As with the start of any new financial year, comes with it, new Immigration Rules and Home Office guidance. This year is no different.

You may recall that in the Home Office’s policy paper on the UK’s points based immigration system published on 19 February 2020, employers were encouraged to consider applying for sponsorship status if they thought that they wanted to sponsor skilled migrants from the launch of the new immigration system in 2021 in the post Brexit era. Whilst that announcement seems like a life time ago with the world now being on COVID-19 lockdown and many recruitment plans on hold, the Home Office is clearly thinking about our post-Brexit immigration system as highlighted in the most recent changes to the Tiers 2 and 5 Sponsor Guidance.

Various references have been made to a ‘new points-based immigration system’ in the guidance and a brand new Annex has been added to deal with this.

Most notably, the Home Office is once again urging employers who are likely to need to sponsor skilled migrant workers from 1 January 2021 to apply early. Employers will need to meet the requirements for applying under the current immigration system, except for the need to offer employment at RQF Level 6 or above. They must now be able to show that they will offer employment at RQF Level 3 or above, although they won’t be able to sponsor roles under RQF Level 6 until the new immigration system is up and running.

Key points to note are:

  • Businesses that do not have sponsor status can apply now in preparation for the new points-based immigration system to be introduced from January 2021.
  • Prospective sponsors will need to demonstrate that they can offer a genuine role at a minimum skill level of RQF Level 3.
  • Sponsor licences will be granted but where it is clear that sponsorship will not start until 1 January 2021, no Certificate of Sponsorships (CoS) allocations will be allocated at this stage. The benefit of this is that the sponsor licence will be up and running and then at the appropriate time, sponsors will need to request CoS in the normal way via the online Sponsor Management System portal.
  • The Home Office has indicated that it intends to start accepting applications under the new system from Autumn 2020, although the exact date is to be confirmed in coming months.
  • No CoS can be assigned to individuals undertaking roles at RQF Level 3 to 5 yet
  • Cooling off periods may apply if the sponsor licence application is refused by the Home Office whereby organisations cannot re-apply for at least 6 months or longer. It’s important that organisations get applications right the first time.

Whilst companies are being encouraged to apply early for sponsorship, it will be interesting to see if there is a surge in applications submitted despite many recruitment plans being put on ice and companies’ purse strings being kept tightly closed.

The Home Office appear keen to avoid a last minute rush of applications in the final quarter of this year as they will be busy implementing the new system, so businesses  who apply early may have the added benefit of avoiding potential delays to processing times as a result.