Only around 3% of employers currently hold a sponsor licence to employ EU or non-EU workers despite acute skills shortages, according to immigration law firm Migrate UK.
According to the firm’s analysis of the government’s list of current sponsors, only around 50,000 employers hold a licence out of a possible 1.4 million private sector employers in the UK.
This number has only increased by 1.5% since the firm last analysed the figures in May 2020, despite major changes to the immigration system in the past two years.
Managing director Jonathan Beech said companies were often concerned about the cost and complexity of acquiring a licence.
“When new clients come to us they often say they have delayed this process due to the perceived cost, complexity and amount of red tape needed to do so,” he said.
“This is not only worrying for the individual UK businesses having sufficient talent in place to provide products and services effectively, but also UK plc. We’re hearing day in and day out of the issues firms are having in recruiting sufficient staff, especially those in the hospitality, science and engineering sectors.”
There has been speculation that the government could review the current system of visas and immigration rules, including possible changes to the shortage occupation list. Suella Braverman was appointed home secretary yesterday in Rishi Sunak’s new cabinet, less than a week after resigning from the role.
Braverman has hinted that she wants stricter immigration policies in place, which could lead to changes to licensing rules or thresholds.
This is in contrast to former prime minister Liz Truss’ suggestion in September that the shortage occupation list could be extended to bring in migrant workers in industries struggling to find workers.
“The key problem – aside from including some much needed ‘less’ skilled occupations such as care workers or chefs – is that this list isn’t attractive as it once was to employers,” added Beech.
“To really benefit from this list certain jobs should be exempt from the Immigration Skills Charge (between £364 and £1,000 per year of sponsorship, payable by the employer), plus the costs of the NHS Surcharge (between £470 and £624 per person per year), normally covered by the employee. So this is a large undertaking for overseas recruits especially for lower paid roles.”
Migrate UK reported that sponsor licence applications are currently taking around two to three months to process, meaning candidates who have offers from employers who already have a licence are likely to favour those offers.
“Those businesses with a licence in place are not only able to recruit more readily now to help deal with their present skills shortage, but will also be better prepared when the economy takes off again following current UK and worldwide challenges,” added Beech.
If employers have a licence in place, they can use it for recruitment up to four years at a time, providing they comply with government reporting and record-keeping requirements.