The Skilled Worker visa replaced the old Tier 2 (General) visa on 1 December 2020. Since then, the rights of European nationals to enter the UK, and subsequently live and work here, has changed, with such nationals now being subject to many of the restrictions non-European nationals previously faced. Whereas employers could previously rely on a European passport as evidence of an employee’s right to work, there will be an increasing number of European nationals requiring sponsorship by their employer. Employers are therefore now more likely than ever to require a Sponsor Licence in order to recruit overseas applicants or those in the UK currently subject to restrictions.
This article provides general advice to businesses who are considering applying for a Sponsor Licence and the process involved. In this article you will find guidance regarding:
- how to apply for a licence;
- the costs of an application;
- how long the process takes;
- which licence is suitable for your business;
- the Home Office’s criteria for granting a licence;
- the evidence to be submitted in support of the application;
- the different roles that you or your staff will need to take on under the licence; and
- the duties and obligations that come with holding a licence.
HOW DO I APPLY FOR A LICENCE?
The application is submitted through an online form, available on the Home Office website. A legal representative can assist with the form, but the application can only be submitted by the business intending to be the sponsor. If desired, the legal representative can be named in the application as a representative of the business.
After the online application is submitted, and the application fee is paid, a submission sheet will be emailed to the person submitting the application which must be printed and signed by the Authorising Officer. The signed sheet must then be emailed to the Home Office together with scans or pictures of the relevant supporting documents.
HOW MUCH DOES A SPONSOR LICENCE COST?
The application fee for a sponsor licence is subject to the size of the organisation. The fee for a small sponsor or a charity is currently £536, whereas a medium or large sized company will have to pay £1,476 for a Worker licence (but will pay £536 for a Temporary Worker licence).
There are additional charges for purchasing the priority service in order to get a faster decision (see below).
It should be borne in mind that the application fee is only in respect of getting the licence. Additional fees will be incurred when taking steps to sponsor an individual, including the costs of allocating their certificate of sponsorship (£199 for Workers and £21 for Temporary Workers) and in some cases the immigration skills charge, which will vary depending on the size of the organisation and the duration of the intended sponsorship. The immigration skills charge cannot be charged back to the employee.
If approved, the sponsor licence will be granted for an initial four years, and can be renewed every four years by paying the relevant application fee. It should be noted that most sponsored employees will need to have been in the UK for five years before they are eligible for permanent residence (indefinite leave to remain) which will not then require further sponsorship.
Some employers will also pay the sponsored applicant’s application fee and Immigration Health Surcharge when they submit their visa application, though this is not compulsory. If this is paid then it may be taxable as a benefit in kind, though this may depend on whether the applicant is already in the UK or not.
HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE TO GET THE LICENCE?
The Home Office will generally decide a sponsor licence application within 8 weeks of the submission of the application and payment of the application fee. You might be waiting for a decision on your application for up to 8 weeks.
Should you require a faster decision, you may apply to use the priority service for an additional fee of £500. Applications under the priority service will generally be determined within 10 working days of payment of the priority service fee. However, only 10 requests for the priority service are granted each day, on a first come first served basis, so there is no guarantee you will be able to purchase this service on the day of application.
If the application is approved, access to the sponsor licence system will be granted immediately and the relevant Level 1 user(s) will be sent their login details. They can then take the relevant steps to allocate the certificate of sponsorship to the candidate.
It should be noted that it is not possible to appeal against a decision not to grant a sponsor licence, and the application fee will not be refunded. The business will also be prevented from applying again for at least six months, though this could be longer in certain circumstances.
WHICH LICENCE SHOULD MY BUSINESS APPLY FOR?
There are a number of licences available, some of which may be more suitable in the particular circumstances of the business. Some licences can be applied for together (such as Skilled Worker and Intra Company Transfer) and others require a separate application.
To Recruit Workers
For sponsorship of permanent or long-term roles, the following licences are available:
- Skilled Worker – this is the general licence that will apply to the majority of employers in order to employ foreign individuals in skilled roles;
- Intra Company Transfer – suitable for multi-national companies who wish to transfer employees from one of their group companies overseas to the UK to undertake a skilled role;
- T2 Minister of Religion – suitable for religious establishments or organisations in the UK to recruit an overseas candidate in a key leading role (such as minister, missionary, etc);
- International Sportsperson – suitable for sponsorship of elite sportspersons or qualified sports coaches who are internationally established and can make a significant contribution to the development of their sport at its highest level in the UK. Temporary visas for sportspersons also require this licence.
To Recruit Temporary Workers
For sponsorship of temporary roles, including volunteering and job shadowing, or for meeting seasonal employment needs, the following Temporary Worker licences are available:
- Creative Worker – for businesses in the creative sector (e.g. arts, dance, music, entertainment, fashion);
- Government Authorised Exchange;
- International Agreement – for services covered under international law, such as domestic servants in diplomatic households, employees of overseas governments, etc.;
- Religious Worker – this excludes work as a minister of religion;
- Seasonal Worker – for workers in edible horticulture (though this route has recently been utilised by the government to assist with immediate supply issues in poultry production and haulage driving).
