Home Office changes to immigration sponsorship system will deter skilled migrant workers from coming to the UK

Skilled workers may be discouraged from coming to the UK, experts have warned, following changes to the immigration system announced by the Home Office last week.

The government has set out a new approach for employers that want to sponsor immigrants for visa applications. As part of the process, they will now have to apply for a licence if they want to employ non-EEA nationals.

Organisations may also be downgraded as sponsors if the employer or a director is convicted of an offence which calls into question their suitability as a sponsor. If a firm loses its licence, the migrant worker will usually have to leave the UK within 28 or 60 days.

Coupled with this, from February 2008 employers will also face unlimited fines – and up to two years in prison – if they knowingly employ overseas nationals illegally.

Liam Clifford, director at immigration consultancy Global Visas, said a big issue would be with large companies relying on hundreds of senior overseas nationals.

“Under the new scheme, if a sponsorship licence is revoked or suspended as part of a dispute, or for other reasons, it will prevent any new staff being allowed into the UK and those in the UK must stop work,” he said.

Kerry Garcia, senior associate in the employment and immigration team at law firm Stevens & Bolton, said the new rules effectively required firms to act as immigration officials by checking that a person was likely to comply with their conditions to remain in the UK.

“This is a wide-ranging obligation and effectively requires employers to take a view as to an employee’s intentions whereas previously this was up to the relevant immigration official to determine,” she said.

“Given the possible penalties if an employee gets this wrong this could deter employers from employing overseas nationals.”

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