Masterclass: How to apply for a sponsor licence

Karendeep Kaur runs through the key steps employers will need to take if they wish to hire EEA nationals from January

A sponsor licence allows employers to hire skilled nationals from non-EEA countries, but from January 2021 it will also be needed to hire EEA nationals when the transition period after the UK’s departure from the EU ends. Any business that is a genuine employer operating lawfully in the UK can apply. If approved, the licence will be valid for four years and can be renewed before it expires.

The main point for organisations to bear in mind is UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) has reiterated that holding a sponsor licence is a privilege and not a right, so there will always be eligibility criteria that employers will have to satisfy, which are kept under strict review. 

UKVI recommends that firms considering applying for a licence to hire from overseas in early 2021 should do so as soon as possible to ensure their licence is confirmed in time. Applications typically take eight to 10 weeks to be reviewed and the pandemic has caused significant delays.

Businesses wishing to apply will have to complete an online form and send extra evidence to UKVI – the exact evidence they need to submit depends on the type of organisation they are. The evidence needs to reach UKVI within five days of the application, or the process will have to be started again. There is also an application fee to be paid.

Firms can expect a pre-licence visit from a UKVI compliance officer, but this is quite common as part of a pre-licence audit and isn’t something to worry about – they just want to make sure the organisation has the correct processes in place.

With this in mind, companies should also make sure they have people in place who are ready to take responsibility for their role within the sponsor management system. These individuals need to be aware of the latest terms and rules, and they must ensure that their record-keeping, reporting and right-to-work checks are up to date. This includes notifying UKVI of any changes within the organisation and with regards to a migrant’s employment within a specified timeframe.

The rules around the maintenance of a sponsor licence are quite strict and, in severe cases, if a firm is found in breach UKVI may issue a fine of up to £10,000, and the company could also face prosecution. 

Competition for overseas talent is fierce, and candidates are able to check the register of licensed organisations. So employers that don’t apply soon risk potential hires backing out of jobs in favour of firms already granted a licence.

Karendeep Kaur is manager of Migrate UK