September 18, 2020

Call to Action: UK Employers Encouraged to Apply for Tier 2 Sponsor License Now

Remember when “the war for talent” was the phrase dominating the headlines? Many may long for those days now, as the pandemic-related impacts on global talent recruitment, hiring and mobility have clearly taken top-billing status since early 2020.

But there is an important, non-COVID-19-related strategic talent requirement with which all UK employers should be fully aware:

As of January 1, 2021, UK employers must have a valid license to sponsor skilled European Economic Area (EEA) and non-EU talent.

While cross-border movement quite obviously came to all but a complete halt in the first half of 2020, the clock has not stopped as it relates to the conclusion of the Brexit transition period and changing immigration requirements that will take effect as of midnight on December 31, 2020. Understandably, the economic stressors and uncertainties posed by the global pandemic may still have many organizations in a “wait and see” mode, but UK-based employers are well advised to take the necessary steps now to ensure their business readiness when the Brexit transitional period winds down and cross-border movement and competition for top talent resumes.

Currently, without a sponsor license, a UK-based company cannot sponsor a non-EU national for work. When free movement ends on December 31, 2020, any EU national that has not secured their status in the UK will also require sponsorship, in the same way that non-EU nationals currently require. Where employers wish to recruit talent to come to work in the UK in a skilled job, they will need to apply to sponsor them under the new system, currently called Tier 2. To do this, they must hold a sponsor license.

A recent report in Politico raised some alarming statistics: As of June 2020, there were only 29,300 Tier 2 Sponsor License holders – representing only a 3 percent increase over 2019. This suggests that not enough UK firms will be adequately prepared to recruit and sponsor the EU talent they may need once the new immigration requirements take effect.

Pandemic-mandated lockdowns have clearly not helped the situation, as applications were reportedly down by about one-third between April and June, compared to the first quarter. In addition, the average length of time required to process applications has increased to 28 days, highlighting the importance of taking proactive steps now to avoid potentially costly delays at the start of the new year.

A crucial part of the process in applying for a sponsor license is ensuring that the UK-based employer understands their responsibilities and duties as a sponsor license holder and is able to remain compliant. The Home Office may conduct a pre-license compliance check and therefore it is important businesses are well prepared.

For more information on applying for a Tier 2 Sponsor License, please contact the Sterling Lexicon immigration team.


Leanne Cottrell

Leanne Cottrell

As Head of Immigration with Sterling Lexicon, Leanne leads a team of specialists who are responsible for ensuring the entire immigration process is smooth and stress-free for clients, assignees and their accompanying family members. She brings over ten years of experience in strategic immigration management, planning and consultation to her role, and has cultivated invaluable knowledge and experience in processing countless global migration applications. As a trusted partner, she consults with clients on everything from policy considerations and cost or efficiency improvements, to the impact of opening offices in new locations. Leanne is a frequent presenter and author on global immigration topics and trends.

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