forced by staffing shortages into turning down bookings – a situation that threatens to stymie the growth and even survival prospects of restaurants and similar businesses.

The headaches for many restaurants up and down the country, which be much less if Brexit-related changes to the Immigration Rules hadn’t introduced the requirement for skilled overseas workers to have a sponsor in order to take on a role in the UK.

Indeed, as recently as March 2023, key figures in the hospitality sector expressed their disappointment at the UK Government failing to include overseas restaurant and bar workers in its shortage occupation list. This was despite the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC)’s consultation being presented with what Kate Nicholls, chief executive at the membership trade association UKHospitality, described as “compelling evidence and data” showing the sector was finding it tough to secure enough staff.

What is a UK sponsor licence?

A sponsor licence is a licence that the UK Home Office – the ministerial department with responsibility for immigration – grants to UK employers, effectively giving them permission to hire someone from outside the UK to work for them.

It is generally the case that if any given UK business – such as a restaurant – wishes to recruit someone from outside the UK, they will need to have a sponsor licence.

There are, however, some exceptions. Your organisation will not require a sponsor licence in order to recruit:

Please note that the above is not an exhaustive rundown of the groups of people that a UK business can hire without needing to have a sponsor licence.

Indeed, a given person from overseas might already have some form of immigration permission in the UK that would not preclude them from taking on your vacancy. Examples of this include those with permission under Appendix FM to the Immigration Rules as the partner of a British citizen or settled person, as well as those with permission as a Student, who might be allowed to work for 10 or 20 hours a week during term-time, depending on the type of course they are studying.

You should also bear in mind that even if you are able to secure a sponsor licence for your restaurant business and sponsor a given individual, this does not guarantee that they will be granted a visa when they apply for one from the Home Office.

Could a sponsor licence be the answer to your restaurant’s staffing struggles?

A few misconceptions seem to have arisen down the years, with regard to sponsor licences for restaurants. Some owners of such businesses appear to be under the impression that only establishments of a certain size or length of operating history will be able to get approved for a sponsor licence.

The reality is that the UK’s Home Office rules on sponsor licence eligibility are easier to meet than a lot of restaurant owners might realise. Sponsor licences are not restricted to businesses that have a certain income, or that have been trading for a certain length of time.

If, however, you are looking seriously at the idea of applying for a sponsor licence for your restaurant, you will need to ensure you have suitable systems in place for the monitoring of sponsored workers. In addition, it will be necessary to appoint certain people within your business who will manage the sponsorship process. These roles will include the authorising officer, key contact, and level 1 user.

It is also vital that an employer looking to secure a sponsor licence from the Home Office does not have unspent criminal convictions for immigration offences or certain other crimes, such as money laundering or fraud. Nor will the given business be eligible for a sponsor licence if it has had a sponsor licence revoked in the past 12 months.

Why are we making the point that the barriers to being granted a sponsor licence for your restaurant might not be as high as you may have initially presumed? Well, we are drawing attention to this aspect, because it might cause you to change your calculations as someone running a restaurant business.

Instead of attempting to always recruit from within the UK, and only applying for a sponsor licence if you have concluded that your restaurant’s hiring difficulties have left you with no other option, you might decide to apply for a sponsor licence with a view to sponsoring foreign talent on Skilled Worker visas in the future, even if you don’t look to recruit any such workers immediately.

This, in turn, could leave your restaurant business in a stronger position to hire the most capable candidates for your open roles, wherever they come from, instead of being forced to try to hire exclusively from the domestic UK market.

What else does a restaurant business need to know about the sponsor licence process?

It is important to understand that while being a sponsor licence holder is certainly likely to be useful for a restaurant business, it will not be a “catch all” solution to all your recruitment woes. Not all potential roles can be recruited for through the Skilled Worker visa route, and not every candidate will be able to meet the eligibility criteria for a visa.

So, whether your restaurant business does or does not have a sponsor licence right now, if there is a particular role you are looking to fill and for which you are struggling to find a suitable candidate in the UK, you should check whether it has a standard occupation code (SOC), and whether it will satisfy the Home Office’s minimum salary requirement.

Each role with an SOC is given a “going rate” by the UK Government. So, it is crucial to check this for your own vacancy if you are considering applying for a sponsor licence with a view to recruiting for a specific job.

Restaurants that are interested in sponsoring someone on the Skilled Worker visa to work for them, will need to pay them whichever is the highest of the below three options:

  • £26,200 a year
  • £10.75 an hour
  • The “going rate” for the type of work they will be doing

For example, if your hospitality business is seeking to recruit a restaurant manager, this would come under the 1223 SOC – for “restaurant and catering establishment managers and proprietors” – and the going rate would be £19,600 (£10.05 per hour).

Or in the event that you would like to hire a chef through the Skilled Worker visa category, the relevant SOC would be 5434, and the going rate would be £17,100 (£8.77 per hour).

How long does it take to get a sponsorship licence in the UK?

Once your restaurant business’s application for a sponsor licence has been submitted to the Home Office, your application is likely to be decided on within eight weeks.

Over the course of that time, UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) may need to carry out an in-person visit to your business premises in order to assess your restaurant’s suitability and readiness for a sponsor licence. Our experts in UK immigration law here at Cranbrook Legal can help your organisation prepare for such a visit, to maximise the likelihood of the Home Office granting you a sponsor licence.

It may be possible for you to pay an additional £500 to the Home Office, in order to receive a decision on your sponsor licence application within 10 working days. However, this fast-track service is only available for a small number of applications on any given working day, with faster decisions being allocated in the order that requests arrive, following a “first come, first served” principle.  

Following the submission of your application for a sponsor licence, the Home Office will tell you exactly how you can ask for a quicker decision.

Our team of UK immigration legal specialists can help your restaurant to secure a sponsor licence  

We recognise that when you are simply looking to recruit the right person for your restaurant’s open position – or positions – you will not want to waste time getting confused and bewildered by the complexity of the UK’s Immigration Rules. You will wish to be able to fulfil your restaurant business’s needs with the minimum of fuss, including in relation to any application for a sponsor licence.

Fortunately, here at Cranbrook Legal, we have long assisted all manner of businesses – including many in the hospitality sector – with their ambitions to get approved for a sponsor licence and hire the most suitable workers from overseas.

We really can project manage your business’s application for a sponsor licence from start to finish, helping to ensure you meet all the requirements with regard to eligibility and documentation. This, in turn, will help ensure you are soon in a position to hire the right foreign talent for your vacancy, so that your business is well-placed to grow.

To learn more about what our award-winning, skilled, and experienced specialists in UK immigration law can do for your restaurant business, please feel free to call 0208 215 0053. You can also fill in and submit our online contact form to request a free consultation with us.

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