There are currently over 30,000 employers in the UK who are licenced to recruit staff from outside of the EU/EEA. To gain the right to recruit from overseas, companies must prove to the Home Office they fulfil the strict requirements of a sponsor licence holder. This includes HR processes, record keeping, and informing the government of certain events, among several other requirements. And as all sponsoring employers will know, their obligations don't cease once granted a sponsor licence, they have to remain compliant or risk having their permit revoked.
We are regularly approached by businesses who need assistance with recruiting from outside of the EU/EEA, either because of changes in their business which necessitate skills which are not widely available in the UK or due to recent political changes, such as Brexit, which will bring to an end the free movement of personnel from across Europe. While we don't yet know exactly how the new post-Brexit immigration system will work from January 2021 (assuming it goes ahead given Coronavirus), the government have already confirmed that it will still require businesses to apply to become sponsor licence holders.
The present sponsor system means that companies who are successful in gaining a licence will have to apply for renewal every four years. There is no limit on the number of times a business can renew, hence, assuming they remain eligible, they should be able to continue sponsoring.
Any existing sponsor licence holders can view the renewal dates of their current licence by logging into their online sponsorship management system (SMS) account.
It is important to consider that you do not need to have an application for renewal of the sponsor licence approved by the end date of the current licence, it just needs to be under consideration by the Home Office.
It is best practice to diarise this in good time, however, just in case, an invitation to renew your sponsor licence should be received by the Home Office. In addition, do not make any assumptions that applying for a renewal of your sponsor licence will be a formality. It may be that new requirements have or are due to be brought in which you will need to comply with.
Unless you have applied for a renewal of your licence, if any application has not been received by the Home Office, your sponsor licence will automatically come to an end on the expiry date. In this event, your business will lose access to the SMS system, you will be unable to issue new certificates of sponsorship (CoS), and your existing tier 2 employees will be issued with the curtailment of leave - meaning their leave will be reduced to 60 days or to the end of their visa (whichever is shorter). Your business will also be removed from the register of licenced sponsors.
Unfortunately, in these circumstances, there is no process to enable you to renew your sponsor licence. Instead, you will need to start the process from the start. If your business has inadvertently allowed its sponsor licence to expire, or there has been an administrative error, it is vital you seek the guidance of a specialist immigration law firm as soon as possible.
If your business has remained compliant with the requirements of the Home Office since being granted a sponsor licence and assuming no new rules have been introduced which could pose a problem, there is every reason to believe you will be issued with a renewal of your licence.
If you are unsure if any new rules have been imposed, you can speak to immigration Solicitors. In some situations, new requirements have been implemented. For example, tier 2 (Sportsperson) licence holders must now be endorsed by the governing body of the relevant sport (e.g. British Gymnastics and British Cycling etc.). There is a chance that as we hear more about the new post-Brexit immigration system, there may be new eligibility rules implemented. These new rules may be more relaxed or possibly more stringent; only time will tell.
The Home Office will check for the following before granting your business with a renewed sponsor licence:
One of the best ways you can ensure your business will be issued with a renewal of your sponsor licence is to prepare for a compliance visit. Depending on the size of your business and the number of sponsored employees you have taken on, you may not have received many (if any) compliance visits from UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI). If you have, you will likely be well versed in the process they carry out to ensure you are compliant. If not, consider engaging the services of an immigration Solicitor to undertake a mock inspection visit. They will identify if there are any gaps in your compliance and what is needed to rectify them.
Being granted a sponsor licence by the Home Office is only the very start of the journey of sponsoring employees from outside of the EEA/EU. The more familiar you become with your compliance obligation, the less of an impact the renewal process will impose on your business. As ever, preparation and avoidance of complacency are essential in order to achieve success.
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