When a country finds itself with a skills gap, it has a limited set of options to deal with its recruitment needs. In the long term it can invest in training and developing its young people so that they gain the skill sets that the countries businesses need to progress. This however takes time, as even with in work programmes such as the U.K.’s apprenticeship scheme, it can take years to develop candidates to the point where their skills are sufficient. Until these programmes come to fruition, businesses can often be forced to widen their recruitment search overseas in order to find the skills they need.
Luckily under the current Home Office policies, there are some visa routes which allow workers born overseas to live and work in the U.K., but their requirements can be a little difficult for some employers to navigate.
The first visa type we’re going to look at here is the High Potential Individual (HPI) visa. This visa allows individuals with high level qualifications to move to the U.K. to pursue employment, or self-employment for up to three years. They have the ability to move between jobs with different organisations, as their visa is not linked to an offer of employment. Part of the appeal behind this visa is that it holds benefit for the U.K., and the visa holder themselves. It gives the individual the ability to work for world leading businesses who may not be based in their home nation. At the same time it benefits the business themselves, as it means that they’re better able to navigate the skills gap.
In the case of the employer wishing to retain their services past the end of the visas term, there is another option available, but it does require more involvement on the part of the employer themselves. As the HPI visa can’t be extended, employers are able to ‘sponsor’ a worker to remain with their company for up to a further five years. To do this, they must apply for a U.K. sponsor licence.
Once the application is complete, the employer is issued a sponsor licence rating by the Home Office. Initially, this rating is an ‘A rating’ and indicates that an employer has the ability to sponsor overseas workers to live and work within the U.K. As we mentioned previously, the sponsor licence more directly connects the employer to the visa itself, and as such you organisation has more responsibility to the visa holder themselves.
As with any visa, the holder is bound to live by certain terms and conditions while they are within the U.K. and if these terms are breached, their visa can be revoked. Under an HPI visa, this may mean that they were sent back to their country of origin, but under the terms of the sponsor licence, it is your organisations responsibility to report this to the Home Office yourself. This may result in your licence being downgraded from A to a ‘B rating’. This change to the licence rating will mean that your organisation is unable to sponsor workers in the short term until you are able to regain your original A rating.
To do this, you’ll need to work alongside the UKVI who will develop an action plan you can follow. Upon completion, the Home Office should be able to reinstate your A rating, meaning you’ll be able to resume your sponsorship of overseas candidates.
Applying for a sponsor licence does have a cost implication for the employer and what you pay depends on both the size of your business, and whether you attempt to complete the process without assistance. A small business or charity will pay a fee of £536 to submit their sponsor licence application, whereas a medium to large business will pay £1476. Should you choose to undertake the process without seeking legal advice, there are a some things you should consider.
The immigration system in the U.K. is not always straightforward, and despite the existence of government guidance, attempting to navigate an application process yourself can increase the risk of mistakes occurring within the application.
If your organisation submits an application which is rejected by the Home Office, then you should be aware that there is no option to appeal the decision, and any fees paid are forfeit. After a set ‘cooling off’ period, your business is able to reapply for the licence and attempt to correct any prior issue with the application, however you will need to pay a new set of fees in order to have the new application processed. For this reason, it may be useful to your organisation to seek the assistance of immigration advisors who will be able to help you with the application in more detail.