Over the last year we have seen a huge amount of change in the UK business immigration system. With the extension of the points-based system to EU workers, the changes to eligibility requirements, and others such as the removal of the annual caps and the resident labour market test, there has been a lot for employers and sponsors to get to grips with.
More is on the horizon since the government published the “Sponsorship Roadmap for the UK points-based immigration system”, which sets out further proposed reforms.
The roadmap reiterates the Home Office’s intention to improve the points-based system, to make it easier for employers and sponsors to navigate. With a set of proposed changes that promise simplified application processes and improved technology, this is welcome news for licensed sponsors or those considering applying. Compliance will remain a focus for the Home Office, so it will be important as ever to ensure that, as a sponsor, you are on top of your compliance duties.
Sponsorship reforms in 2021
Those who have applied to become a licensed sponsor, or have considered doing so, will know that one of the most time-consuming parts of preparing a sponsor licence application is getting together the documents required to support the application. The Home Office has advised that by the end of the year, the documentary evidence required for becoming a licensed sponsor will be reviewed and consideration will be given to how this process might be simplified.
A proposed new service will be established within the Home Office to support small and micro businesses with the sponsorship system, and the fees for those who use the sponsorship system will be reviewed.
The roadmap also refers to a new skilled worker eligibility tool that it is proposed will be introduced before the end of the year, to help employers and workers determine whether the role they are looking to fill will meet the relevant criteria for the skilled worker route.
We have previously seen the Home Office working more closely with other government agencies, such as HMRC, in sharing information about workers and employers. This looks set to continue within the upcoming reforms; for instance, a new pilot salary check feature with HMRC will check that sponsored workers are being paid in accordance with the minimum salary requirements.
Sponsorship reforms in 2022 and beyond
The roadmap also sets out several technology changes to “deliver a system that is faster and simpler, with a reduced administrative burden on sponsors”.
Proposals include improvements to the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) priority service and reforming the licensing renewal process to help simplify the use of the sponsorship system. It is also intended that a new sponsorship IT system will be put in place to make it easier for sponsors to apply for and manage their licence. The key elements of the new IT system will be:
- The introduction of a streamlined process for existing sponsors who want to sponsor a worker. Once the role has been approved via the UKVI, the new system will enable workers to use a pre-populated visa application which will include the information previously provided by the sponsor. This will speed up the process of hiring an overseas worker, remove duplication and make the processing of applications more efficient.
- An improved online management system will be introduced which will help sponsors manage their licence more easily. Applications to make changes to the sponsor details, for example, will also be a more straightforward process.
- Further sharing of information held by other departments, for example HMRC and Companies House, to allow automatic checks to be undertaken. This will enable Home Office caseworkers to better understand the sponsor and sponsored worker, to process applications quicker and to assist with compliance issues.
- Simplifying the application process for becoming a licensed sponsor. Automated checks will enable the Home Office to validate whether a user is employed by, or is an office holder of, a sponsored organisation, and validate key details about the organisation. These checks will reduce the opportunity for abuse, and simplify the evidence requirements, and speed up the processing times.
The Home Office will continue to undertake compliance visits to ensure sponsors are meeting their compliance obligations, with checks on all potential sponsors, including past offences, to ensure that they aren’t a threat to immigration control.
The proposed reformed sponsorship system will also make greater use of technology to identify abuse. For example, the new salary checks with HMRC will enable the Home Office to ensure that employees are being paid in accordance with minimum salary requirements.
The overhaul of the points-based system is not yet complete, and we can expect to see a great deal of further changes over the next few years.