The end of EU freedom of movement on 31 December 2020 means EU and non-EU citizens coming to the UK from 2021 will subject to a new system of UK immigration rules.
Eligibility to come to the UK for work will be on the basis of a Home Office application evidencing skills and points-based requirements, and will no longer be determined by nationality.
The reforms will also see UK employers required to have a skilled worker licence to hire non-UK resident workers.
While employers will not need a licence to employ EU workers who are already in the UK by 31 December 2020 and who have registered under the EU settlement scheme, the news rules will apply to all individuals looking to enter the UK for work after 1 January 2021.
Companies that have not had to deal with the Home Office when hiring EU national workers will find themselves having to navigate the licence application process, managing the ongoing compliance duties and ensuring renewal to avoid unwanted expiry and enforcement action. The impact on employers’ recruitment and workforce planning should not be underestimated, as we discussed in a previous article.
In light of the imminent changes, the UK Government is advising employers without a sponsor licence to make their application now to avoid future delays or issues with recruitment. The Home Office has stated the new skilled worker licence will be available for applications to be made under the new route before the end of the transition period (ie by 31 December 2020).
What is the skilled worker licence and how do you apply to become a sponsor?
Skilled worker licence application requirements
The Home Office stated it will continue to apply existing sponsorship controls when granting sponsor licences and permission for UK employers to hire migrant workers in the UK.
To apply for a skilled worker licence, employers will need to show:
- the company is a genuine organisation
- the company is solvent
- the role being offered is a credible vacancy that meets the relevant skill level and appropriate rates of pay
- the company meets immigration compliance duties through HR processes and systems
- the company will act and behave in a way which is conducive to the wider public good
- employees involved in maintaining and operating the company licence are honest, dependable and reliable will be subject to criminality and other security checks to ensure they
The application process requires an online form to be completed and supporting documents to be provided, as stipulated under Appendix A. Supporting documents vary depending on the type of organisation you are and the type of licence you are applying for.
Existing sponsor licence holders
In its July 2020 paper, the Home office advised that companies already holding a valid sponsor licence to hire Tier 2 (General) and Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer) visa holders will be granted a new Skilled Worker licence or Intra-Company Transfer licence automatically, with an “appropriate allocation of Certificates of Sponsorship” (CoS)
The new licence would come with an expiry date consistent with the current licence.
Skilled worker licence costs
In addition to the licence application fee, employers will also have to pay the Certificate of Sponsorship fee of £199 per visa applicant and the annual Immigration Skills Charge. Under the ISC, employers must pay £1,000 per skilled worker for the first 12 months, with an additional £500 charge for each subsequent six-month period. Discounted rates of £364 per sponsored worker per year will apply as they do now to charities and Small and Medium Enterprises.
Skilled worker visa
Individuals must have been issued a Certificate of Sponsorship from their prospective sponsor before they can apply to the Home Office for their skilled worker visa.
The visa application then requires evidence that the individual satisfies the points requirement, requirements for which they will score points that the role meets the skill and salary thresholds of the new route.
Mandatory skilled worker visa criteria include:
- The job role being applied for must be at or above the minimum skill level: RQF3 level or equivalent (A-level or equivalent qualification) although a formal qualification is not needed.
- It is the skill level of the job they will be doing which is important.
- The applicant must have an offer of a job from a licensed sponsor;
- The applicant must speak English to an acceptable standard.
Meeting the mandatory criteria above will earn the applicant 50 points; they must obtain a further 20 “tradeable” points through a combination of points for their salary, a job in a shortage occupation or a relevant PhD.
If the applicant is paid the higher of the general salary threshold of £25,600 or the “going rate” for their particular job, they will get an extra 20 points.
There is scope to earn the required extra tradeable points if the applicant is paid less than the general threshold or the going rate, provided they are paid at least £20,480. That being the case, the applicant may earn points if they have a job offer in a specific shortage occupation (as recommended by the MAC) or a PhD qualification relevant to the job.
There are also different minimum salary rules for workers in certain health or education jobs, and for “new entrants” at the start of their career. The salary requirement for new entrants will be 30% lower than the rate for experienced workers in any occupation. However, the minimum of £20,480 must always be met.
Applicants can be refused entry if they have:
- a conviction with a custodial sentence length of at least 12 months;
- committed an offence which caused serious harm;
- are a persistent offender who shows a particular disregard for the law;
- their character, conduct or associations means their presence is not conducive to the public good.
Switching UK work visas from 2021
The latest Home Office guidance refers to switching being permitted for “most migrants” applying to switch from one immigration route to another without having to leave the UK.
It will not be possible to switch from within the UK into the work or study visa categories from short term visas such as the visitor visa or seasonal worker programmes.
The visa requirements and fees for the target route will continue to apply and there is no relaxation or more favourable criteria for switchers.
For employers, this should avoid visa workers having to leave the country to make their application.
Skilled worker dependants
Skilled workers and postgraduate students will continue to have the right to bring dependants such as spouses, partners and minor children. Dependant visas grant the right to come to the UK where they can work, and school age children can access state education.
Simplification of the system?
The Home Office continues to emphasise that system reform will see the UK sponsorship process streamlined and simplified. Such changes would be in addition to the removal of the skilled visa cap and the Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT), creating the time savings for employers compared to the current process.
Skilled worker licence FAQs
Do EU citizens need a visa to work in the UK?
From 1 January 2021, all non-UK residents coming to the UK will be subject to immgiration control. This includes EU nationals who are not resident in the UK or with EU settled status.
How do you become a licensed sponsor in the UK?
Employers have to apply to the Home Office to be granted a skilled worker licence and for permission to hire visa workers. Sponsors then have to comply with ongoing licence management and reporting duties, or risk Home Office penalties.
How much does it cost to sponsor someone in the UK?
The fee to apply for a skilled worker licence is £1476 for large employers and £536 for smaller companies. The organisation aslso has to pay the Immigration Skills Charge (£1000 per visa worker year, or £364 for smaller employers and charities) and the £199 fee to issue a CoS to each sponsored worker.
The full policy paper can be found here.
Last updated: 13 July 2020