Explained: UK visa sponsorship licences for employers
With the post-Brexit immigration rules now in effect, UK employers must have a sponsor licence if they wish to employ EEA (European Economic Area) nationals who entered the UK on or after the 1st January 2021 if they do not have settled or pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme. The new points-based system replaces the EU free movement system and applies to all migration to the UK with the aim of facilitating the entry of skilled workers while making it more challenging for employers to hire from abroad for low-skilled vacancies.
In this guide, we will explain the requirements employers have to meet when making a sponsor licence application and the legal duties they have to comply with once they have secured the licence.
What is a Sponsor Licence?
Formerly known as a Tier 2 Sponsor Licence, a sponsor licence gives a UK employer legal permission to hire EU and non-EEA skilled workers. So, if you’re planning on bringing in talent in from the EEA, you must by law have a sponsor licence to do so.
In order to secure a sponsor licence, employers must apply to the Home Office with evidence to support their eligibility. Sponsorship licences will be granted by the Home Office if applicants meet the strict compliance requirements associated.
How can I apply for a Sponsor Licence?
To apply for a Sponsor Licence, head over the government’s dedicated webpage. As part of the application process, you will be asked to submit at least 4 documents from the Home Office designated list. The documents you will need will ultimately depend on several factors.
For instance, if your company has been operating in the UK for less than 18 months, you may not have the documentation that a well-established UK business will have, and so there may be some flexibility as to which documents you provide. If your company is required by law to be registered to a designated regulatory body, you will need to submit evidence that shows registration for all offices/branches that you intend to include in the sponsor licence.
During the application process, you will need to specify which roles you are currently recruiting for and which ones you wish to assign a Certificate of Sponsorship for. If you have already selected a candidate you wish to employ, you will also need to provide details of the individual and state how they were identified.
How long will an application for a sponsor licence take?
Once your application has been submitted, you can expect an average processing time of 8 weeks. Often, applications are processed faster than this within around 2-3 weeks. If necessary, the Home Office may conduct an on-site visit to ensure your business meets the criteria.
What are the criteria to qualify for a Sponsor Licence?
In order to make your application for a sponsor licence, you will need to show that your company meets the relevant criteria. The Home Office has four criteria for which companies need to meet if they are to secure a sponsor licence. These are as follows:
- The company must be a genuine organisation operating legally in the UK. The Home Office must be able to visit the organisation to conduct checks to ensure sponsor duties are being met on an immediate basis.
- The company must have the appropriate recruitment and HR systems in place to meet compliance requirements as a sponsor;
- The company must be able to offer a genuine vacancy which meets the criteria of the category the sponsor is applying to be licenced for;
- The key personnel of the company have no unspent criminal convictions and are deemed honest and dependable.
What happens once a sponsor licence is approved?
If your sponsor licence application is approved, you will be notified and receive an A-rated licence. This is the highest rating and is awarded by the Home Office to trusted organisations which have proved that they have the necessary systems in place to comply with sponsor duties. As part of your duties as a sponsor, you will need to maintain this rating throughout the duration of the licence. If the Home Office finds that a business is not complying with sponsor duties, it may be downgraded to a B-rating. A B-rated sponsor will need to meet a time-limited action plan to regain their A-rating. If they cannot meet the requirements of the action plan within the specified timeframe, the licence will be revoked.
Once approved, you will receive access to your sponsor licence from the Home Office’s dedicated portal, where you will be able to issue Certificates of Sponsorships when employing both EEA and non-EEA nationals.
How do I comply with sponsor licence duties?
As a licenced sponsor, your duties will include:
- Reporting duties
- Record keeping duties
- Complying with immigration laws and all parts of the Worker and Temporary Worker sponsorship guidance
- Compliance with wider UK law
- Not engaging in behaviour or actions that are not conducive to the public good
As was the case prior to Brexit, employers will need to perform right to work checks on their employees. Keeping a record of these right to work checks along with the date the check was performed is critical in evidencing compliance to the rules, and employers should ensure copies of employee identification documents are made, ideally in colour, to support their checks.
For passports, copy the page with the expiry date and the applicant’s nationality, date of birth and photograph. For all other documents, a complete copy should be made.
If you fail to comply with your sponsor duties, the Home Office may take action against you. This could be a reduction on your Certificate of Sponsorship allocation, downgrading your licence rating, suspending your licence, revoking your licence or reporting your company to the relevant authorities.
If you need assistance in setting up processes to ensure compliance, seek help from a specialist business immigration lawyer.
Who should manage the sponsor licence?
In order to maintain compliance with your sponsor licence duties, you will need to appoint members of your company to manage the sponsorship process. Roles to be assigned are:
Authorising Officer – a senior member of personnel responsible for ensuring that all of your sponsor duties are met.
Key contact – the primary contact with UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI)
Level 1 user – the person responsible for all day-to-day management of the sponsor licence.
You can appoint one person to undertake all three roles or different people.
If approved, how long is a sponsor licence valid for?
From the date it is officially approved, your sponsor licence is valid for four years.
After expiry, you will have the opportunity to renew your sponsor licence.
During these four years, we recommend working closely with an immigration lawyer to ensure all sponsor duties are met and training is provided to personnel with regards to the wider UK immigration rules.
Immigration lawyers for businesses
Here at 360 Law Services, we pride ourselves in helping a diverse range of organisations to take advantage of the global talent pool and maintain compliance with the new immigration rules. Our specialist immigration solicitors can assist you throughout your application for a sponsor licence and provide bespoke legal advice on meeting your duties as a sponsor.
Use the form at the bottom of the page to get in touch and arrange a free consultation.
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