Home Office 'Sponsorship
Roadmap' sets out future

The Home Office has published a new ‘Sponsorship Roadmap’ document which sets out key reforms the government intends to introduce to improve the sponsorship system this year, in 2022 and beyond. The reforms build on the government’s commitment to attract the best and brightest talent from across the globe via a fully digital immigration system.

Sponsorship of migrant workers and students forms an integral part of the UK’s Points-Based Immigration System, with the relationship between employers or educational institutions and migrants aimed at certifying that those coming to the UK on work or student visa routes are genuinely intending to work or study.

The Home Office has expressed a commitment to delivering ‘radical changes’ to the sponsorship process, making it easier for users to understand and navigate, and significantly reducing the time it takes to bring someone to the UK.

The Sponsorship Roadmap comes as the latest immigration statistics show that the UK continues to attract talent from around the world under the points-based system.

Minister for Future Borders and Immigration Kevin Foster said: “Our points-based system is delivering our pledge to attract the best and brightest to the UK while ensuring businesses focus on our domestic workforce. By making these significant changes to the sponsorship process, the UK will become global leaders in bringing talent to start work and study here faster than any other G20 country.”

Sponsorship in the UK

In the year ending March 2021, there were 33,952 organisations on the register of work sponsors, an increase of 9% year on year. The number of organisations on the register of sponsors for study remained stable, at 1,125.

In order to gain sponsor approval, businesses and institutions must meet the strict eligibility requirements and undergo rigorous checks to demonstrate that they are a genuine and credible organisation and have the necessary systems and processes in place to effectively monitor and report on their sponsored workers or students.

In line with the government’s aims to modernise the immigration system, they have pledged to deliver a ‘streamlined, simplified and modern’ sponsorship system that delivers a more efficient operation for users and the Home Office, whilst encouraging compliance.

Progress to date

The Home Office has already introduced some key changes to the sponsorship process that came into effect when the new points-based system was launched in December 2020. Changes made so far include:

  • The removal of the Resident Labour Market Test requirement, meaning employers no longer face the lengthy process of having to advertise a role for 28 days before assigning a Certificate of Sponsorship to a migrant worker.
  • Suspending the cap on Skilled Workers, meaning there is now no limit on the number of migrants who can come to the UK under the Skilled Worker route.
  • Making the sponsor licence application fully paperless and redesigning the sponsor guidance to make the system simpler, more streamlined and accessible.

The above changes combined have all helped reduce end-to-end visa processing times by up to eight weeks, allowing employers to bring in workers from overseas on a tighter timescale.

Another improvement designed to speed up the sponsorship process includes the introduction of a priority service, which was launched in November 2020. For an additional fee of £500, the priority service gives businesses the ability to apply for a faster decision on their sponsor licence application, with a target turnaround time of 10 working days.

Sponsorship reforms in 2021

The Sponsorship roadmap states that the focus for sponsorship reforms in the remainder of 2021 is to remove and demystify perceived barriers to use of the system. The aim is to help businesses to feel more confident in making future investment decisions, especially if they have not used the system before.

The key objectives for 2021 and the deliverables for achieving each objective are as follows:

  • Speeding up end-to-end processing times, from applying for a sponsor licence to a worker being approved for a visa
    • The Home Office will review the documentary evidence required to become a licensed sponsor, and consider how this could be simplified.
  • Improving a sponsor’s experience of using the sponsorship system, reducing the burden on them to maintain their licence and providing greater functionality and transparency
    • The Home Office is currently undertaking research to help establish a new service that can lend support to small and micro businesses.
    • A review of sponsorship fees will be undertaken, to ensure fees remain fair as the new system is rolled out
    • An enhanced Skilled Worker eligibility checking tool will be introduced, making it easier for prospective employers and workers to understand if a particular job is eligible under the Skilled Worker route.
  • Preventing abuse of the system, including effective management of information risk
    • The piloting of a new salary check feature with HMRC will enable the Home Office to check sponsored workers are being paid the amount their employers committed to pay them.

Sponsorship reforms in 2022 and beyond

For 2022 and beyond, the Sponsorship Roadmap sets out a range of ambitious technological and system reforms aimed at delivering a faster and simpler system with a reduced administrative burden on sponsors.

The reforms will enable the UK to be global leaders in helping sponsors access overseas talent quickly and effectively. By Q1 of 2024, the sponsorship system will be:

  • Delivering a faster end-to-end process for sponsors and employees to further reduce the time it takes to recruit people from outside the UK.
  • Simpler for sponsoring new workers through re-using information the government already holds where possible.
  • Streamlined through improving the accessibility and usability of systems, with a single online dashboard to give sponsors a better understanding of the status of their sponsor licence and the actions they need to take.

Achieving this end state will require significant efforts in the interim. As such, the Home Office will focus on the following areas:

  • Enhanced customer experience – Current service standards will be reviewed and improvements will be delivered by Spring 2022. The ambition is to offer a shorter service standard for straightforward, compliant applicants.
  • IT transformation – A key element of the sponsorship transformation plans is the build of a new sponsorship IT system. The aim of the new technology is to provide a simpler application process, more usable and accessible systems, less bureaucracy and paperwork when demonstrating compliance, and faster end-to-end processing of applications. There will be a phased roll-out of the new system, with an aim to have all licenced sponsors on the new system by Q1 of 2024.
  • Compliance – Compliance remains central to the sponsorship system. Key protections for workers will be monitored via compliance visits, and the transformed sponsorship system will make greater use of technology to identify abuse. Compliance visits will be targeted to sponsors who present a higher risk or have no track record of compliance.
  • The Global Business Mobility route – This new route for overseas businesses seeking to establish a presence in the UK or transfer staff to the UK will be launched in Spring 2022 under the existing sponsorship system.
  • Engagement strategy – A comprehensive sponsorship engagement strategy will inform the design and delivery of the new system, in consultation with a number of key external stakeholders such as businesses, SMEs, educational organisations and advisory groups.

Working together to deliver a world class sponsorship system

The Sponsorship Roadmap has laid out the government’s long-term ambitions to deliver a digital, simple and modern sponsorship system that meets the needs of both system users and the Home Office. As the reforms are taken forward, the Home Office recognises the need to work collaboratively with new and prospective sponsors to help ensure the modernised sponsorship system is a success.

If you are considering applying for a sponsor licence, Smith Stone Walters can help. To speak to a member of our Sponsor Licence team, please call 0208 461 6660 or email info@smithstonewalters.com.

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