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Apply for a Sponsor Licence

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Experiencing recruitment issues? Need to employ EU workers or non-EEA workers? Applying for a first sponsor licence to recruit skilled migrant workers is a bit daunting without expert business immigration legal advice. Here’s our guide on applying for a sponsor licence to sponsor overseas workers on skilled worker visas.

UK Online and London Based Immigration Solicitors  

For specialist advice on applying for a sponsor licence call the immigration law team at OTS Solicitors on 0203 959 9123 or contact us online. Appointments are available by phone or video call.

Applying for a sponsorship licence

To employ non-EEA workers or EU migrants ( if the EU national isn’t eligible to apply for settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme) your company will need a sponsor licence issued by the Home Office.

Once your company has been granted a sponsor licence you will be able to sponsor skilled migrant workers on skilled worker visas.

Most HR directors don’t have the time to read and study the lengthy Home Office guidance on applying for a sponsorship licence. Even if you have previously applied for a sponsor licence you can't rely on your understanding of the guidance from a few years ago to now secure a sponsorship licence. That’s because the Home Office guidance is regularly updated. For example, you may have last taken the lead in a sponsor licence application to recruit non-EEA workers on Tier 2 (General) visas. The immigration rules and guidance have now changed with the introduction of the skilled worker visa and the points-based immigration system in January 2021.

If you want to ensure a quick and efficient sponsor licence application its best to take expert immigration law advice.

Sponsoring workers on the skilled worker visa

The skilled worker visa has replaced the Tier 2 (General) visa. Although existing Tier 2 (General) visa holders can continue in sponsored employment until the expiry of their work visa and companies with current sponsor licences to employ Tier 2 (General) visa applicants can also recruit applicants on skilled worker visas, any new company sponsorship licence application is granted to sponsor employees on skilled worker visas.

Employing overseas workers without a sponsorship licence

If your company employs a non-EEA worker or a EU worker who is subject to UK immigration control without the necessary Home Office issued sponsor licence then the company will be in breach of illegal working legislation. This will not only result in penalties but will also affect the prospects of success of any future sponsor licence application.

What type of sponsor licence is required?

Before submitting a sponsor licence application, it is best to think through the type of sponsor licence required. For example, if you are a multi-national company, you may require a sponsor licence to sponsor workers on intra company transfer visas as well as recruiting new overseas recruits on skilled worker visas. Alternatively, your company may need to sponsor Tier 5 temporary workers as well as skilled worker visa applicants.  You can apply for the different types of licence separately or at the same time but it is normally more efficient to apply for  all the types of sponsorship licence required simultaneously. That way delays in recruitment will be minimised.

Individuals and sponsor licence applications

An application for a sponsor licence can't be made by an individual. However, a company or partnership or business of any size can apply to the Home Office for a sponsor licence.

Businesses and sponsor licence applications 

The Home Office guidance sets out the basic eligibility criteria for a UK business to apply for a sponsorship licence, namely:

  • The business is genuine and is operating and trading lawfully in the UK. This means that the company can't be a sham company although there is no requirement that a company has to be trading for a minimum period before being eligible to apply for a sponsor licence. The company does have to meet basic legal requirements, such as registration with companies house if it is a limited company
  • The business must be based in the UK . If the company doesn’t have a physical base in the UK (for example, because of the nature of the business but it does require workers in the UK) it’s best to get legal advice on whether the company meets the eligibility criteria and how best to present the sponsor licence application.

Does your business meet the suitability criteria for a sponsorship licence?

Its best to take a long hard look at your business and question whether:

  • The business has the HR practices and procedures in place to carry out the required reporting and recording duties required under the sponsor licence. If the business doesn’t, it is best to invest the time in getting the procedures right or alternatively outsourcing the sponsor licence duties to a sponsor licence management Immigrationsolicitors provide this sort of specialist service, being experts in understanding the sponsor licence reporting and recording duties. If your business wants to manage their sponsor licence duties in-house bespoke sponsor licence training can be provided to ensure HR staff fully understand the Home Office imposed reporting and recording duties under the sponsorship licence.
  • The business has the right senior staff and junior staff to operate the sponsor licence. Key personnel will need to be appointed to oversee the sponsorship licence. Those key people will be subject to Home Office checks. In addition, the Home Office will want to be satisfied that the business isn’t a threat to immigration controls.
  • The business has recruitment needs to offering genuine job vacancies that meet the eligibility criteria for the skilled worker visa. For example, the jobs meet the minimum salary threshold and the skill criteria for a skilled worker visa.

How does a business prove it has a genuine vacancy? 

Under the Tier 2 (General) visa immigration rules a sponsor licence holder had to conduct a resident labour market test to prove that the vacancy they were filling with an overseas job candidate was a genuine vacancy. This test isn’t required when sponsoring a skilled migrant worker on a skilled worker visa but the business still has to prove that their job vacancy is genuine.

