Part 1: Work visa sponsorship of EU/EEA Nationals – does your business need a sponsor licence for early 2021?

On 1 January 2021 the Brexit transition period will have ended. Among a vast number of changes for UK businesses will be the loss of instant and unrestricted access to the EU talent pool. In contrast to now, the vast majority of EU/EEA citizens not already residing in the UK by 11pm on 31 December 2020 will need a work visa that has been sponsored by an approved UK sponsor employer in order to take up employment in the UK.

In order to retain demand-driven access to EU talent employers will, in the main, need to become sponsors. There is an application process to be followed. This involves submitting an online form, together with a covering letter and various prescribed documents to the Home Office along with a fee which varies depending on the size and nature of the employer applying.

Once an approved sponsor, each migrant the employer wants to employ must be sponsored separately. A certificate of sponsorship (CoS) must obtained and assigned. This involves the payment of a relatively small fee for the CoS but also the immigration skills charge (ISC), a variable fee that can be as much as £3,000 for a three year visa. The prospective migrant worker then submits their own visa application which involves the payment of further fees – most significantly the application fee and the Immigration Health Surcharge (£1,872 for the main applicant for a three year visa).

The role that the migrant is being sponsored to work in must be 'genuine', be sufficiently skilled (essentially A level or above) and must have a salary that meets the requirements – usually £25,600, or more for experienced workers. 

What can employers do? 

  • Ensure, in the short term that, as is far as is possible, any prospective EU workers are well established in the UK prior to 11pm 31 December 2020. They should then be able to apply for pre-settled or settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme (more on this later in this series).
  • Consider carefully whether your business needs to become an approved sponsor.  Does your business regularly employ EU workers in skilled roles because of lack of qualified UK candidates, and will it want EU workers to come to work for it in the first half of 2021? If so, then approved sponsorship status may be a necessity and the business should consider applying for it now.
  • If your business does not have an obvious need to sponsor migrants at present, or your roles are insufficiently skilled/remunerated to qualify for sponsorship, then consider apprenticeship programmes and partnerships with local FE colleges with a view to upskilling the local settled workforce to undertake the roles.  

If you are a business considering approved sponsorship status, you can call us to discuss how this works and how we can assist you to obtain it. We can also provide a bespoke report for your business for a fixed fee, setting out the key steps, eligibility requirements, likely timescales and costs, so that you have a road map to success. The report will also help decision makers to understand the costs involved in obtaining approved sponsorship status and sponsoring migrant workers for the purposes of any cost-benefit analysis.

In the next of our "Happy New Year" series, we will be looking at how to plan and prepare for sending British nationals to Europe for work after the transition period ends.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.