Ronald Fletcher Baker’s Immigration Team presents a concise overview of the process for businesses to obtain and maintain a UK sponsorship licence.
UK Sponsorship Licences: What are they and how do I obtain one for my business?
In recent times, there has been a growing demand for sponsorship licences due to various factors such as the closure of certain business immigration routes and other changes in immigration law after Brexit, including the cessation of freedom of movement within the United Kingdom (UK).
Since the conclusion of the transition period after Brexit on 31 December 2020, there have been notable developments in immigration law and policy. Consequently, there has been a notable surge in sponsorship licence applications. According to the Home Office's UK Visa and Immigration Transparency data for Q3 2022, the number of sponsorship licence holders in these routes has risen from 30,278 at the end of Q4 2020 to 49,916 at the end of Q3 2022. This represents a significant 65% increase in the number of UK sponsorship licence applications submitted after the termination of freedom of movement for UK and European Economic Area (EEA) nationals.
To enable the sponsorship of migrant workers or students on sponsored work visas or student visas, it is imperative for UK employers and educational institutions to possess a valid sponsorship licence issued by the Home Office. When applying for such a licence, a company must effectively demonstrate that it is a lawfully operating and trading entity within the UK. This entails providing evidence of the company's legal status and compliance with the necessary regulations and requirements. By obtaining a sponsorship licence, businesses and educational institutions can legally sponsor individuals to work or study in the UK under the designated visa categories.
Having a thorough understanding of sponsorship duties is crucial for all sponsors, considering the heightened compliance monitoring and checks conducted by the Home Office before granting a sponsorship licence. In order to mitigate the risk of having its sponsorship licence application refused or, in the event of approval, suspended or revoked at a later stage, it is advisable for sponsors to invest in sponsorship licence training or undergo a mock audit.
Sponsorship licence holders are expected to maintain an effective human resources (HR) system that enables them to track and generate reports for submission to the Home Office. Given the current circumstances, which have witnessed an increase in redundancies as well as changes in job roles and salaries, it has become even more important for sponsors to have robust HR systems in place. This ensures compliance with the requirements for sponsorship holders and helps sponsorship holders proactively address any potential issues or changes that may impact their sponsorship obligations.
If your business is already a sponsorship licence holder
For businesses that already hold a sponsorship licence and engage in recruitment from outside the UK, it is advisable to conduct a thorough review of their immigration compliance measures. This includes ensuring that the existing systems are running smoothly and are adequately prepared to handle a potential rise in the number of employees requiring visa sponsorship.
By proactively reviewing immigration compliance, businesses can identify any areas that may require improvement or adjustment. This may involve updating internal processes, enhancing record-keeping systems, and ensuring that relevant staff members are well-versed in immigration regulations and procedures. Taking these steps not only helps to maintain compliance with sponsorship obligations but also minimises the risk of facing civil penalties or potential revocation of the sponsorship licence.
How to maintain compliance with sponsor obligations
How you wish to maintain compliance with your sponsor obligations often depends on the size and scale of your business and your migrant intake. The Home Office does not mandate how compliance processes should be carried out, only that they are adhered to. This therefore provides sponsors with flexibility as to how they design and implement compliance processes, which in part often complement existing HR policies.
Day-to-day sponsor requirements include (but are not limited to):
- Right to work checks and visa expiry tracking;
- Tracking employee whereabouts and using a system that records absences;
- Reporting corporate and employee changes in circumstances; and
- Retaining documentation.
A key aspect of the sponsorship licence application process is ensuring that you understand the compliance responsibilities involved in holding a sponsorship licence, not least because at some stage the Home Office is likely to attend your offices to carry out a compliance check or audit. Depending on the outcome of that audit, your sponsorship licence could be downgraded, suspended or revoked, all of which will have an impact on you as a sponsor and any sponsored employees.
Please scroll down to read our FAQs.