Sponsorship under the Temporary Worker routes is available for between 6 months and 24 months, depending on the particular route and requirements of the role.
WHAT CRITERIA DOES MY BUSINESS NEED TO MEET TO GET A SPONSOR LICENCE?
Generally, the Home Office will be assessing the application to determine if your business can be trusted to play its part in ensuring the immigration system is not abused. This includes ensuring that the business can demonstrably comply with its sponsor duties (see more on sponsor duties below).
In order to meet the eligibility and suitability criteria for a sponsor licence, all sponsors must:
- be genuine;
- have an operating or trading presence in the UK;
- have HR systems in place suitable to the size of their organisation;
- permit the Home Office the right to visit and conduct compliance checks on an immediate, unannounced basis;
- meet the specific requirements of the route(s) covered by the licence;
- skilled Worker and Intra Company Transfer applications will require evidence the business can offer genuine employment that meets the salary and skill-level criteria of the relevant route;
- not have an owner, director or a member of the Key Personnel (see further below) who has an unspent criminal conviction for a “relevant offence”, as defined in the Home Office’s guidance;
- not have previously failed to comply with immigration requirements.
WHAT EVIDENCE DOES MY BUSINESS NEED TO INCLUDE WITH THE APPLICATION?
In order to evidence that the business meets the eligibility and suitability criteria, the application will need to include at least four items of supporting evidence about the organisation as listed in Appendix A of the guidance. Exactly which items may be suitable will depend on the type of business applying: different requirements apply to (i) public authorities or listed companies, or (ii) start-ups, franchises or charities, and the relevant tier being applied for may also affect the evidential requirements.
If the company is legally required to submit audited accounts, one of the supporting documents must be the most recent set of audited accounts. Some of the more commonly submitted additional items for general businesses applying for Skilled Worker licences include: evidence of registration with HMRC as an employer for PAYE purposes; latest Company Tax Return; VAT registration certificate; latest business bank statement (with a supporting letter from the bank); proof of ownership or lease of business premises.
As well as this information about the business, the application will need to include details regarding the proposed job role and, if a particular candidate is already in mind, the candidate’s details. The application needs to include details as to why a licence is required by the business.
WHO IN MY BUSINESS SHOULD BE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE LICENCE?
As part of the application, the business is required to nominate its Key Personnel who will take on the following roles under the licence. The same individual can take on two or more of these roles if required:
- Authorising Officer – this person will have ultimate responsibility for the management of the licence and compliance with sponsorship duties. For this reason, it is advisable that the Authorising Officer be a senior person in the organisation with responsibility for or involvement in the company’s recruitment and HR management;
- Key Contact – this person is the main point of contact for the Home Office; and
- Level 1 User – each Level 1 user will have access to the online Sponsorship Management System, and will be responsible for the day-to-day management of the licence and sponsorship. Additional Level 1 users can be added later, as well as Level 2 users who can undertake more limited functions.
Each person must be based in the UK, but there is no requirement that they be British or be free from immigration control themselves. If a Key Person has past criminal convictions, or has had issues with the Home Office in the past, the Home Office may refuse the application.
WHAT DUTIES WILL MY BUSINESS OWE UNDER THE LICENCE?
All licensed sponsors must fulfil certain duties. Under some of the routes there may be additional duties to consider. These duties are in place to prevent abuse of immigration laws, identify any problems (such as troubling patterns of behaviour or weaknesses in process), and ensure compliance in the interests of the public.
Sponsors must report certain information via the SMS within strict time limits (usually 10 or 20 working days, depending on the nature of the issue). This can include changes to the organisation or to the sponsored employee’s role, as well as patterns of behaviour that cause concern (such as unexplained absences).
Sponsors are also responsible for maintaining records regarding each sponsored worker, such as their contracts and details of their salary, as well as evidence regarding the advertising of any role. In addition, sponsors must ensure compliance with the law generally (including employment law such as national minimum wage requirements) and immigration laws. Sponsors also must not act in a way that is not conducive to the public good, such as discriminating against groups or individuals on the basis of a protected characteristic such as age, race or sex.
As stated above, the Home Office can visit the employer’s premises at any time, before or after the sponsor licence is granted, to check that the business has suitable HR processes in place and is able to meets its obligations.
The Home Office is clear that the ability to sponsor foreign workers in the UK is a privilege that must be earned. Licences are therefore not granted by rote, and applications should be considered carefully, particularly where they are being made with the intention of recruiting an identified individual.
If you are considering a sponsor licence for your business, contact Matthew Cranton, Head of Immigration, who can advise you on your requirements and guide you through the process. We generally provide fixed fee quotes for licence applications, and can also assist your candidate(s) in preparing their applications on a fixed fee basis.