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The New UK PBS Sponsorship Reforms Road Map (2022 & beyond) - Key Changes to Skilled Worker Sponsorship for Both Employer and Employee

As the government continues to evolve its post-Brexit immigration strategy, the latest piece of the jigsaw has been published by the Home Office in the form of ‘The UK’s Points-Based Immigration System Sponsorship Roadmap’. The document outlines a series of proposed changes (and the order in which they will happen) to the sponsorship system for both international workers and students in the UK. In this article, we will explain the Home Office’s new Points-Based Immigration System Sponsorship Roadmap and what this may mean for employees and employers.

What is the UK’s Points-Based Immigration System Sponsorship Roadmap?

The main aim of the roadmap, according to the Home Office, is to outline how to improve the sponsorship process to make it easier and faster. The document states, “As part of the points-based system, the Home Office is committed to delivering radical changes to the sponsorship process, making it easier for users to understand and navigate, and substantially reducing the time it takes to bring someone to the UK. As we modernise our immigration system, we will deliver a streamlined, simplified and modern sponsorship system that enables a more efficient operation, for users and the Home Office, and encourages compliance”. The roadmap extends to the ‘New Plan for Immigration’ Published in December 2020.

Sponsorship system changes planned for 2021

The new roadmap for Points Based System (PBS) reforms explains that there are three main objectives, with several deliverables linked to each, as follows:

Objective 1) Speeding up the end-to-end application process

The Home Office intend to reduce the processing times across the sponsorship timeline, from the employer securing a sponsorship license to a foreign employee gaining a work visa. On this particular objective, the roadmap states that changes have already been implemented to speed up the sponsor licence application process and that the Home Office have “already created time savings for employers by up to eight weeks compared to the pre-December 2020 processes”. They are looking to further improve this by simplifying the documentary evidence needed to become a sponsor.

Objective 2) Improve a sponsor’s experience of using the sponsorship system

On this objective, the Home Office is looking to reduce the burden on existing sponsors when it comes to keeping their licenses. There are three actions planned for the end of 2021 which they say will help to achieve this:

  • Provide a dedicated support service to micro and small businesses
  • Reviewing sponsorship system fees (e.g. Certificate of Sponsorship fees)
  • Putting in place a new Skilled Worker eligibility tool – the aim of this will be to help employers and employees check if an advertised job would be considered eligible under the Skilled Worker visa route (i.e. in terms of the skill level required for the role).

Objective 3) Preventing abuse of the PBS system

To prevent abuse of the PBS system by employers, the Home Office is planning to implement an HMRC salary checking process to ensure that employers are paying the correct salary to sponsored workers.

What changes are planned for the PBS sponsorship system for 2022 and beyond?

It appears that the Home Office is planning to invest heavily in IT system changes in 2022 to speed up the process and reduce the administrative overhead for sponsoring employers. Their stated goal is for the UK to be “global leaders in helping sponsors access overseas talent to start work and study quickly and effectively in the UK”. In part, this will be achieved by reusing information already held by the government and the implementation of a “single online dashboard”, which will allow employers to check the status of their sponsor license and understand any actions they need to take.

Other changes proposed include:

  • Removing some of the barriers to applying for sponsorship licenses
  • A streamlined ‘shorter’ service for straightforward compliant sponsor license applicants
  • Building a new sponsorship IT system – there are three phases to this:
    • By mid-2022: a new system will ensure an improved experience for those employers wishing to sponsor a foreign worker. As part of this change, it is envisaged that the system will include the automatic invitation of the workers to make a work visa application once the role details have been approved. The experience for visa applicants will also be improved, as the data provided by the sponsor will be used to pre-populate the visa application.
    • By the end of 2022: by the end of 2022, the new system will make it easier for sponsors to carry out post-license actions. This will include providing sponsors with an overview of their sponsored workers and any actions which are required. The changes intended for this phase will also seem improved the integration of data from various government departments to speed up the process of making decisions by UKVI case officers.
    • In early 2023: in early 2023, it is proposed that the new system will be able to streamline applying for a new sponsor licence, including automated data checks to speed up the process. The Home Office states, “Where appropriate, it will introduce automated data checks to validate whether a user is employed by, or is an office holder of, a sponsored organisation, and validate key details about the organisation. This will reduce the opportunity for abuse, reduce and simplify the evidence requirements placed on prospective sponsors, and reduce casework processing times”.

Final words

Anyone expecting detail and clarity from the 11-page Points-Based Immigration System Sponsorship Roadmap document may feel somewhat disappointed. Sponsors and international employees will need to wait patiently to see how the Home Office turns its words into reality over the next two or more years. Some may see these promises as tinkering at the edges of the existing sponsorship system rather than introducing radical reform. Given the government’s performance when it comes to IT system delivery, it is also likely that the changes proposed will slip beyond the targeted timescales outlined above. As ever, we will keep you up to date as the Home Office makes changes to the PBS immigration system.

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