The minister for future borders and immigration has advised employers wishing to continue to recruit skilled workers from abroad next year and beyond to submit their applications for a sponsor licence as soon as possible, after seeing an uptick in recent weeks.
Kevin Foster said there would be no further changes to the new points-based immigration system and recommended that employers took action now to ensure they were able to recruit skilled workers from EEA and non-EEA countries from 1 January 2021.
“The Immigration Bill is as of today the Immigration Act, so free movement will end, that will definitely happen,” he told Personnel Today. “People won’t be seeing us make any last minute changes now, and we first put out some details earlier this year to help employers prepare for it.”
The number of organisations applying for a sponsorship licence has been gradually increasing and so far more than 34,000 firms across a variety of sectors have had their licences approved.
“We are starting to see an uptick in the numbers of businesses applying to be sponsors. For example, over the weekend of 4 October, 145 companies applied to be sponsors, whereas by last weekend that was up to 193,” said the minister.
“The message to employers is: this is happening, free movement is ending and if you still want to recruit from outside the UK labour market and Irish nationals, you do now need to move towards getting a sponsorship licence.”
Organisations that already hold Tier 2 sponsorship licences will have these automatically converted into a sponsor licence under the new skilled worker immigration route, which opens for applications alongside several other migration routes on 1 December 2020. Converted licences will have the same expiry date as the one they currently hold.
Asked whether the Home Office had sufficient resources to process the expected increase in licence applications before 1 January, Foster said: “We make millions of decisions in the Home Office every year on immigration matters, from short term visitor visas to citizenship, settlement and sponsorship. So we already have a system in place… we have made plans to deal with any potential influx.”
He acknowledged that some employers that have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic may not be looking to recruit from overseas straight away, but said it was important for them to check the requirements and qualification criteria for the roles they would normally require.
This is happening, free movement is ending and if you still want to recruit from outside the UK labour market and Irish nationals, you do now need to move towards getting a sponsorship licence” – Kevin Foster, minister for future borders and immigration
He also advised employers to check the guidance available on the gov.uk website to see if they were eligible to apply for a sponsorship licence and the type of licence that would be most suitable for them.
EU Settlement Scheme
Some 4 million EU nationals have submitted applications for settled or pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme, which has an application deadline of 30 June 2021. So far, the Home Office has processed 3.8 million of them, which Foster described as “one of the biggest operations we’ve had in the Home Office for a very long time”.
“We think it’s important because we need to make sure people [can] evidence their status in the long term, not just now. One of the key lessons learnt from the Windrush era was that granting people a status via an act of Parliament may have worked back in the 1970s, but decades later people were struggling to prove that they’d been here before 1 January 1973. That then had real consequences for them and their lives as laws changed, society moved on and the knowledge of that period declined.”
He encouraged employers to signpost EEA staff towards the EU Settlement Scheme smartphone app and support resources including the settlement resolution centre and digital services.
“We’re really pleased with how the EUSS is going. It’s free, free to convert from pre-settled to settled status when you hit five years, and all people need to do is complete three steps: prove your identity, show you live in the UK and declare any criminal convictions,” said Foster.
Employers will not be required to perform retrospective checks on EAA staff members to ensure they’ve applied to the EUSS, although their recruitment processes will need to make sure right to work compliance checks are adhered to.
Firms can also accept an EEA identity card or passport as evidence as right to work in the UK until 30 June 2021.