Recruiting non-UK nationals post-Brexit: Employer sponsor licenses

As the deadline of 31 December 2020 which marks the end of the post-Brexit transition period looms ever closer, businesses are rapidly having to get to grips with the biggest change in immigration legislation in a generation.

Going forwards, the key immigration route for employers looking to take on non-UK nationals will be via the work permit route, which is being rebranded as the Skilled Worker Visa.

For employers looking to move staff internationally around their businesses, they will need to use the Intra-Company Transfer visa route.

Employer sponsorship is the key pre-requisite to accessing the work permit routes

The gateway for businesses to access both the Skilled Worker and Intra-Company Transfer visa routes is to register with the Home Office as an employer sponsor.  If an employer is not a sponsor, they cannot use these routes.

Obtaining a sponsor licence involves going through a pre-approval process with the Home Office to establish that the business is a genuine organisation operating lawfully in the UK which is dependable, honest and reliable and which is capable of complying with its sponsor duties.  When an employer becomes a sponsor the Home Office places significant trust in them; it is far more than simply filling out a form and becoming a name on a register. You can find out more about how we help businesses with successfully applying for and keeping their sponsor licences here.

Employers will need to hold sponsorship if they intend to use the Skilled Worker route to recruit non-settled, non-UK nationals after the end of the Brexit transition period. This will apply to all new hires. Similarly, employer will need to hold sponsorship to use the Intra-Company Transfer route if they want to make international employee moves around a group of companies. 

We are currently advising significant numbers of clients who have a high numbers of EU nationals within their workforce profile, and expect this to continue post-Brexit.  We are also advising clients on what these changes mean for moving staff around their European businesses or for their business travellers.

Despite this, the number of registered sponsors remains flat.  Consistently, the number of registered employer sponsors remain at about the 30,000 mark. Clearly, there are significantly more than 30,000 businesses in the UK, and many more of these businesses will need to access the Skilled Worker route from next year. And yet, there has been no sign of the expected increase in sponsor license applications.  This is despite a significant Home Office information campaign about the end of the Brexit transition period. 

Of course, businesses are to be forgiven for not having these issues at the forefront of their minds given the ongoing problems arising from Covid and lockdown 2.0 and the more pressing issues about how to secure their business’ survival. However, that’s not to say that it isn’t important for businesses to start thinking about next year and preparing accordingly. 

The new visa routes replace the old work permit routes on 1 December 2020. They will be mandatory for EU nationals (who cannot establish residency in the UK before the end of the transition period) from 1 January 2020. There is no getting around it, time is running out for businesses to prepare.

Sponsor licenses are currently being dealt with fairly quickly by the Home Office, with some decisions coming back as quickly as two to three weeks, but the standard processing time stated on the Home Office website remains eight weeks (although, a fast-tracking process (at additional cost) is expected imminently).  However, the timescales for considering applications are likely to increase should the predicted surge in applications occur. 

Next Steps

We recommend businesses apply for their sponsor licenses as soon as possible to beat the rush, rather than risk delay to their business plans or their ability to recruit key talent after the end of the year.  If you have any questions about becoming a sponsor please contact our Business Immigration team.