Are you ready for the UK’s new immigration rules in 2021?
Did you know that in May 2020, 98% of UK businesses had not yet registered to sponsor overseas workers from 1 January 2021? If you’re still one of them, time is running out.
Undoubtedly, the coronavirus has caused huge disruption to businesses, with many employers focusing on how to get through lockdown rather than preparing for Brexit. But for those that depend on international workers or are facing skills shortages, it’s vital to start a licence application immediately. Otherwise, not only will businesses miss out on hiring the best person for the job if they’re from overseas, but EU workers will also select prospective employers based on whether they have a licence or not.
Chris Brazier, employment and business immigration partner, B P Collins answers key questions on sponsorship licences and Right to Work checks.
1. How has Brexit changed the law for employers wishing to recruit staff from the EU?
From 1 January 2021, EU citizens will no longer have freedom of movement and will lose the automatic right to live and work in the UK. Irish Citizens will still benefit from the Common Travel Area. Although EU citizens already resident in the UK may be able to secure their status via the EU Settlement Scheme or by other means, those who have not secured their status will be subject to the UK’s new points-based immigration system. This means that any UK employer who wants to employ an EU citizen will need to sponsor them, under the same system which applies to non-EU citizens.
Many EU citizens will need to be sponsored for the new Skilled Worker visa, which replaced the Tier 2 (General) visa on 1 December 2020. To be granted a Skilled Worker visa, applicants must earn 70 points. The first 50 points are earned by having an offer from a Home Office licensed sponsor at a sufficiently high skill level (at least RQF3, A-level) and by having a good knowledge of English. The remaining 20 points can be earned in a number of ways depending on the migrant’s occupation, salary and qualifications.
Because of the need for sponsorship, recruitment from the EU is going to be much more expensive and time-consuming for employers. Not only will they need to incur the costs of applying for a sponsor licence, but there will be a number of fees to pay to the Home Office in relation to both the recruit and any dependants they bring with them. Although some of these are technically payable by the employee, many recruits will expect their sponsor to cover the fees on their behalf. A medium or large employer who does not yet have a sponsor licence should budget approximately £12,000 to cover just the fees payable to the Home Office for sponsoring their first recruit – and that’s assuming the recruit has no dependants they wish to bring with them.
As it is envisaged that there will be a significantly greater number of applications, the Government will be “suspending the cap” that is used to apply to skilled worker visas, so there will be no cap on the number of skilled workers who can enter the UK.
2. Is it easier for companies to hire staff from the EU if they have offices overseas?
The scheme allowing for Intra-Company Transfers (ICT) still exists and is available for citizens employed in EU or non-EU countries and who wish to work in the UK.
Applicants for an ICT visa will not need to demonstrate knowledge of the English language. However, in comparison to the Skilled Worker visa, there are much stricter requirements in relation to minimum salary and qualifications. The minimum salary required to obtain an ICT visa is higher at £41,500 and the applicant is required to be employed in a job skilled to RQF6 (degree level). In addition, the ICT visa applicant will have to have been employed by the subsidiary or parent for at least 12 months.
In a relaxation of the old rules, employees in the UK under an ICT visa can now “switch” into a skilled worker category without having to leave the UK and the cooling off period (which is a period of 12 months that is used to apply before another visa application could be made), has be adjusted to allow for greater flexibility. As before, anyone who holds an ICT visa, will not be able to use that time to apply for settlement.
There is a separate scheme for Graduate Trainees, with slightly more relaxed criteria applicable. However, this route is only available to recent graduates taking part in a structured training scheme working towards a managerial or specialist role.
3. What other changes do employers need to be aware of?
It is vital that employers comply with Right to Work (RTW) checks to ensure a person from outside the UK is legally allowed to work for you, otherwise you could risk a fine of up to £20,000.
Since March 2020, RTW check procedures have been adjusted due to the pandemic. For example, instead of employers obtaining original documents, a prospective or existing worker could provide a scan or photo of their right to work documents; or employers could organise a video call with the employee and ask them to show their original documents.
Employers should keep a log of all employees who had Right to Work checks carried out using the adjusted procedure. This is because you will need to conduct a retrospective follow up check with them no later than eight weeks after the Home Office announces that the adjusted procedure has come to an end. If it is possible to do so, B P Collins would advise to start the process now, so there isn’t a bottleneck of RTW checks once the announcement is made. Our business immigration team can also help with all checks to ease the load.