This summary is based on Judicium’s HR ‘Sofa Session’ from the 23rd of March, with our resident experts Teresa Rego and Mukta Varsani. This session focused on the process to become a licensed sponsor; the visa application process for the candidate; and how you can remain a compliant sponsor.
The Process to Become a Licensed Sponsor
Despite what you may hear in the news, the need to hire foreign nationals appears even higher after Brexit. However, to hire non-UK resident workers, your organisation must hold a valid sponsorship licence.
There are options to utilise other temporary visas, such as the Tier 5 Youth Mobility or Government authorised exchange (GAE). We have seen some schools use the GAE route to bring over Foreign Language Assistants, but this route only allows individuals to come to the UK to gain work experience, not to fill an actual vacancy. Also, these visa categories don’t allow the school/Trust to retain the employee for more than 12-24 months.
Having a sponsorship licence allows your school or Trust to sponsor the candidates for a longer period.
Employers must apply for a sponsorship licence from the Home Office before they can employ non-UK resident workers under the new points-based visa system.
If you do not have a sponsorship licence, you cannot sponsor migrant workers.
The rules and guidance on sponsoring workers are contained within the Home Office’s Sponsor Guidance document, which is over 200 pages!
It can be difficult for employers to understand what a sponsor licence allows, how to make an application and what sponsors are required to do by law in order to comply with their duties.
There are no restrictions on the size or type of organisation that can apply for a licence, as long as the organisation meets the eligibility and suitability criteria for the specific visa category they are applying for. For schools/Trusts you will need to meet the criteria for the skilled worker visa.
- The organisation is genuine and operating and/or trading lawfully in the UK.
- The organisation must be a trading organisation and limited companies must be registered with Companies House.
- For schools/Trusts they must be registered with Department of Education
- The organisation is based in the UK.
- The organisation must have trading presence in the UK (Most schools will have a physical presence, making the licence application process simpler).
- If the organisation does not occupy premises in the UK but operates a virtual business model, it may still apply for a sponsor licence. However, it will need to clearly evidence that it can meet its sponsor duties and obligations and that it is operating or trading lawfully in the UK.
UKVI will look to ensure a potential sponsor:
- Is offering a genuine vacancy which meets the skilled worker criteria.
- The Home Office may request additional information to verify the role exists, the specific nature of it and its duties.
- Has the HR and recruitment systems in place to comply with the sponsor duties and responsibilities, and is able to evidence that compliance.
- A compliance audit can be conducted before or after the licence is granted.
- Is “honest, dependable and reliable.”
- The organisation, its owners, directors and appointed key personnel do not have any unspent criminal convictions.
- Does not represent a threat to immigration control and there’s no evidence of any previous non-compliance by the organisation.
- Registered with the relevant regulatory body (The school/Trust needs to be registered with Department of Education).
The Home Office will want to see the reasons why you require a sponsor licence and a foreign national for the vacancy.
If you can present convincing business reasons as to why you need a licence and a particular role, the application will meet the genuineness test.
A group of schools or nurseries with common ownership can apply for a sponsorship licence jointly.
The Sponsorship Licence Application and the Visa Process for the Candidate
The Licence Application Process
Start by seeking advice and collecting the supporting documents that prove the ‘established presence in the UK.’
Then you may complete the online application for a sponsorship licence. NB: At Judicium Education we provide a welcome pack, which is a series of documents and guidance on the HR systems required to monitor the activity of sponsored workers and other sponsorship duties.
When the documentation is ready, submit the application and supporting documentation to UKVI.
The turnaround is usually 8 weeks, unless the priority service is booked, or the Home Office decides to carry out a pre-authorisation audit. If the Home Office decides to carry out a pre-authorisation audit on the school/Trust, this could delay the outcome of the licence application. We recommend seeking help to prepare for the audit.
Once granted, the licence will be valid for four years, subject to further renewals every four years. Renewal is a straightforward process involving the payment of the licence fee to the Home Office.
