The candidate shortage is a very real threat to the UK economy.  The Covid 19 pandemic, and of course Brexit, have left significant gaps in the employment market. Sectors such as hospitality, farming and haulage are areas where candidate scarcity has been most keenly felt, however, the reach is extending.

Across pretty much every area of industry, candidate shortages are impacting the ability of businesses to fill their vacancies.

Emerging models of working forced on us by the pandemic have now become the norm. Remote working was once considered a benefit. Now, it’s an expectation of post-pandemic employees. Lesser dependence on geographical location will enable some organisations to hire more freely.  The ability to consider talent pools further afield will allow businesses to widen their search.

However, some employers may be looking to go one step further. Many are considering employing skilled workers from overseas.

a red for hire sign on a metal post

Hiring from overseas.

As a direct result of the UK leaving the European Union, there are no longer any automatic rights for EU nationals to live and work in the UK.  There are a few exceptions. Irish citizens, those with settled or pre-settled status and those with indefinite leave to remain in the UK can still reside and work in the UK without restriction.

What does employing overseas workers look like for employers?

In some sectors, fast-track visa systems make it easier for employers to fill their vacancies with overseas talent, engineering, tech, and IT for example.

However, in the main, the requirements for overseas workers are the same for all UK employers.

To employ most overseas workers, the employer must apply for a sponsorship licence. This will be either a ‘workers’ licence for skilled or long-term employment or a ‘temporary workers’ licence for specific types of temporary employment.  The employer is registering as a sponsor to say it wants to bring in individual workers from overseas.

Of course, there is a fee. The fee varies depending on the size of your organisation and the type of licence you are applying for.

Medium to large organisations will pay more (£1476), while charitable and small organisations’ sponsorships will cost less (£536).

Employers can begin this process before they have found a suitable candidate, but as part of the application, they must explain why it requires a sponsorship licence.

What would a no deal brexit mean for uk tech?

What does the sponsorship application entail?

There are several steps employers applying for sponsorship licences must take.

Employers must select individuals within the company to take on roles on the Home Office SMS portal. These roles can be assigned to one or several people.

These roles include:

An authorising officer

Usually a senior member of HR or a CEO

A Key Contact and a Level 1 User

This person will be responsible for updating and maintaining the information on the Home Office SMS portal.

The employer will also need to provide information about the trading history of the company. Among others, the documents normally requested include the company’s articles and three years of accounts.  However, there may be additional requirements based upon the type of visa being applied for and the type of organisation applying for the licence.

The aim is to satisfy the Home Office that the company is an established entity with a trading history. An application for sponsorship is just that. A company isn’t guaranteed a licence. The more evidence an employer can provide to its trading credentials, the better.

The Home Office could also carry out additional checks on the key personnel appointed by the company to manage the Home Office SMS portal. This will include background checks, such as criminal record checks.

What if sponsorship is granted?

Once an employer has received approval of its application, it will be granted a certificate of sponsorship which it needs to allocate to the overseas worker.  This certificate will then permit the overseas person to make an application for a visa allowing them to travel to the UK.

Before the worker commences their work, the employer must obtain the valid ID and visa documentation from the individual and ensure it’s kept up to date.

The Home Office will regularly review the licence to ensure it remains valid. Under some conditions, the Home Office may revoke the licence, for example, if the organisation is not allocating jobs.

It is the responsibility of the employer to keep its online portal current. If an overseas employee leaves the organisation, but the record isn’t updated, the employer may incur either civil penalties or criminal convictions.

The process of applying for sponsorship can be lengthy and time-consuming.  Most sponsorship applications are reviewed within eight weeks. However, employers can pay a premium for the Home Office fast-track applications process, which has an approximate review time of 10 working days.

It’s undeniable that the process is laborious, costly and presents a barrier for businesses. After all, what if your overseas hire doesn’t work out. Certificates of Sponsorship are not transferrable; an understandable turn-off for employers who may be considering this option.

We can’t help but think the visa system must be more fluid, less restrictive and far less complicated. It is ever evolving with changes occurring all the time.  Since April 2022, the UK visa system has undergone 4 new processes, each with caveats and clauses of its own.

Employers and candidates simply cannot keep up with the changes. Nor do they wish to try. As a result, many are bypassing the process. Employers are suffering the consequences of being unable to fill their vacancies, while talented EU nationals are choosing locations across mainland Europe if they wish to work outside their country of origin.  We can’t help but believe that the UK economy and the country will be far poorer as a result.

Are you wishing to fill your tech, digital and data job vacancies?

We can help. Reach out today to find out how.


About the author: I manage the recruitment for a range of digital roles for my clients on both a retained and contingency basis. I specialise in senior and confidential appointments, always giving a first class representation of a client’s employer brand.

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