There is no reason why startups can’t take advantage of the government’s sponsor licensing scheme to bring employee from outside the EU to work in the UK. The system can look challenging, but if you are running a genuine UK business with a clear need for skilled workers from overseas, it’s worth persevering. Here are our tips on how to get your licence in place as quickly (and as painlessly) as possible.
Prepare in advance for a visit from the Home Office
A large percentage of startups (ie companies trading in the UK for less than 18 months) will receive a pre-licence visit from the Home Office as part of the sponsor licence application process. At this visit, the Home Office will assess, first and foremost, whether the startup is a legitimate entity operating in the UK. Then, they’ll look at whether your business can fulfil the obligations of becoming a sponsor.
Do you have a system for tracking employee attendance? How about a payroll system? Do you have a way of capturing contact details for sponsored migrants once they arrive? The Home Office knows that companies of different sizes have different HR requirements, so there’s no hard and fast rule as to what you’ll need to prepare – the goal is to show the Home Office that you understand your duties and are ready and willing to undertake them.
A full breakdown of the duties and obligations associated with sponsorship can be found in the Home Office’s Guide for Tier 2 and Tier 5 sponsors – be sure you’ve reviewed this and have it to hand when the Home Office visits. The Home Office visitor will also want to see that everyone currently working in your office has appropriate permission to work in the UK. This includes, in most cases, volunteers, interns and independent contractors. If you haven’t already conducted right to work checks on all staff, ensure you do it before you submit your sponsor licence application.
Expert’s tip: Copies of documents can be kept electronically, for example in a Google Folder. Be sure to check the Home Office’s prevention of illegal working guidance to find out what documents you need to obtain, check and copy.
Submit the right documents
All startups, without exception, must submit evidence that they have a current, corporate bank account with a bank registered by the FCA in the UK. As anyone working with startups knows, the trouble here is often getting the account open (not evidencing it), so steps should be taken to open it as soon as possible. The account does not need to have been open for a specified number of days, or have a specified amount of money in it, to meet this requirement.
Beyond that, most companies can pick from a variety of additional documents to meet the requisite four – and the list of choices for startups has recently expanded. Documents need to be original (or certified copies), but note that original documents which were sent to your business as PDF attachments to an email may be submissible if certified appropriately. This is often helpful in reference to evidence of Employers Liability Insurance.
Expert’s Tip: You might want to minimise the risk of one of your document being rejected by the Home Office by including more documents than the requisite four. If one or two documents do not fit the requirements, the Home Office can fall back onto the other documents you sent to get to the necessary four items.
Tell them WHY and WHEN
In April of this year, the Home Office introduced a new policy: in addition to their standard checks, they are also going to consider whether a business can offer genuine employment that meets the Tier 2 requirements in terms of skill level and salary before granting a licence. This means that businesses applying for a licence must now be prepared to show the Home Office why they need migrants to fill specific roles, and also confirm that the roles they need filled will be skilled to NVQ Level 6 (i.e. graduate level).
They’ll also have to show the Home Office that they are capable of remunerating sponsored migrants in line with the Home Office’s minimum thresholds and the published Codes of Practice for each skilled role. If you don’t include this information in your initial application, the Home Office will likely come back to you to ask for it, so be prepared.
In terms of turn-around times, we know the Home Office is working hard to meet their new review standards and we are hearing great feedback on reduced review times. That being said, startups in particular could still face a wait of several weeks for a decision.
Expert’s tip: If you need to sponsor a migrant urgently, let the Home Office know by sending an email to them. Contact details for the business helpdesk can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/contact-ukvi/sponsors-employers-and-education. There’s no guarantee an application can be expedited, but it’s always valuable to explain the urgency. If the migrant you wish to sponsor is already in the UK and working for you on a visa that is soon going to expire be sure to send the home office a copy of that visa to explain the urgency.
The sponsor licence programme is not exclusively for the use of big companies. It can be a powerful tool for getting the skilled staff you need in place and working. Work the system! And if you can’t – if it’s too confusing, too expensive, too slow – Let migreat.com know and they will work to assist you or put you in touch with experts who can help. Let’s keep the UK open for business.
This guest blog post is provided to you by Leslie Sarma, Associate at Penningtons Manches LLP and co-chair of Tech London Advocates Talent and Immigration Working Group.