At the end of last week on 9 April 2020, the Government published new guidance for employers reminding us that, despite being in the grip of a global pandemic, we need to prepare for the future and a new immigration landscape.
The timing of the announcement will, no doubt, prove controversial for many employers who are currently focusing on surviving the COVID-19 crisis and dealing with furlough questions. However, the Government is intent on pressing forward with their plans for a new immigration system.
A quick recap of the main points of the new regime:
- From January 2021, a new points-based immigration system will apply to all non-UK Nationals, including EU citizens, arriving in the UK.
- Under the new system, applicants will need to earn a minimum salary of £25,600, have a job offer and speak English to a required level to qualify for a visa.
- There are exceptions to the rules for those with roles on the UK Shortage Occupation List.
- From January 2021, in order to employ anyone who is not a UK national employers will require a Sponsorship Licence.
Does this affect the EU staff who we already employ?
No, existing EU staff who are already in the UK by 31 December 2020 will need to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme before 30 June 2021. Employers will still be able to accept passports and national identity cards of EU citizens as evidence of their right to work up until 30 June 2021.
Do we need a Sponsorship Licence and if so, what is it?
If you are planning to recruit a new employee from January 2021 who is a non UK national, from the EU or elsewhere in the world, you will require a Sponsorship Licence.
Many employers who currently employ migrants from outside the UK and the EU will be familiar with the Sponsorship Licence. It is the initial permission granted by the Home Office or UK Visa and Immigration Authority (UKVI) for an employer to hire skilled nationals from non EEA countries under the current Tier 2 Visa UK immigration route. Employers must make an application to the UKVI to evidence their eligibility, appoint key existing personnel to manage the licence and meet the extremely strict reporting and record keeping requirements imposed by the UKVI.
The current cost of obtaining a licence is £1476 and the timeframe from submission to successful grant can be 8-12 weeks.
In addition to the Government fee, employers are obliged to pay an Immigration Skills Charge of £1,000 for each year of the migrant’s visa, which in most cases will be 5 years, so £5,000.
The application process consists of submitting an online form, accompanied by a number of original documents to establish that the company is genuine, which can involve an audit by the UKVI.
The entire process is far from straightforward and business infrastructure and compliance is key.
Under the current UK Immigration regime, for those UK employers who are successful in their sponsorship licence application, there are still additional hurdles to overcome before a skilled migrant can be successfully appointed.
- the Resident Labour Market Test, a recruitment test to ensure that the domestic labour market is not undercut and;
- the Restricted COS application, a monthly application by an employer to apply for a visa from a quota of 20,700 per annum.
Fortunately for employers, these restrictions are to be removed under the new regime post January 2021.
However, despite the removal of these restrictions, for those employers unfamiliar with the sponsorship regime, the bureaucracy and cost of having to comply with the new immigration system will be significant.
The Government has indicated that they understand that this is a very busy time when businesses are rightly focused on their response to COVID-19 and recognise that employers will not be able to fully engage with the immigration plans. However, it is of course important that employers take steps to prepare.
How do we prepare as a business?
We are advising all employers who do not already hold a Sponsorship Licence to register as soon as possible. This is because there are an estimated 900,000 UK employers who will need to apply and given that we are less than 8 months away from the new system, and the current processing times are up to 2 months, we are expecting a significant backlog.
In addition, compiling the relevant documentation is time consuming and in our experience, clients experience significant internal delays in this stage of the process, ultimately delaying their application.
Employers need to submit their applications well ahead of the new immigration system coming into force as there will be an inevitable last minute scramble to register at the end of the year. Whilst it might seem counter-intuitive, with employees on furlough and business facing an uncertain future now might be a good time to prepare to make an application.
Our experienced Business Immigration Team are available to help with advice and assistance on all aspects of the sponsorship application and other immigration issues. Please contact Claire Taylor-Evans for further information on [email protected]
Consistent with our policy when giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we recommend that professional advice be sought.