Businesses wishing to recruit workers from overseas post January 2021 must become registered, licensed sponsors in post-Brexit Britain. Are you ready, asks Gemma Hill, senior solicitor at local law firm Hewitsons.
Having left the EU in January, the UK is now in a transition period in which overseas workers can continue to live and work here.
Despite calls to do so, the government has stated that there will not be any extension to the transition period, which will end on 31 December.
This means that from January, all overseas workers who wish to come to the UK to live and work will be subject to a points-based system. This system will enable skilled workers who have an offer of employment from a licensed sponsor to live and work here, subject to certain eligibility requirements.
As an employer, if you wish to recruit workers from the EU or further afield from 1 January 2021, and you are not already a licensed sponsor, you should consider making an application to the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) to become one.
Becoming a licensed sponsor carries several onerous responsibilities and so it is important to consider whether your business is willing and able to comply with such obligations before you apply.
To apply to be a business sponsor, you must:
- Be a genuine business, operating legally in the UK
- Have a genuine role to offer to a migrant worker which meets the skills requirements of at least RQF Level 3 and the accompanying salary requirements
- Have appropriate HR systems in place to satisfy the UKVI that your business in not a threat to immigration control and that you will meet your immigration compliance responsibilities as a sponsor
- Be able to appoint key personnel roles to manage your sponsor licence
The UKVI requires licence holders to comply with various reporting and record-keeping obligations and may undertake a compliance audit, either before your application has been granted or once your sponsor licence has been issued.
Before applying for a licence, it is key that you ensure your current processes and records are up to date. You should:
- Consider in detail why your business wishes to hold a sponsor licence. What vacancies would you intend to recruit migrant workers into? Would those vacancies meet the eligibility requirements?
- Consider whether you have suitable HR processes in place to comply with the record-keeping and reporting duties. Are the contracts of employment and other employment documentation for staff up to date and easy to locate? Do you have the record-keeping systems in place to enable you to keep track of key dates, staff absences and changes in employee circumstances?
- Ensure that your right to work checks are being undertaken in line with the UKVI guidance, that the appropriate records are kept and that such records are up to date and easy to locate.
- Consider which staff would be appropriate to appoint to the key personnel roles, whether they would meet the eligibility requirements and be able to manage the obligations placed on them within such roles.
Failure to comply with your sponsor duties can lead not only to the suspension or revocation of your licence, but also potential civil penalties and criminal convictions in respect of illegal working.
It usually takes around eight weeks for an application to be approved, although the UKVI is likely to receive an influx of applications in the lead up to January which could lead to delays in applications being granted, leaving some employers unable to recruit workers from outside the UK for some time.
If your business may need to continuing recruiting workers from outside the UK from January, our advice would therefore be to start looking into the sponsor licence application process as soon as possible.
For further advice or assistance, please contact Hewitsons on 01223 461155.