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Insights

07 May 2020

Employing migrant workers in the UK from 1 January 2021: Are you sponsor licence ready?

The UK remains on track to introduce a new points-based immigration system from 1 January 2021 and this will be applicable to EU and non-EU nationals alike. 

The new system will include a route for skilled workers who have a job offer from an approved sponsor in the UK and will operate along similar lines to the existing Tier 2 visa category. Points will be awarded to migrants for specific skills, qualifications, salaries and shortage occupations and work visas issued to those who gain sufficient points.

If you will need to recruit skilled migrant workers from 1 January 2021, which will include EU migrants who were not living in the UK by 31 December 2020, you will need to have been granted a sponsor licence by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI). If you don’t already hold a sponsor licence and are able to meet the eligibility criteria, UKVI recommends applying now. If your application is successful, UKVI will:

  • Add you to its register of sponsors, which lists all the organisations that are licensed to sponsor migrants under the UK immigration system
  • Prior to 1 January 2021 you will only be able to sponsor migrants for roles that are at least Regulations Qualifications Framework (RQF) Level 6 (equivalent to degree level).
  • From 1 January 2021 the skills threshold will be dropped to at least RQF Level 3 (equivalent to A-Level)

Who can apply for a sponsor licence?

To become a licensed sponsor:
  • You must be a genuine business operating legally in the UK
  • There must be no evidence that you are a threat to immigration control
  • You must be able to offer genuine employment skilled to at least RQF Level 3
  • You must nominate people to fulfil the sponsor licence key personnel roles of Authorising Officer, Key Contact and Level 1 User.
  • You must be able to meet your immigration compliance responsibilities as a sponsor
  • You must complete an online application form and supply UKVI with certain mandatory information and documentation

Compliance considerations before making the sponsor licence application

A sponsor licence holder is required to act in accordance with UK immigration law and guidance.

UKVI may wish to visit your business premises to carry out a sponsor licence audit. This could happen before they approve your application or whilst you hold the licence. They will be looking at your HR systems and processes and interviewing key personnel to assess whether you are able to comply with your sponsor licence duties. Before you make your application you should ensure that: 

  • you are conducting right to work checks of all employees in line with UKVI guidance; and
  • you have suitable HR processes in place to comply with your record keeping and reporting duties as a sponsor 

Failure to comply with your sponsor duties can lead to the suspension or revocation of your licence and potential civil penalties and criminal convictions for illegal working. 

Once your licence has been approved we recommend regular immigration audits to ensure that you remain compliant with your sponsor duties.

Next steps

If you don’t already hold a sponsor licence and may need to sponsor skilled migrant workers from 1 January 2021, we recommend applying for your licence now. Standard sponsor licence processing times are 8 weeks andwe expect UKVI to be processing a large volume of applications in the run up to 1 January 2021. This could lead to increased processing times and mean employers are unable to recruit workers from outside the UK’s resident labour market in the meantime.


The sponsor licence application process is a complex one and the immigration team at Charles Russell Speechlys can help you to secure your licence and remain compliant with your ongoing duties as a licensed sponsor.

For further information, please contact Kelvin Tanner or Rose Carey  or a member of the Charles Russell Speechlys Immigration team. 

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