As novel immigration rules are being put into force, businesses are being granted access to new visa routes for hiring foreign workers. The newly launched visas are the Scale-up Visa, the High Potential Visa, and the Global Business Mobility visa. However, out of these, only the High Potential Visa route doesn’t demand an approved sponsor licence, whereas the other two were added to the large list of UK Worker visa programs that do.
What is a sponsor licence?
A sponsor licence (previously named Tier 2 Sponsor Licence) is a tool that enables employers to hire professionals from EEA and non-EEA countries for an initial period of four years (renewable after expiration). It’s essentially a privilege that the UK government concedes to businesses in good standing and that meet the eligibility criteria.
Why are sponsor licence applications currently so important?
Sponsor licence applications have spiked considerably following Brexit. Before January of 2021, employers were allowed to find and hire workers from anywhere in the EU to fill their vacancies without having to fulfil these additional requirements, but the regulatory landscape has changed in a significant fashion.
It’s for this reason that UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) encouraged companies to get their respective sponsor licences before the new regulation began to be enforced, so as to avoid issues later. As foreseen, these new policies generated severe delays in the application processes upon their implementation, owing also to COVID-19 restrictions.
How to apply for a sponsor licence
The application process is done entirely online. You must fill out a form and attach the pertinent documentary evidence that can support your company’s eligibility claim. The documents can be submitted alongside the application form via email, but they can also be sent within the next 5 days after sending the form, otherwise, you’ll have to start the process all over again.
To be eligible for a sponsor licence, you must be operating legally in the UK either as a PLC, LLP, LTD, or Sole Trader and get planning permission or consent from the Local Planning Authority in accordance with the type of business you operate.
Companies and legal persons shouldn’t have unspent criminal convictions for past immigration offences, fraud, or money laundering, and they must not have had a previous sponsor licence revoked during the 12 months prior to the date of application.
In addition, the UKVI will check that you have the correct “Key Personnel” in place, as in, individuals who they deem suitable to take part in the sponsor management system (SMS). That system would be responsible for keeping records related to the recruitment of foreign workers, ensuring that sponsored workers meet the requirements and skills necessary to apply for a UK sponsorship visa, performing Right to Work checks, and reporting to the UKVI in due time whenever there are changes in the organization or a migrant’s employment status.
The regulatory framework that operates around the maintenance of a sponsor licence is very stringent, and heavy penalties may ensue from breaches. These penalties could involve fines consisting of copious sums of money or even jail time.
How long does a sponsor licence application take?
A sponsor licence application can remain up to 10 weeks under review by UKVI unless you’re willing to pay £500 for a “priority application” which will prompt a quick resolution within 10 working days. The number of daily priority applications is limited as per the Home Office’s directives.
A pre-licence visit by a UKVI compliance agent could be scheduled as part of the review process, but if you have everything in order, and are able to keep track of your workforce, it should go down smoothly.
What happens if I’m not eligible?
In terms of getting skilled workers from outside the UK, there are not that many alternatives, though you’ll still be able to hire candidates on a High Potential or Graduate visa, in which case, you could bypass the sponsor licence requirement.
You may also hire dependents of sponsored workers already in the UK or long-term general students (Tier 4) without any sponsorship. Other options include people on settled status, with indefinite leave to remain, on a UK Ancestry visa, or holders of a youth mobility scheme.
On another topic, there are several grounds on which your sponsor licence application may be refused. Not fulfilling the eligibility criteria is one of them, but there may be other situations that could prompt a rejection.
For example, if you don’t have your proof of ID or Right to Work documentation up to date, you’ll most likely get rejected. Further down the road, the UKVI may ask for additional records or documentation to be submitted, and failure to deliver them by the due date will also cause your petition to be refused.
Keep in mind that you’re not initially entitled to an approved sponsor licence, as in, you don’t have a right to it. There is a level of discretionary power on the part of the UK government in issuing these licences. This has been pointed out numerous times by UK Visas and Immigration. This is why it’s always crucial to get sponsor licence guidance from professionals before moving forward with a licence request.
if your sponsor licence application was declined, you can apply again but, depending on the context, a “cooling-off” period could be imposed, which may range from 6 to 12 months (it would be the latter in most instances).
The length of the cooling-off period will vary according to the underpinning reasons for the refusal. If the Home Office determined that you provided false or misleading information – and did so in bad faith – a long cooling-off period could follow, whereas no cooling-off period would be applicable in the event that you simply didn’t meet the eligibility criteria or did not provide enough evidence.
Lastly, you’re legally entitled to request a review of your case if you believe that there was an error on the part of the Home Office when assessing your situation.