With the ending of free movement between the UK and EU at the start of 2021, as a result of Brexit, more employers are now applying to become licensed sponsors, allowing them to recruit EU and non-EU nationals. In this article, we will explain the new post-Brexit Skilled Worker sponsorship rules and the process for securing a sponsor license.
What Has Changed In The Skilled Worker Sponsorship Rules For 2021?
Several changes affecting the sponsorship of migrant workers came into effect in 2021, as follows:
• There is no requirement for sponsoring employers to carry out a resident labour market test (RLMT) for any migrant workers. This reduces both the time and cost involved in recruiting overseas employees
• There is no longer a cap on the number of Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS) for skilled workers
• The skill level, which must be met by employees, has been reduced from RQF level 6 to RQF level 3. This means that employers can now recruit overseas workers for roles that require skills equivalent to A-level (this was previously degree level), hence significantly widening the range of jobs for which you can recruit overseas
• The minimum salary requirement for a foreign worker has been reduced to £25,600 (this is lower in some circumstances).
What Are The Eligibility Requirements For A UK Sponsor License?
There are two main aspects to the eligibility requirements,  which must be met in order for UK employers to secure a sponsor license. Firstly there are a set of general requirements related to the suitability of prospective sponsor license holders, and secondly, there are compliance requirements that must be met.
General suitability requirements for a sponsor license
When initially assessing an application for a sponsor license, the Home Office will first check that the applicant has no unspent criminal convictions for immigration offences. They will also confirm that they have not committed certain other crimes, such as fraud or money laundering. From an immigration perspective, if the applicant has previously held a sponsor license, the Home Office will check that this was not revoked (i.e. cancelled due to non-compliance) in the last year. They will also want to see that the business applying for a sponsor license intends to adhere to immigration and general UK law at all times and does not intend to "engage in behaviour or actions that are not conducive to the public good  ". Assuming there are no suitability grounds that may prevent the application from being processed, the next set of requirements to be considered relate to conformity with the Home Office compliance requirements for license holders.
Compliance with the sponsor license rules
Before issuing a sponsor license, the Home Office will want to see that your business is ready and able to meet its compliance requirements for sponsoring overseas workers. To meet this requirement, you will need to ensure that your business:
• Has processes in place to ensure that only eligible workers are given a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS)
• Has the systems in place to keep up to date records of your sponsored staff (including their contact details and attendance)
• Have nominated key personnel who can manage the Home Office's online Sponsor Management System (SMS)
• Has processes in place to ensure that changes of circumstances are reported to the Home Office
The principal aim of the Home Office duties is to ensure that sponsoring businesses play their part in ensuring that the immigration system is fair and not abused. The rules are clear that "Sponsorship is a privilege, not a right . The sponsorship system reflects that those who benefit directly from migration (employers, education providers or other organisations who bring in overseas nationals) should play their part in ensuring the immigration system is not abused. Significant trust is placed in sponsors, and they must ensure they comply with immigration law and wider UK law, and not behave in a manner that is not conducive to the wider public good".
What Are The Penalties If My Business Does Not Remain Compliant With The Sponsor Duties?
If the Home Office caseworker assessing your application has reason to believe that your business is unable to meet the compliance requirements of the Home Office, then it is likely to be refused. Hence, it is vitally important to do all you can before submitting your application to ensure you can pass a pre-compliance visit. If required, you can engage the services of an immigration lawyer to carry out a mock-audit of your premises to ensure you are compliant.
Once you have your license, complying with your sponsorship duties will remain an ongoing task. For this reason, it is important to undertake a regular review and mock audits of your systems and processes. Home Office compliance officers may carry out a formal onsite check with or without notice, hence it is important to be ready at all times. The penalties for failure to meet the compliance requirements are as follows:
• downgrading your licence rating
• suspending your licence pending further investigation
• revoking your licence
• reporting you to the police or other relevant authorities
If you have been advised that your license is at risk due to non-compliance, it is recommended that you seek the expertise of an immigration Solicitor to handle the matter for you. They can ensure the problem is resolved to the standard required and deal with the Home Office on your behalf.
While Brexit has removed the ability for businesses to hire low skilled migrants from the EU under free movement, the changes to the sponsor license rules for 2021 have made it easier to hire skilled workers from around the world. The removal of caps and the need to carry out RLMTs coupled with the lowering of skills and salary thresholds means that more skilled migrant workers will be able to come to the UK on a Skilled Worker visa (previously the Tier 2 General visa).