Business Immigration – Do you need a sponsorship licence? Our five top tips!

Top tips when applying for a skilled worker sponsorship licence

We have seen a notable increase in sponsorship licence applications this month. No doubt this is partly linked to the changes in Right to Work checks since 1 July 2021, but in addition, businesses are starting to have the time again to be proactive, looking forward and focusing on their recruitment strategies for the remainder of the year and into 2022. This month's article focuses on our top tips for employers who are considering applying for a sponsorship licence, in order to recruit talented migrants from overseas.

The starting point and basic application process

One of the first points a business should identify when looking into the sponsorship licence application is which of their vacancies will be eligible for sponsorship. It's no good applying for a sponsorship licence if, once it is granted, it cannot be used because either their roles are not sufficiently skilled and/or paid. As a rule, the vacancy will need to be skilled to A level or equivalent and paid £25,600. However, there are exemptions reducing this minimum salary level or in some instances, increasing this level. Specific advice on eligibility is recommended for each of your vacancies. 

If the business is comfortable that they have, or will have, vacancies which will be eligible under the skilled worker category, they will need to complete an online application form. Within 5 working days of the online application being submitted, employers will need to send UK Visas and Immigration ("UKVI") their supporting documents, including a covering letter which sets out the employer's recruitment strategy and reasons why they are applying for a sponsorship licence. The UKVI will then consider the application. The UKVI's standard processing time for applications is 8 weeks but we are aware this may take longer in complex cases.

Our 5 top tips

  • Receive a quicker response - The standard processing time of 8 weeks noted above can be reduced to 10 working days if employers are willing to pay an additional £500 for the priority service. This is sought by written application form once the online application and supporting documents have been received by the UKVI. The first 10 requests per day will be accepted so there are no guarantees that employers will be successful, and no waiting list is available. In our experience, daily attempts should be made by setting emails to be sent at 23:59 and 00:00. Beware that if the employer's circumstances are deemed complex, the priority service may not be available to your organisation.
  • Reduce your administration - In the covering letter to support the online application, businesses should include a link to their website address and confirmation that the listed key personnel's email addresses are secure, personal and only accessible by the named individual (otherwise you'll be asked for this information in a follow up document and it saves one less email!)
  • Most common supporting documents - When a business is considering its supporting documents, they will need to identify which "table" of documents they fall into. If they fall within Table 4 of Appendix A, the most common and often easiest documents to produce are:
  • Evidence of employer's liability insurance cover for at least £5 million from an authorised insurer;
  • Evidence of registration with HMRC as an employer to pay PAYE and National Insurance i.e. proof of PAYE Reference Number & Accounts Office Reference Number;
  • Latest acknowledgment of a Company Tax Return CT620, or the completed CT600 tax return and the CT603 notice;
  • HMRC VAT registration certificate confirming VAT registration number and 'effective date of registration;'
  • Latest corporate business bank statement; and/or
  • Proof of ownership or lease of your business premises. If you are sending a copy of your lease agreement, it must be signed by all parties concerned.
  • Think ahead - When asked in the online application form how many 'undefined' Certificates of Sponsorship ("CoS") the business expect to use up to 4 April of the following year, be careful not to underestimate. Undefined CoS are assigned to those migrants who are already in the UK i.e. switching sponsors and/or immigration categories. Employers should be clear on their recruitment strategy over the remaining allocation year in order to judge how many undefined CoS are likely to be required. If employers run out of undefined CoS during the allocation year and need to request more, one-off requests can be made but the current processing time is up to 18 weeks for a decision. This could mean that you lose a great candidate!
  • Consider your communication flow - Businesses will need appropriate HR systems and processes in place in order to monitor skilled migrants and adhere to their sponsorship duties and responsibilities. Businesses should think carefully about the communication flow in their organisation. For example, you employ a skilled worker, Jane, as a financial auditor. Jane reports into Liam who reports into Mary. Doug, a director, is listed as the Level 1 user for the business. How will Doug know if Jane doesn't turn up for work on her first day or receives a promotion during her 3-year stay? This channel of communication is key to understand and implement in order to report promptly under the terms of the sponsorship licence.

In summary, sponsorship licences are vital for businesses who want to employ talented overseas workers. However, employers should bear in mind the UKVI's view that a sponsorship licence is a privilege and not a right. If employers fail to comply with their duties as a sponsor, their licence may be downgraded or revoked. The UKVI can visit, unannounced, at any time once a sponsorship licence application has been submitted. Therefore, employers should clearly understand their sponsorship duties and responsibilities, and the systems they have in place to ensure compliance with those duties, before applying.

If you would like any further information about sponsorship licence applications, please do get in touch with Gemma Robinson.

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