When free movement for European Union nationals ends on 31 December this year, a new system of immigration for Skilled Workers will begin. Any EU national who is not already living in the UK at that point, will need to follow the same procedures as Skilled Workers from outside the EU. This will be an extra burden for businesses who need to recruit from the EU. There is no doubt that the new system is an expensive and bureaucratic replacement for free movement.
Many employers are already set up to employ foreign workers. They already have a ‘Sponsorship Licence’ which allows them hire from overseas if they cannot find the skills they need in the UK. From 1 January 2021, whether a business is large or small, it must have a Sponsorship Licence if it wishes to recruit from overseas, including the EU, – otherwise it risks large penalties for employing illegal workers. The new system goes live on 1 December 2020. Although it has been simplified to a certain extent, it is still vitally important that employers stick to the rules. The main features are:
1. The worker must have a job offer from a licenced employer
2. The job must be at the appropriate skill level – this is now A-Level type jobs and above. The government will be producing a list of job definitions before 1 December (Standard Occupational Classifications or SOC). There is also a list of Shortage Occupation Jobs that are included in the Skilled Workers category.
3. The worker must have a sufficiently high level of English Language skills 4. The salary for the job must be £25,600 or the ‘going rate’ for the job’s SOC, whichever is the higher. There are different job rates for new entrants and more experienced workers.
5. The job must be ‘genuine’ – we are not yet sure how this will be assessed.
6. The worker must have savings that will cover expenses for the first month or so in the UK – savings of £1270 held for at least 28 days before the application. The employer can meet this requirement if it chooses to do so. The worker must obtain a certain number of ‘points’ to get work here and there is some flexibility in the new system – for example if a job pays a salary lower than £25,600 but the worker has a Phd in a STEM subject, they can trade their Phd against the low salary and reach the right number of points.
It is clear that the definition of Skilled Workers does not include agricultural labourers or care workers – two sectors that rely heavily on EU nationals. However, it does cover jobs demanding lower skills than the present system.
If you think you might need to employer overseas workers in the near future, consider applying for a Sponsorship Licence. You will need to show that you are a genuine business and there are genuine vacancies. There are a range of duties linked to the Sponsorship Licence and you must have robust Human Resources systems in place to check on every employee’s right to work in the UK and to keep track of your migrant workers. The Home Office can visit licence holders at any time to ensure they are complying with their duties.
Current costs include the Sponsorship Licence Application fee of £1476 if you employ over 50 workers; £536 if you employ fewer. You will have to pay a fee each time you allocate a job under your licence and you may need to pay an Immigration Skills Charge. On top of that there are also the fees for the worker’s application to enter the UK. It is not cheap to recruit from overseas and, as with all Home Office applications, it is essential to prepare your paperwork carefully. However, once you have your Sponsorship Licence, it lasts for four years and gives you the option to employ foreign workers if you cannot find the skills you need amongst the settled population already in the country.