Nighat Sahi

Published 31 October 2021

Employing Workers From Overseas

Sponsorship Licences

Since January 2021, all EU and non-EU nationals coming to the UK to work have had to be sponsored by an employer with a sponsorship licence. That means if you are employing workers from overseas, you will nearly always need to apply for a sponsor licence from the Home Office’s UK Visas & Immigration (UKVI) division.

Unfortunately, the extensive UK immigration rules and sponsorship licence requirements remain complex and present a quagmire of issues for many employers.

New points-based system

Under a new points-based immigration system, there are three main ways for non-UK residents to work in the UK, namely with a:

  • Skilled worker visa 
  • Intra-company transfer visa
  • Temporary worker visas

In this post, we take a look at the criteria and requirements that must be met when applying for a skilled worker visa.

EU nationals already resident in the UK on 31st December 2020 will not need to be sponsored. They should have registered under the EU Settlement Scheme by 30 June 2021 to maintain their lawful status and if you haven’t done so, we would urge you to get in touch.  Irish nationals are exempt from the provisions and do not need to be sponsored to work in the UK.

Your sponsor licence application

In order to apply for a sponsor licence, your organisation must be genuine, operating and/or trading lawfully in the UK and based in the UK. You must also meet certain eligibility and suitability criteria.

To satisfy the criteria, you’ll need to demonstrate that the role in question is a genuine vacancy that meets the skilled worker criteria (see below).  You’ll also need to establish that your organisation is “honest, dependable and reliable” (owners, directors and appointed key personnel should have no unspent criminal convictions) and have no history of non-compliance in respect of immigration requirements.

There is a list of mandatory documents that must be filed in support of your application and a number of supporting documents that you can also submit. Collating the necessary information can take some time, and the processing of the application by the Home Office can also take up to eight weeks, so careful forward planning is required.

A genuine vacancy

You will need to be able to show that the job to be filled is a genuine one. UKVI will look at the overall picture including how both the role and the individual concerned will fit within your organisation. For example, is the role proportionate and relevant to your business? Does the training or experience of any individual you have in mind for the role, broadly match the proposed salary? If you’re a very small business for example, do you really need a head of UK operations Manager?

Both you and the job applicant may be asked for evidence to substantiate your case or asked to attend an interview particularly in what are seen as ‘high-risk’ sectors.

Sponsor duties

A successful sponsor must meet a number of onerous compliance responsibilities. Your ability to meet these responsibilities will be assessed as part of the application process. Responsibilities include keeping comprehensive and up to date records which must be available to the Home Office for inspection on request. You’ll also need to demonstrate that you have HR and recruitment systems in place that enable you to meet your responsibilities, such as:

  • Record-keeping – you’ll need to have copies of all relevant documents including employment contracts, passports, immigration status documents, biometric residence permits, etc.
  • Monitoring and reporting – including a system for tracking employees if they don’t start work when they were supposed to or are absent for ten days of consecutive unauthorised absence or unexpectedly resign.
  • Absence monitoring – to ensure all sponsored employee absences are authorised and recorded, including sickness, annual leave, study leave and overseas travel.
  • Notifying the Home Office of changes in circumstances – for example a change in key personnel.

Role requirements

Only certain roles, as specified by the Home Office, can be sponsored and each eligible role also comes with a Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) code and a brief job description.

There are also certain skill and salary levels that must be met. The points system requires a role to attract 70 points in respect of skills, salary and language requirements.

For example, most skilled worker visa roles need to be at Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) level 3 (A level equivalent) or above although relevant experience can be used to demonstrate the required standard has been met, rather than just qualifications. Certain roles are exempt from the skill level requirement.

The requirements as to salary are complex but the salary must be above a certain minimum threshold. Different minimum salary levels apply to different types of workers, levels of experience and roles.  You must pay whichever is the higher of the ‘going rate’ or the relevant general minimum salary threshold.

Key personal

Sponsor licence holders must appoint certain key personnel responsible for licence compliance. These include an Authorising Officer in a senior position in the organisation with responsibility for recruitment and/or HR, a key contact who will liaise with the Home Office and Level 1 and Level 2 users. Users are responsible for the day to day management and administration in respect of the licence.

Unsuccessful applications

An application for a sponsorship licence may be refused or rejected. If the application is rejected, you can make a fresh application provided you rectify the reason for the initial rejection. Rejection is often due to a failure to file the correct documentation in which case, it is possible to submit an “Error Correction” request for the application to be reconsidered. If your application has been refused, you may have to wait six months and a refusal is indicative that there was something more fundamentally wrong with your application.

Successful applications

A sponsor licence is valid for a period of four years, and they do not automatically renew. Once a licence is granted, the Home Office has powers to inspect sponsors at any time, and without notice. If you are found to be in breach of your compliance responsibilities, your licence may be downgraded, suspended or even revoked. You will then normally need to wait at least 12 months before they can apply for a new licence.  

Certificates of Sponsorship

Once you have been granted a licence, your organisation will be able to issue a Certificate of Sponsorship for your prospective employee which they will need to apply for a visa.  There are defined and undefined Certificates of Sponsorship. A defined Certificate of Sponsorship is for potential employees outside the UK whereas the undefined Certificate of Sponsorship applies for a skilled worker visa to remain in the UK. It’s important to ensure you issue the correct type. You will also need to state how many undefined Certificate of Sponsorship you need when making your application for a sponsorship licence.

The above represents an outline of the onerous and detailed requirements of obtaining a sponsorship licence. If you would like more information or assistance with your application or are thinking of employing workers from overseas, please get in touch.

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