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Employers handed 246 pages of guidance on new worker sponsorship system


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The UK’s new immigration system is hurtling towards us at a rate of knots. As of 1 January 2021, newly arrived EU citizens coming to work in the UK are likely to need to be sponsored for a visa by their employer. 

If you read the Home Office marketing blurb, you’d think sponsorship couldn’t be easier. The law firm Fragomen, which contributed to some of the Home Office’s marketing material, even goes so far as to say it’s not “rocket science”. (As an aside, does anyone know how I can get the Home Office to advertise my firm to thousands of potential clients please!) I must have been living in a parallel universe: Colin’s description of how complex the immigration system, including sponsorship, has become still very much holds true despite the new system.

The document from hell just got longer

Employers that hold a sponsor licence have long become used to having to read an ominous document referred to as the sponsor guidance. This document, the one I dream about on an almost nightly basis, contains detailed information on how to manage a sponsor licence, how to sponsor workers and, generally, how to be regarded by the Home Office as a compliant sponsor. Oh, and it’s usually updated several times a year.

The Home Office has long promised to try and simplify the immigration system. Unfortunately the latest version of the sponsor guidance, which landed yesterday, hasn’t been simplified at all.

First off, the guidance now runs to 246 pages in total. Somehow, they’ve managed to add another 37 pages to what was already a hideously long set of instructions. 

Secondly, they’ve divided what was at least a single, easily searchable document into five separate documents:

  • Part 1: Apply for a licence
  • Part 2: Sponsor a worker – general information
  • Part 3: Sponsor duties and compliance
  • Sponsor a Skilled Worker
  • Sponsor an Intra-Company Worker

Make a mistake, we revoke

Moving to the substance: the threat of sponsor licence revocation remains in place for sponsors who don’t abide by the rules. We’ve seen time and time again that the courts have backed the Home Office where it has revoked a licence for seemingly minor infringements of the guidance. This, in turn, means that any workers who are sponsored must cease work and the employer cannot sponsor more workers.

Duties, duties and more duties

There are a significant number of sponsor duties to comply with. These range from ensuring the role amounts to a “genuine vacancy” (a highly subjective exercise); to notifying the Home Office if the sponsored worker ceases employment (fair enough); to reporting promotions, changes in core duties, salary changes (imagine keeping on top of all that for hundreds of workers), etc. Sponsors also need to report “significant” changes to their business, such as if they are involved in a merger or acquisition, have a name change or move to a new address.

There’s also the requirement to comply with (the Home Office’s interpretation of) wider UK law, such as complying with employment law, minimum wage legislation, planning laws, etc.

New-look Certificates of Sponsorship

Gone are restricted Certificates of Sponsorship (restricted because of the annual cap on numbers) and unrestricted Certificate of Sponsorship (those not covered by the cap). Instead we have… “defined” and “undefined” Certificates of Sponsorship.

A defined CoS is still restricted, not because of the annual cap — which is gone — but because you have to ask the Home Office for a defined CoS (which is for anyone outside the UK) and they can refuse the application if they do not agree that it meets the requirements. 

Employer-friendly it ain’t

It’s going to take some time to review the new guidance properly, recover from the sheer craziness of trying to roll out such a hideously complex and subjective system to workers from the entire European continent — no big deal — and get back on the horse. Joanna has already covered some of the major changes for workers and, over the next few weeks, we’ll be exploring the different aspects of the new system in more detail.

For now, all I can say is that anyone hoping for a more simplified sponsorship system at this point in time will be disappointed. I’ve never studied rocket science myself, but I have a strong suspicion that it might actually be less complicated.

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Picture of Nichola Carter

Nichola Carter

Nichola heads the immigration team at Carter Thomas (www.carterthomas.co.uk). A lawyer with 20 years' experience, she also sits on The Law Society’s Immigration Committee. Nichola's main work relates to advising businesses, universities and schools on sponsor applications and compliance, and individuals seeking to come under the Global Talent, family and other routes . She regularly provides media comment including for the BBC and FT and is happy to be contacted for comment. Nichola tweets from @carternichola and her email is ncarter@carterthomas.co.uk.


2 Responses

  1. I’ve never studied rocket science myself, but I have a strong suspicion that it might actually be less complicated.