The UK government maintains that the transition period for the UK leaving the EU will end on 31 December 2020 as planned. This means that in just over 8 months, the freedom of movement will end for EU citizens and they will become subject to immigration control. This has implications for Sponsor Licence applications for employers.
In order to employ EU citizens (from overseas) from 1st January 2021, companies will need to hold a Sponsor Licence. We previously discussed this in some detail in our article entitled “Free movement to be replaced by the UK’s Points-Based Immigration System”.
A Sponsor Licence is a permission given by the Home Office for a company to sponsor overseas workers. A formal application needs to be made to the UKVI which requires detailed representations and specified documents to be submitted.
Many companies who already employ staff from outside the EU will already have a Sponsor Licence in place but for those companies who haven’t and who wish to employ staff from the EU or take advantage of the relaxed criteria for employing non-EU staff then we suggest that they should start applying now to maintain their competitive advantage from 2021 onwards. Here are our reasons why:
1. The UK government is recommending applying for a Sponsor Licence now
As part of the latest government guidance on the new immigration system they have made it very clear that companies should start applying for a Sponsor Licence straight away. There have been suggestions that the new immigration system may be delayed due to the COVID-19 lockdown. The guidance makes it clear that this is still expected to go ahead in line with the 1st January 2021 deadline.
2. Lengthy wait for a Sponsor Licence decision
The UK government has said that applications for Sponsor Licence will take around 8 weeks to be considered. Given the impact of COVID-19, with many UKVI centres closed, we feel it is highly likely that this timescale will be lengthened, particularly with an expected increase in the number of Sponsor Licence applications.
3. Relaxation of the Sponsor Licence rules
As part of the application process, companies have previously been required to provide details of the vacancy that they wish to fill and for the vacancy to be at a skill level RQF 6 (Bachelor’s degree level).
In order to encourage companies to apply for a sponsor licence now, the Home Office has relaxed these requirements and no longer requires companies to have a vacancy but instead to show that they will be able to offer genuine employment skilled to level RQF 3 (A’Level) or above. The lowering of the skill level for the roles that can be sponsored by the companies to RQF 3 was announced by the government in February when details of the proposed new immigration system were published.
The effect of this is likely to mean that companies who wish to employ staff (from 1 January 2021) who did not meet the criteria before can now take advantage of the relaxed rules. Companies should therefore review their recruitment needs in light of the new immigration rules. Any increase in the number of applications made as a result of the new rules will have a negative impact on the speed at which the UKVI can make decisions.
4. Preparation of a Sponsor Licence application takes time
Before you can submit an application for a Sponsor Licence you need a clear plan in place to ensure your immigration compliance systems are up to standard and that you have gathered all the documentation required in support of your application. Please do not underestimate how long this can take for some organisations and therefore should be factored in to the overall planning timescale for when you need a Sponsor Licence granting from. The good news is that despite the current lockdown this is exactly the type of work that can be done remotely so there is a good incentive to proceed with this part of your business whilst others elements are potentially slowed down.
5. The inevitable late rush of Sponsor Licence applications
We all have good intentions of completing tasks well before the deadline. The truth is that often things are left until the last minute. Applying for Sponsor Licences will likely fall into this category too meaning a late rush of applications and an overwhelmed UKVI causing severe delays on decisions. Companies need to be asking themselves what the impact would be on their workforce and recruitment plans, and subsequent delivery of goods and services to clients, if there was a delay in getting a Sponsor Licence granted. Submitting as soon as possible, as far in advance of the inevitable late rush of applications, mitigates this risk.
Given that COVID-19 has not affected the government plans to exit the EU, our advice to these companies is to apply for a sponsor licence now.
If you need any help or assistance in considering where to start, what the application procedure is, or any other aspect of a Sponsor Licence then our friendly specialist legal team are here to help you. We have considerable experience in helping companies make successful Sponsor Licence applications to help them maintain their competitive advantage, support HR staff in a complex area of law and make your international staff feel like they are valued. We are ranked in the top 10 of UK immigration law solicitors in the UK by Review Solicitors.
To find out more about the service we offer then please do visit our “Applying for a Sponsor Licence” page which gives you details of the stages involved, the likely costs and the options available to you. Additionally , it gives you access to a free downloadable guide to making a Sponsor Licence application and covers:
We recommend having a free, no obligation chat at a time that suits you. We offer extended opening hours from 7.00am-10.00pm Monday to Friday and 9.00am-1.00pm on Saturdays.
You can schedule a telephone call or video conference direct from our website. During this meeting we will be able to get a better flavour of how far along the process you are and give you a steer as to what you should be doing next.
Alternatively you can email us at SMS@otb.legal and we will contact you back.
People and HR Consultant
I worked closely with OTB Legal who were helping a multi-national company carry out a Sponsor Licence compliance audit. I was very impressed with their comprehensive understanding of Home Office systems and procedures. More importantly, they were very easy to work with and struck an excellent balance between the constraints of the rules and pragmatism.