1. How can I sponsor a skilled worker from abroad?
The initial step towards sponsoring skilled workers from overseas is to apply for a sponsorship licence from the Home Office. Once your sponsorship licence has been granted, you will have the ability to sponsor skilled workers from abroad.
If you are a company or an employer seeking guidance on the sponsorship licence application process, our dedicated team of business immigration solicitors at Ronald Fletcher Baker can provide expert advice and assistance. With our extensive experience, we have successfully helped clients from various sectors obtain sponsor licences, including assisting clients with applications which have been deemed complex by the Home Office.
2. What are the requirements to be UK sponsorship licence holder and how can I make a seamless application to obtain a sponsorship licence?
The process of obtaining a sponsorship licence can be complex and overwhelming, often resulting in refusals due to insufficient documentary evidence or misinterpretation of eligibility criteria and recruitment conditions. However, our team can provide expert advice and guidance to ensure a seamless application to the Home Office, making the process smooth and timely for you.
When considering your business's sponsorship licence application, the Home Office will assess the following factors:
- Genuine Organisation: Are you a legitimate and law-abiding entity operating in the UK?
- Leading Personnel: Are your key personnel trustworthy, reliable, and of good character?
- HR Procedures and Recruitment Practices: Do you have effective HR procedures and recruitment practices in place to fulfil your sponsorship duties?
- Key Personnel: Have you identified and named the relevant Key Personnel in your application?
- Compliance Capability: Are you capable of fulfilling your sponsor duties and providing evidence of your compliance?
- Genuine Employment: Can you offer genuine employment opportunities that meet the skilled worker level and adhere to appropriate rates of pay?
When the Home Office grants you a sponsorship licence, it places significant trust in your organisation and expects collaboration in maintaining effective immigration control.
By entrusting us with the complexities of the paperwork involved in the sponsorship licence application and subsequent management, your company can focus on the day-to-day operations and profitability of the business. We streamline the process, ensuring compliance and enabling you to navigate the intricacies of the sponsorship scheme effectively.
3. What are the requirements for a sponsor to apply for a Certificate of Sponsorship for a migrant worker?
To employ a migrant worker through the skilled worker route, the sponsor needs to apply for a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) by fulfilling the following requirements:
- Job Offer from a Licensed Sponsor: The individual must have a job offer from a Home Office licensed sponsor, which in this case would be your business as the sponsor.
- Required Skill Level: The job offer should be at the required skill level of RQF 3 or above, equivalent to A Level or higher qualifications.
- English Language Proficiency: The migrant worker must possess the necessary knowledge of English to meet the required standard.
- Minimum Salary Threshold: The job being offered must meet the applicable minimum salary threshold.
A skilled worker visa application operates on a points-based system, allowing for potential trade-offs between certain requirements. For instance, a migrant worker may compensate for having a lower salary by having higher qualifications than those required to achieve the required number of points in the application. Generally, a minimum of 70 points is necessary to apply for skilled worker status and work in the UK.
Our team can provide expert guidance on navigating the points-based system, ensuring that your sponsorship application and the corresponding Certificate of Sponsorship meet the necessary requirements.
4. What are some of the ongoing duties and responsibilities of sponsorship licence holders?
Licensed sponsors have several ongoing duties and responsibilities, including:
- Reporting Duties:
I) Sponsors are required to fulfil reporting obligations, which involve notifying the Home Office of any changes to a sponsored worker's circumstances within 10 working days of the relevant event. This includes changes to salary, job title, work location, or job description (provided it remains within the same government Standard Occupational Code). If the role changes to a different code, a new Certificate of Sponsorship and visa application will be necessary.
II) Reporting to the Home Office on any changes to the organisation within 20 working days of the relevant event occurring unless otherwise stated in the Home Office policy guidance. Such changes include replacing your Authorising Officer or Key Contact, amending your current Authorising Officer’s or Key Contact’s details, amending your organisation’s details, such as its name or the name of any branches, address, contact details, or head office details and informing the Home Office about any changes to the structure of the organisation, such as more branches or sites or new linked entities in the UK.
