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15th March 2021
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Sponsoring a skilled worker to work in the UK – a guide for employers

  1. Introduction

Since December 2020, and the UK’s exit from the EU, new rules have come into force in relation to non-British citizens who wish to travel to, and live and work in, the UK. Similarly, new rules and guidance are now in place to enable businesses to sponsor Skilled Workers to live and work in the UK – and it is those rules and guidance towards which this simple guide is directed. It is hoped that the guide will provide UK employers, both large and small, with a concise, readable, and cogent summary of the requirements placed on them so that they are able to sponsor and employ skilled workers from abroad, to enable their businesses to grow and flourish.

It is fair, however, to state that the Home Office guidance, and the skilled worker scheme, is quite complex. There are several categories of Sponsored work visas available to individuals, depending on their particular profession, for example, sportsperson or minister of religion. This guidance focuses on the requirements of the sponsorship scheme for the “Skilled Worker” category which is the most common type of application within the UK Points-Based migration regime.

  • Sponsorship – a high-level overview

The Worker category of visa replaced the old “Tier 2” visa in December 2020 and requires that the individual non-British citizen has “sponsorship” from a UK-based employer, who, when properly licensed to do so, is empowered to issue the worker with a “certificate of sponsorship” (also described as a “Certificate of Sponsorship”), which is a virtual type of work permit, allowing the worker to apply for their visa to enter the UK.

Explaining the requirements of the sponsor organisation licensing process is the main aim of this guide, and it is the responsibility of the would-be sponsoring company to prove to the Home Office that they meet their requirements before the issue of their sponsorship license, and – very importantly – that they continue to meet the requirements for as long as they wish to employ non-British citizens. This will inevitably impose an ongoing administrative requirement on UK employers even after the complex application process is successfully completed, and this must be borne in mind by any would-be sponsoring organisation and the outset of their application process. When issued, the sponsorship license is valid for four years.

In brief, the Home Office requires that in order to receive a Worker sponsorship license, a UK-based firm must meet: (a) certain eligibility requirements, to establish the business has a lawful presence in the UK and is undertaking business activities appropriate to the workers they wish to sponsor, (b) the suitability criteria, which are oriented towards proving the business is honest, dependable and reliable enough to be trusted with issuing certificates of sponsorship, including being able to demonstrate that the business has resilient HR/recruitment processes in place and can withstand unannounced inspections of compliance AND the physical addresses where the sponsored employees will be working and (c) that the business has genuine need for the skills of the worker in the role for which sponsorship is going to be offered.

  • The Worker Sponsorship License application process – the basics
  • Fees

These vary depending upon the size of the business in question. Small businesses pay a fee of £536 for an initial application, whilst for large businesses, the fee is £1476. Broadly speaking, a business is regarded as “small” if two (or more) out of the following three criteria are met: (a) its annual turnover is £10.2 million or less (b) its total assets are worth £5.1 million or less and (c) it has 50 employees or fewer.

  • Time taken to make a decision on an application.

Whilst it is difficult to be precise in this regard, the Home Office state that a decision will be made on the majority of applications within 8 weeks. For an additional fee of £500, it may be possible to receive a decision within 10 working days, though not all applications will be eligible.

  • Application process

The application process is now fully online, this requires that, in most cases, all supporting documents are uploaded in PDF file format, although JPEG and PNG formats are also supported. The Home Office prefer files in the PDF format, and which have file titles that are appropriately descriptive BUT no more than 25 characters long. To minimise file sizes, The Home Office recommend scanning in black and white or greyscale, not colour. We recommend that wherever possible, scans are made using a flat-bed scanner rather than a mobile telephone (cell phone).

We now turn to the supporting documents requirements.

  • Supporting documents – the requirements

The most onerous requirement placed on Worker sponsorship license applicants is the provision of evidence – in the form of supporting documents – to prove to the Home Office that the business seeking a license meets the eligibility. suitability and genuineness provisions mentioned above.  Most businesses need to provide at least 4 documents, one from each of the types listed below and these should be ready in scanned PDF format before the on-line application is commenced. This is very important as the Home Office will refuse (without a refund) an application for which all the supporting documents are not uploaded within 5 days after the on-line application is completed.

The following guide seeks to provide an overview of the requirements that are usually needed by most private, limited companies, but the rules are complex, and it is not possible to cover all eventualities in a short guide such as this – for example, if your business is a large, public limited company, you may not need to submit any of these documents, so please contact us for further details.