There is no limit on the number of employees you can sponsor with your licence. You can use your school/Trust’s licence to sponsor any roles that come up on the list of Skilled occupations published by the Home Office, containing occupations listed at NQF level 3.
Once the licence has been granted, you issue a certificate of sponsorship to the selected candidate and the subsequent Skilled worker visa application for that candidate.
Each individual sponsorship involves a two-step process:
- Issue a certificate of sponsorship to the individual using the school’s licence.
- Assist the individual with a visa application from their country of application, or from within the UK if the candidate is in the UK with a valid visa.
The Skilled Worker Visa
This replaced the Tier 2 (General) visa and is the main UK immigration route for non-UK resident workers.
It is open to individuals who attain 70 points by meeting specific requirements such as skill and salary level of the job they are coming to do, English language ability and having a qualifying job offer from a UK sponsor.
NB: Roles that fall below the required skill level of below RQF3 will not be eligible for the skilled visa route.
The Skilled Worker visa makes provision for spouses, ‘durable’ partners and dependent children to apply to join the main visa applicant in the UK and is also a route to settlement and Indefinite Leave to Remain.
The Skilled Worker visa minimum salary threshold is £25,600 per year, unless the ‘going rate’ for the role is higher. Sponsors always have to offer a salary that meets or exceeds both figures – the minimum threshold and the going rate for the role. NB: The minimum threshold and the going rates are due to change on 12 April 2023 to £26,200.
Teachers have a separate specific salary requirement, with the minimum threshold at £20,480 and increasing to £20,960 on 12th April 2023. However, you must check the going rate for the role, which matches the Teacher’s National Pay Scales and is usually higher.
The minimum salary required to sponsor a teacher varies depending on school location and scale.
Use the job description and salary information initially to carry out an assessment of viability and ensure the salary on offer meets criteria for a successful application.
Other Important Requirements to Assess as Part of the Visa Application Process
- English language requirement at Level B1 and above.
- Financial maintenance requirement – most employers certify on the COS.
- Criminal Record requirements.
- Often applicants applying from overseas are required to provide criminal record certificates for each country where they have resided.
- Teachers are required to provide clean criminal record certificates in support of their applications.
Applications can be made up to 3 months before the work start date. Visas can be sponsored for a period of up to 5 years and there is not limit on the number of extensions.
Skilled worker visa applications generally take up to 8 weeks if applying from within the UK, or up to 3 weeks if the application is made from outside the UK.
It may be possible to pay for fast-tracked processing, depending on where your application is being processed.
How to Remain a Compliant Sponsor
All sponsors must be fully aware of their immigration duties and have processes and systems in place to both meet these requirements and to maintain records to evidence compliance.
Licence holders can be subject to Home Office investigation at any time. Where there are allegations of compliance breaches, the Home Office has powers to downgrade, suspend or revoke sponsor licences, impacting your ability to hire skilled migrant workers and impacting your sponsored workers’ permission to stay and work in the UK.
Sponsors are responsible for maintaining records for each worker they sponsor and support.
Appendix D of the Immigration Rules specifies the documents to be retained and how long they must be kept for.
You must keep the documents used as part of your sponsor licence application:
- A photocopy or electronic copy of the relevant pages of the sponsored worker’s passport, including those pages which contain personal identity details, leave stamps, immigration status and the period of leave to remain.
- The worker’s current and historic contact details
- A record of the worker’s absences
- The worker’s contract of employment
2. Monitoring & reporting
Sponsor licence holders are required to submit specific information or events to the Home Office through the Sponsor Management within specific time frames, e.g. change of employee location, change in working hours, change in duties and responsibilities, etc.
There is a positive duty on sponsor licence holders to report to the Home Office using the SMS Portal within 10 working days if any of the following events have occurred:
- Reporting changes within the organisation such as a change of company name, address or size of the organisation; a change of authorising officer; and adding or removal of branches.
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