Two weeks ago on 18th May 2020, the Government’s controversial Immigration Bill was voted through the House of Commons, reminding us that, despite the industry being in the grip of a global pandemic, it still needs to prepare for the future and a new immigration landscape.
This will be unwelcome news for many businesses in the Leisure and Hospitality industry whose priorities will inevitably be focused on simply surviving the COVID-19 crisis. However, the Government is intent on pressing forward with their plans for a new immigration system and businesses need to ensure that they take steps to prepare now to avoid any further restrictions on their ability to operate, grow and recruit in a post-COVID future.
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 all UK 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?
Many Leisure and Hospitality employers may be unfamiliar with the concept of a Sponsorship Licence, having primarily filled their vacancies with candidates from the European Economic Area “EEA”, who have historically been able to work within the UK under Freedom of Movement rules. With the removal of this law because of Brexit, the new regime will apply to all non-UK nationals, including new EEA workers arriving in the UK post January 1st 2021.
Hospitality industry trade associations have understandably criticised the minimum salary requirements, which will see many lower paid but, nevertheless, essential roles in the industry fail to qualify. However, for those roles that do qualify, employers will need a Sponsorship Licence to recruit any new employee from January 2021 who is a non UK national, from the EEA or elsewhere in the world.
The Sponsorship Licence is the initial permission granted by the Home Office or UK Visa and Immigration Authority (UKVI) to an employer to enable them to hire skilled nationals from non EEA countries under the current Tier 2 Visa UK immigration route. Employers must initially make an application to the UKVI to evidence their eligibility, appoint key existing personnel to manage the licence and meet 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, 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, given COVID-19 has not affected the Government’s plans to press ahead, and there is at least an 8-12 week processing time, it is essential that employers prepare now, to avoid any negative impact on their workforce and recruitment plans and subsequent ability to meet customer demands.
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. There are an estimated 900,000 UK employers who will need to apply and given that we are less than 6 months away from the new system, and the current processing time is up to 3 months, we are expecting a significant backlog.
In addition, the time it takes businesses to compile the relevant documentation, in advance of their application is considerable and, in our experience, clients experience significant internal delays in this stage of the process, which ultimately delays their application.
Employers must submit their applications well ahead of the new immigration system coming into force as there will inevitably be a last minute scramble to register at the end of the year which could result in some employers being unable to recruit when they need to. Whilst it might seem counter-intuitive, with employees on furlough and business facing an uncertain future, due to timeframes and work involved, now is the best time to begin prepare to make an application, to best position your business in the future.
Our experienced Business Immigration Team are available to help with advice and assistance on all aspects of the sponsorship application and other immigration issues.
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.