Migrant sponsor backlog blights launch of registration scheme

Nearly half of UK employers keen to employ migrant workers are still waiting for approval of their applications to become sponsors under the new immigration system, which goes live tomorrow.

About 45% of respondents to a survey by Sarah Buttler Associates warned they had not received their sponsorship certificates despite applying weeks ago, meaning they could not legally hire or transfer migrant workers from 27 November. Nearly 39% of the 60 firms asked – covering two million employees – had been waiting longer than four weeks for a response to their application from the UK Border Agency, according to the SBA Immigration Survey.

Founding partner Sarah Buttler, told Personnel Today the delays were inevitable as more employers realised they needed to apply to become sponsors.

“While the register has been open since the end of February [2008], a lot of organisations have had to do a lot of internal administration to apply. In July, the UK Border Agency had received hundreds of applications, now it has thousands – which is where the delay is coming from.”

Earlier this year, Buttler predicted there would be a bottleneck as firms applied “at the last minute” and government agencies struggled to cope.

Tier 2 of the government’s new points-based system will go live tomorrow. Any employer wishing to hire skilled migrant workers in this way will need to apply to become a sponsor. The application process includes a visit from the UK Border Agency to check that companies are capable of monitoring the status of migrants once they enter the UK. Employers will also need to check the workers they wish to hire are on the government’s shortage occupations list.

So far about 2,000 employers have been granted licenses, out of a possible 60,000.

Buttler said another reason employers have been slow to apply to become sponsors could be because the system is still seen as overly bureaucratic. Just 17% of employers found the new system easier to use, she said.

The UK Border Agency told Personnel Today earlier this year that employers should not panic about the new immigration system, and insisted it had enough staff in place to deal with an increase in applications from employers.

Other survey findings:

  • 70% of employers concluded that implementing the new system had increased administration costs
  • 46% of employers believed that Tier 2 would greatly increase their costs of bringing in valuable skills to the UK, with nearly one-third claiming that it would cost them more than £101,000 per year
  • 80% of respondents did not believe a US-style cap/quota system limiting the number of migrant workers to the UK would be desirable.

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