Are regional businesses ready for the post-Brexit hiring regime?

The imminent end of freedom of movement for skilled workers from Europe will have a particular impact on employers outside London, says Mini Setty

Skilled workers have long been the engine of the UK’s regional economic growth; access to a ready supply of new blood, diversity of thought and new ideas being equally important to the development of emerging sectors beyond London and the south-east like tech, as well as to more established regional industries such as manufacturing and the life sciences. 

The UK’s decision to leave the EU has created tension for employers with ambitions to recruit internationally. Whereas the freedom of movement among European Economic Area (EEA) states currently provides rich and ready pickings in terms of skilled employees, that will all change as workers from those countries revert to the same immigration rights as those from outside the EEA.

From 2021, it will no longer be possible to assume that a new recruit based within the EEA will be able to take up employment in the UK. Instead a new visa and sponsor based regime will apply to skilled workers from the EEA. To hire them, businesses will have to sponsor any would-be employees from overseas in their application for a Tier 2 visa – and to do this, the employers themselves will require a sponsor licence. 

For regional businesses beyond the capital and its environs, which already face other barriers to recruitment, this new regime means they will need to think and act fast to secure skilled talent from outside the UK in future.

Given how long it can take to find the right person for the job, time is of the essence. There is also an expectation that demand will soar for sponsor licences, leading to potential administrative delays in issuing them. 

So the message is clear: act now to get your sponsor licence. Because without access to the international recruitment market, many businesses run the risk of being unable to hire the talent they need to stay competitive and keep growing.

Here's what regional employers need to know about hiring from the EU:

  • Apply for your sponsor licence now. After Brexit, both EU and non-EU workers seeking permission to enter the UK for work purposes will need to obtain a Tier 2 visa. This can only be issued after they receive a certificate of sponsorship from an employer with a sponsor licence issued by the Home Office. 
  • Not all workers will qualify for skilled worker status. To qualify for sponsorship via the skilled workers route, potential workers need to have a job offer from a Home Office licensed sponsor, they need to be able to speak English at the required level, and they must be accepting a job offer at the required skill level of RQF3 or above (equivalent to A-level).
  • Sponsors must undergo checks to demonstrate they are a genuine business, they are solvent and that the roles they wish to recruit into are genuine and meet the Home Office’s salary and skills requirements. Sponsors must also pay a licence fee and ensure they act and behave in a way that is conducive to the wider public good. In addition, sponsors must also pay the immigration health surcharge to cover the cost of an employee’s medical insurance during their time in the UK.
  • Senior personnel and key users of the sponsor licence service must also undergo criminality and other security checks. Educational institutions are also required to hold educational oversight from an appropriate body, meet an annual basic compliance assessment and undergo additional scrutiny where they wish to teach children.

Applications for a sponsor licence should be made to the Home Office via the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) service. The UKVI is expecting an increase in applications and we are recommending that employers apply as soon as possible if they plan to recruit internationally next year.

Mini Setty is a partner at Langleys Solicitors