With Brexit an imminent prospect, UK employers are expected to look increasingly beyond Europe to meet recruitment needs and plug domestic skills shortages.

Under the current UK immigration rules, to be able to employ non-EEA workers, you have to apply for a sponsor licence.

The sponsor licence application process is renowned for being difficult and complex to navigate. In fact, an average of 15% of applications are refused.

If your organisation is looking to tap into the global talent market and start recruiting from outside Europe, do you know what the process is for securing a sponsor licence? And how can you better your chances of making a successful application?

Securing a sponsor licence

Step 1: Are you eligible?

Before you make an application, you will need to prove the following:

  • You have no unspent criminal convictions for immigration offences or other crimes such as fraud or money laundering.
  • You have no history of failing to carry out sponsorship duties.
  • You have appropriate systems in place to monitor sponsored employees.

You can only progress with an application for a sponsor licence if you can evidence your organisation’s eligibility.

Step 2: What type of licence do you need?

You will need to specify the types of workers you are looking to recruit:

  • Tier 2 workers: Skilled workers with long-term job offers. There are four classes of Tier 2 visas: General, Intra-Company Transfer, Minister of Religion and Sportsperson.
  • Tier 5 workers: Skilled temporary workers. This tier has 5 different subgroups: Charity Worker, Religious Worker, Government Authorised Exchange, International Agreement and Creative and Sporting.

This means you need to have considered by this stage what your recruitment needs are now and into the long term so that your licence provides sufficient cover for its duration. Note that successful licences are valid for four years.

Step 3: Who will take on the sponsor management roles?

As part of your sponsor licence application you must identify the individual(s) within your organisation who will be responsible for the sponsor management duties and for using the online sponsor management system (SMS). The roles to be assigned are:

  • Authorising Officer – a senior and competent person responsible for the actions of staff and representatives who use the sponsor management system.
  • Key Contact – your main point of contact with UK Visas and Immigration.
  • Level 1 User – responsible for all day-to-day management of your licence using the sponsor management system.

The roles can be filled by one individual or by several, giving you some flexibility to suit the set-up of your organisation. Note also that nominated employees will need to undergo suitability checks.

Step 4: Preparing your application

Always remember, the application process is designed to ensure UK employers are complying with their duties in eradicating illegal working. So you need to ensure your immigration systems, policies and procedures are established, operational and effective, and evidence this to the Home Office as part of your application. Undertaking an internal immigration audit before you make the application can help you identify areas for improvement and maximise your chances of being awarded a sponsor licence.

The application itself must be made online, and followed up with supporting documentation to meet the evidentiary requirements. There will also be an application fee payable at this point.

There is some time pressure once you have completed the online application – the supporting documents must be supplied within five days of the initial application. Failure to submit all required documents will result in your application being delayed or rejected, and further costs being incurred.

So it’s important to have prepared all of the necessary evidence and documentation by the time you make your application online.

Step 5: Will you be visited by the Home Office?

After you’ve made your application online and submitted your supporting documents, you may find yourself subject to a compliance inspection to assess whether or not to grant you the licence.

A key driver behind the visits, and the reason for them becoming more common than ever, is the ‘genuineness test’. The test is looking to ascertain whether the employment your licence relates to is genuine and meets Home Office guidance on ‘skill level and appropriate rates of pay’.

Unfortunately, there’s no black and white criteria as to what this means in practice, which creates uncertainty for employers. Seeking professional advice is the most effective way of ensuring the basis of your sponsor licence application and the application itself are sufficiently relevant and robust.

Securing a sponsor licence – the results are in!

If your application is approved, you will be awarded an A-rated licence and will be added to the Home Office register of sponsors. You can now take the next step in your recruitment strategy and start assigning certificates of sponsorship for your prospective overseas talent.

If you’re not successful with a first-time application, you’ll be unable to appeal. You will have to make a new application, at full cost and after a specified period of time, which will depend on your circumstances. So it clearly pays to get it right first time.