Hiring skilled talent from overseas has become business-critical in many UK sectors, where the domestic and – until Brexit at least – EU labour market is unable to satisfy recruitment needs.
For UK-based employers to hire skilled non-EEA nationals legally, the organisation must first hold a valid sponsorship licence. It's a lengthy and involved process applying to the Home Office for permission to employ Tier 2 workers – and even where the sponsor licence is granted, the demands on the employer don't stop there!
It's important for employers, and those responsible for hiring and managing non-EEA workers, to understand what the key milestones are in the lifecycle of a UK sponsor licence.
Sponsor licence application
The sponsor licence application process is the first part of the sponsor licence lifecycle. The process is designed to ascertain that the:
• organisation is bona fide and eligible to hold a sponsor licence e.g. is UK-based
• position(s) to be filled are genuine and cannot be met by the domestic labour
• organisation is correctly set up to meet the ongoing compliance duties as a sponsor licence holder
To apply, the employer must complete the application form, submit
the requisite supporting documentation to the Home Office – which importantly must be in the correct format – and of course
pay the required fees.
Sponsor licence management
Where a licence is granted, the sponsor licence holder will then be required to maintain compliance with their duties, on an ongoing basis. Failure
to meet these requirements can result in penalty (see below).
Seeking professional advice and sponsor licence guidance can help ensure your policies, procedures and systems remain compliant, and your employees trained on their roles and responsibilities in managing the licence. For example, having particular regard to what needs to happen when there are changes within your organisation and to the employees’ circumstances and in response to Home Office changes to sponsor duties.
Sponsor licence renewal
The sponsor licence is granted for a period of four years. In advance of the expiry, the licence holder is required to apply to the Home Office to renew their licence.
Interestingly, the sponsor licence renewal process is usually more involved than the original application process. In many cases, the Home Office will take the renewal stage as an opportunity to visit premises, inspect relevant systems and interview personnel.
Breaches of sponsor licence duties
Where the Home Office is alleging a breach of a sponsor licence holder's duties, there are a number of punitive measures at their disposal namely, a sponsor licence suspension or in cases of more severe breaches, it is within the Home Office's power to issue a sponsor licence revocation. The effect is to remove permission for hiring non-EEA workers. The potential damage to operations and reputation should not be underestimated.
Sponsor licence holders who are facing a suspension or revocation must act quickly to resolve the situation. Engaging with the Home Office is critical at this stage. Acknowledging receipt for example can set a helpful tone and indicate intention for positive resolution.
Also critical is the strategy to challenge and/or rectify the grounds for breach.
Seeking professional legal advice at this stage can be the difference between achieving a positive outcome, and being hit with the full force of the Home Office powers.