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Home Office proposes changes for UK Sponsors

Following the implementation of the new points-based system for UK sponsors, the Home Office has published a white paper detailing their proposed plan and timeline for the roll-out of the delivery of the forthcoming changes to the sponsorship process.

The greater purpose behind these changes is to streamline, modernise, and simplify the UK’s immigration system, with the Home Office pledging to deliver a sponsorship system which will enable UK employers to “have an overseas worker ready to start work faster than in any other G20 country.”

The Office of National Statistics has reported an increase of 9% in the number of organisations on the register of work sponsors, with 33,952 organisations being listed on the register as of March 2021. This number will only increase, in large part due to the closing of the EU Settlement Scheme, and as a result new entrant EU nationals are now requiring sponsorship/other immigration permission to work in the UK.

In their white paper, the Home Office takes credit for the successful incorporation of reforms which they claim have already reduced the length of the sponsorship process for the recruitment of overseas workers by eight weeks. Reforms listed include the scrapping of the Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT), suspending the cap on Skilled Workers, and transforming the sponsor licence application process to be completely digital and fully paperless.

2021 rules for sponsor licence

The ‘Chip Checker’ service has been introduced for eligible EEA nationals applying through the points-based system allowing them to forego a biometric enrolment appointment if they have a chipped biometric passport, enabling them to prove and verify their identity from the comfort of their own home.

The Post-Licence priority service team, available (for a fee) to existing sponsors looking to make or report a change to their licence, has doubled their daily cap of accepted requests from 30 to 60 per working day.

There is now a Pre-Licence priority service available to businesses who have applied for a sponsor licence and wish to expedite the standard 8-week processing time. For an additional £500 fee, sponsor applicants may expedite the consideration period so that the Home Office provides a decision within 10 working days of the Pre-Licence priority service request being accepted.

With any improvements to a system, there are inevitable glitches. For example, the Pre-Licence priority service accepts a maximum of 10 requests per working day on a first come, first serve basis. With the significant increase in the number of sponsor licence applications, many organisations are unable to benefit from this expedited service due to the daily cap of 10 requests, meaning they are forced to wait up to two months to progress with onboarding their migrant candidates.

The Home Office pledging to deliver a sponsorship system which will enable UK employers to “have an overseas worker ready to start work faster than in any other G20 country.”

2022 sponsor licence applications and beyond

Whilst the exact details have not been confirmed, the Home Office has promised to shorten the standard eight week consideration period for a sponsor licence application, with this predicted to come to fruition in the Spring of 2022.

There will be a complete overhaul of the online sponsorship system, with the aim of the improved IT system being to make it easier for sponsors to understand their licence and the information they are required to provide. The roll-out of the new online system will be carried out in phases, with the Home Office starting to move some sponsors to the new system mid-2023, and with all sponsors being moved over by the first quarter of 2024.

As part of the IT transformation of the online sponsorship system, the Home Office has pledged to simplify the sponsorship process for existing sponsors by setting up automatic prompts which, for example, will notify a worker to make a visa application once their role details have been approved; with their sponsor and role information being pre-populated on their online visa application.

In the Spring of 2022, a Global Business Mobility route will be introduced under the existing sponsorship system, applicable to overseas businesses seeking to establish a UK presence or transfer staff to the UK. Currently, overseas businesses wishing to transfer employees to the UK must demonstrate a link to a UK entity (e.g., through common ownership), and that UK entity must hold an Intra-Company sponsor licence.

The Home Office says the purpose of the Global Business Mobility route is to make it easier for overseas businesses to assign and manage workers coming to the UK, however it is not clear at this early stage whether this route will still require overseas businesses to be linked to a UK entity or whether the purpose of this route is to circumnavigate that requirement.

The redevelopment of the UK’s sponsorship system has so far proven to be a massive undertaking, resulting in various technical side effects which can have significant impacts on UK sponsors. Contact our immigration lawyers for advice on all aspects of business immigration.

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