- Record-Keeping Duties: Sponsors must maintain proper records and documentation relating to sponsored workers, including their right to work in the UK, contact details, and immigration status. These records should be accessible for inspection by the Home Office.
- Compliance with UK Immigration and Wider Laws: Sponsors must adhere to UK immigration law and policy, including the Worker and Temporary Worker sponsor guidance provided by the Home Office. They are also expected to comply with wider UK laws.
- Conducive to the Public Good: Sponsors should refrain from engaging in actions or behaviours that are not conducive to the public good. This includes upholding ethical standards and maintaining a responsible approach to immigration practices.
Our team can provide comprehensive guidance on fulfilling these ongoing duties and responsibilities, ensuring compliance with the requirements of your sponsorship licence.
5. How do I, as an employer, take steps to prevent illegal working?
Illegal working is a very serious issue with grave consequences for the employers and employees involved. Without having the proper checks and processes in place, illegal working can happen anywhere – contrary to what the media might have us think about it only happening in the dingy kitchens of fast-food joints. Not only is illegal working a criminal offence – for which an employer can receive a custodial sentence of 5 years and a large fine if they are found guilty of employing someone, they had reasonable cause to believe did not have the right to work – but it can also have devastating impacts on a business.
To prevent illegal working, you can take the following steps:
- Conduct Valid Right to Work Checks: Prior to employing an individual or on the first day of work, ensure that you conduct a valid Right to Work check. This involves checking the person's original passport (including British citizens) and, for migrant workers, the visa i.e. the Biometric Residence Permit (BRP). Retain evidence of these checks on file. If a migrant worker does not have a BRP, review the worker’s original passport along with the Home Office decision letter and conduct an online Right to Work check on the government website.
- Adhere to Work Restrictions: For migrants with limited work restrictions, such as students who are typically allowed to work a maximum of 20 hours per week, it is essential to ensure compliance with these restrictions. Monitor and verify that they are adhering to the prescribed limitations.
- Time-Limited Permissions: If a migrant worker's permission to work is time-limited, conduct follow-up Right to Work checks to ensure that you do not employ the migrant unlawfully beyond the expiration of the visa. It is crucial to track visa expiry dates and take appropriate action.
By conducting valid Right to Work checks, you establish a statutory excuse against civil penalties for employing individuals illegally, should such penalties be imposed.
Our team can provide comprehensive guidance on conducting proper Right to Work checks and ensuring compliance with immigration regulations, helping you safeguard your business and prevent illegal working.
6. How can Ronald Fletcher Baker’s Immigration team assist my business in obtaining a sponsorship licence or if my business is already a licensed sponsor, to renew and retain the licence?
Ronald Fletcher Baker’s specialist business immigration team can assist you in securing and later renewing and retaining a UK sponsorship licence and will be able to guide you through the process step by step.
We have experience of assisting clients from a wide variety of sectors including clients in the technology, financial services, legal services, media, sport and food industries. If you instruct us to assist you with an application for a sponsorship licence, we will handle everything for you so that you can focus on effectively running your business and we will streamline the process for you. Once you have secured your UK sponsorship licence, we will assist you with the day-to-day running of your licence and the online Sponsorship Management System for the next 3 years at no additional cost. We would only charge for assistance with future visa applications for any migrants you wish to sponsor in the future.
We can also assist on ad hoc basis with mock audits at the pre-licence and post-licence stage and advise on ongoing compliance issues and the management of an existing licence. In terms of mock audits, we will put our Home Office hats on (!) and attend your premises – location permitting – and meet you and your team to assess your HR record keeping systems and policies and question you about your current practices and future intentions for the business. We will also provide you with tailored advice on how to improve your systems and on what the Home Office is looking for from you as a future UK sponsorship licence holder. Our advice is based on our professional experience working in the field over many years
Please do not hesitate to contact the below members of our immigration team if you have questions on the above or require legal advice and assistance with applying for or maintaining a UK sponsorship licence.