A full list of the requirements may be found here: –

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/supporting-documents-for-sponsor-applications-appendix-a/appendix-a#table1

The document types most often required are listed below:

  • Evidence of Registration with HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) as an employer to pay PAYE & National Insurance. Applicant businesses must provide proof of their PAYE Reference Number & Accounts Office Reference Number, with original or certified copies of documentation issued by HMRC only.
  • The business’ VAT registration certificate, confirming VAT registration number and ‘effective date of registration’ if business’ VAT taxable turnover is more than the VAT ‘threshold’. Again, this must be provided in the form of an HMRC document.
  • Evidence that the applicant business has employer’s liability insurance cover for at least £5m from an authorised insurer. This will inevitably have to be provided in the form of an official certificate of insurance from the provider, which is valid at the date of application, and ideally for at least 3 to 6 months after the date of application.
  • If an applicant business is legally obliged to submit audited accounts, one of the 4 documents must its most recent set of audited accounts, with the name of the accountant clearly shown. The accountant should be a member of an accredited accounting body, such as the: Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA), Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA), Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) or the Association of Consulting Actuaries (ACA).
  • The applicant business’ most recent corporate/business bank statement and/or a letter from your bank setting out the dealings it has had with the business, including the nature and duration of its dealings. If both documents are submitted, this will only count as one document towards the minimum document total of 4.
  • The applicant business must provide evidence of proof of ownership of the business premises or their lease of their business premises. Copies of leases must be signed by all relevant parties.
  • Evidence that the applicant business has the appropriate planning permission to operate their type/class of business at their trading address where this is a Local Authority requirement.
  • Skilled Worker additional information

The following material/information also needs to be scanned and provided to the Home Office: –

  • The online form needs to contain full details of why the applicant business is applying for a sponsor licence, what sector it operates in and what are its daily opening/operating hours.
  • The application supporting documents must also contain an up-to-date hierarchy chart detailing any owner, director, and board members of the applicant business. If the business has 50 employees or fewer, the applicant company must list all employees and set out the names and titles of all staff.
  • The online application form should provide full details about the job(s) the applicant business needs to fill and for which they intend to assign a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) to the successful candidate, including the following information for each job:

(i) job title and occupation code(s),

(ii) their duties,

(iii) where the job sits on the hierarchy chart referred to above,

(iv) the minimum salary the business would guarantee if the job were vacant on the date of application, and

(v) the skill, experience and qualifications required of a successful candidate.

Note that the occupation codes can be found here: –

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/skilled-worker-visa-eligible-occupations/skilled-worker-visa-eligible-occupations-and-codes

and that, most importantly, that there is a minimum salary of £25,600 for skilled workers, although this varies depending on the occupation code, the variations are listed here:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/skilled-worker-visa-going-rates-for-eligible-occupations/skilled-worker-visa-going-rates-for-eligible-occupation-codes

  • Nominating key personnel in the application process

A key part of the application process is the business nominating several employees to take on key responsibilities pertaining to the sponsorship license. The applicant business must nominate an authorising officer, key contact and level 1 user on the online application form. All the nominated person must be resident in the UK and a person will not be eligible if, for example, they have unspent criminal convictions for serious offences (including for immigration offences) or are legally unable to become a company director.

Briefly, the authorising officer should ideally be a senior member of the business with responsibility for recruitment and training. The Level 1 user will need to be an employee who will have access to the Home Office’s online Sponsorship Management system (“SMS”). The key contact is the organisation’s primary point of contact with the Home Office, and it is not uncommon for a named legal representative to take on this role.

  • Meeting the suitability criteria

As noted above, however, possession of a sponsorship license comes with a requirement to fulfil certain administrative requirements on an ongoing basis and at the initial application stage, the Home Office will need to be assured that the applicant business has adequate HR and recruitment staff, structures, and processes to ensure that these duties are met now and will be in the future.

The duties imposed are complex and a full list can be found here: –

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/946060/2020-12-17_Sponsor-guidance-Part-3-compliance-12-20_v1.0.pdf

In brief summary, however, they fall into several categories, namely; (a) keeping good records in respect of each sponsored worker, including copies of their passport,  National Insurance number, their rate of pay and material pertaining to the recruitment process which led to the employee’s appointment, (b) reporting duties to the Home Office via the SMS system, for example, significant changes to a sponsored employee’s work duties and (c) a general duty to ensure the business and employees comply with UK immigration law and other relevant law, e.g. the applicant business complies with Local Authority planning guidelines for their premises where relevant.


Applicant businesses should be aware that once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, it will be entirely normal for the Home Office staff to make a visit to the applicant business’ premises to observe the working of the business and to speak, in detail, with the relevant directors and employees about e.g., their HR and recruitment processes, the nature of the proposed vacancies and indeed general information about the sector the business operates it BEFORE a decision is made to grant a license. These compliance visits also can and do occur after the grant of a successful application and it is very important that the applicant business has appropriate, robust processes in place to respond to such unannounced visits now and in the future.

By R. S. Hopkin

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