Migrant Visas and Sponsorship Licence Compliance for Businesses
1 October 2021
By Shane Colton
The UK government recently announced that 5,000 temporary visas for lorry drivers and 5,500 temporary visas for poultry workers would be issued in the coming months to address supply-chain issues in the fuel and agricultural industries. This announcement has raised concerns for employers as to how the traditional sponsorship licence for migrant workers will affect their ability to hire temporary employees at short notice. Currently, UK employers are legally required to apply for and obtain a Home Office sponsorship licence to hire migrant workers.
In light of the current shortage of workers in the haulage industry and agricultural sector, the government plans to introduce a specific visa that will be accessible via a new ‘Temporary Workers’ application route. The recruitment process will begin in October and this particular visa will be valid until 24 December 2021. The temporary worker route will effectively bypass the traditional system for migrants seeking employment in the United Kingdom whereby visas are issued based on job suitability (see more). However, the government has not yet addressed the implications of the traditional wait time for employers who do not currently hold a sponsorship licence who may be seeking to hire employees through the new application route. As per the Home Office, employers can expect to wait 8 weeks for a sponsorship application to be fully processed. Depending on individual circumstances, the process may take up to 12 weeks and employers are advised to get applications in as early as possible.
The huge demand for migrant workers in the lead up to Christmas is a stark reminder of the importance of immigration compliance for businesses in the UK. The sponsorship process has already been a highly pertinent topic for employers in recent years due to the implications of Brexit for workers from European Union countries. From 1 January 2021, businesses seeking to hire EEA and non-EEA nationals alike, must apply for a sponsorship licence (Exceptions apply for Irish citizens and EEA nationals with settled or pre-settled status). The Home Office has introduced various changes to the previous sponsorship application process such as the replacement of the Tier 2 (General) Visa with the Skilled Worker Visa. Employers are no longer required to satisfy the Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT) and the 6-year cap on total visa duration has now been removed. Despite these changes, employers must still ensure they are compliant with the duties of a sponsor licence holder, follow immigration regulations and renew their licence every 4 years. The ramifications of illegal working for employers can be severe and include the permanent closure of the offending business, issue of civil penalties up to £20,000 per employee and criminal convictions for business owners.
If your business is planning on applying for a sponsorship licence and requires legal advice, or currently holds a sponsorship licence but is concerned with the implications of recent changes to the sponsorship process, please contact MKB Law for more information.