To meet the test of genuine vacancy, the business will need to be able to show that:

  • The job is on the government produced list of standard occupation codes.
  • The job vacancy fits the nature of the business. For example, a garage may require a mechanic but do they really require someone with the technical and mechanical skills that meets one of the jobs with a shortage occupation code? Is it a case of a business over exaggerating the skill required to ensure that the job qualifies for a skilled worker visa?
  • The job role and salary fit the eligibility criteria for a skilled worker visa.

It is important to remember that a business can't change a job role so that it no longer qualifies for a skilled worker visa once the skilled migrant worker starts work. That is because the job has to remain ’genuine’ for the life of the sponsor licence and the skilled worker visa. Also, during Home Office audits, employees can be interviewed and questioned about their job role. The information provided is then checked against the job description on the certificate of sponsorship.

Duties of a business with a sponsor licence

When applying for a sponsorship licence, it is essential to realise that the business is committing to working in a particular way in order to comply with Home Office issued sponsor licence duties. That may require significant change or only minor adaptations to current procedures.

The duties of a business with a sponsorship licence are:

  • Record keeping
  • Monitoring
  • Reporting
  • Notifying or telling the Home Office of changes in circumstances. That includes business change in circumstances or the circumstances of a sponsored employee.

Monitoring and reporting sponsor licence duties

Attention to detail is vital when complying with Home Office monitoring and reporting sponsor licence duties. It is essential to have HR processes in place and sufficient key personnel to track and monitor sponsored employees. That’s because there is a duty to report, within ten working days, if a sponsored employee doesn’t do certain things, such as:

  • Doesn’t start work on the date of commencement of employment.
  • Has ten days consecutive unauthorised absence.
  • Resigns or leaves the employment of the business.
  • Is in breach of the conditions of their visa.

In addition to reporting on employees, the business also has to report changes in business circumstances. For example, a change in business address or the departure of key personnel and their replacement.

Key personnel for sponsor licence management

When applying for a sponsor licence a business needs to nominate individuals who will be key personnel to manage the sponsor licence reporting and recording duties. The key personnel roles are:

  • Authorising officer - someone who is a business owner or is in a senior position in the business. The authorising officer should preferably have HR knowledge and responsibilities within the business given the nature of the role of the authorising officer.
  • Key contact – the person nominated as the person that the Home Office should approach in the business over any queries about the operation of the sponsor licence. If preferred, the key contact can be the business’s immigration solicitor.
  • Level 1 user – the role of a level 1 user is to manage information placed on the sponsor management system. Although when applying for the sponsor licence the level 1 user must be an employee of the company once the sponsor licence has been granted an additional user can be appointed, for example, a business immigration

Key personnel can carry out more than one nominated task. The important point when applying for a sponsor licence is to choose your key personnel with care as their selection can mean the success or failure of your sponsor licence application. Their appointment is crucial from the Home Office perspective as they are relying on the key personnel to honestly and efficiently manage the sponsor licence and sponsored employees. Given the significance of the key personnel roles the Home Office requires the key personnel to be:

  • Permanently based in the UK whilst appointed as key personnel.
  • An owner or employee of the business (or in some cases the immigration solicitor) but not , for example, agency staff or a sub-contractor or freelancer.
  • Free from unspent criminal convictions for what are referred to as ‘relevant immigration offences’. The Home Office will conduct checks on the nominated key personnel.

If a business is in any doubt about the naming of key personnel in its sponsor licence application its best to take specialist business immigration legal advice before submission of the sponsorship application to the Home Office to avoid the application being delayed or refused. Immigration solicitors will tell you that as the Home Office officials will check records and immigration matters it is crucial that you know the background of your nominated key personnel. For example, your selected authorising officer may be a recent senior appointment employed to oversee HR activities and recruitment. However, if the business they previously worked for had their sponsor licence suspended or revoked, whilst they were the authorising officer, their appointment as your authorising officer in your sponsor licence application may result in your application being refused.

When to apply for a sponsor licence

UK businesses often question how they can apply for a sponsor licence without first having a potential job applicant from overseas who they would like to offer a job to, subject to the job applicant meeting the eligibility criteria for the skilled worker visa and the job candidate securing their work visa.

Immigration solicitors will tell you that it doesn’t matter if you submit a sponsorship licence application before you have identified the potential overseas skilled migrant workers that your business wants to recruit because if the business knows, for example, that because of an industry wide UK skills shortages overseas recruitment will be needed, it can be advantageous to apply for a sponsor licence either prior to or during the recruitment process.

Either approach can result in a successful sponsor licence application provided, of course, that the sponsor licence application is completely correctly with detailed information and supporting statement and accompanied by the right paperwork  and fees.

The bottom line is that a sponsor licence requires time and attention to detail. If you are uncertain whether your HR staff have either the time, experience or knowledge of the sponsor licence application process it is best to get expert legal advice on your sponsor licence application and the option of using a sponsor licence management service to manage the sponsor licence for you.

UK Online and London Based Immigration Solicitors  

For specialist advice on making a sponsor licence application call the immigration law team at OTS Solicitors on 0203 959 9123 or contact us online. Appointments are available by phone or video call.

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