Are You and Your EU Employees Prepared for Brexit?


As you are aware, the UK left the EU on 1 January 2021.

As a result, there are a number of new rules that British employers of EU citizens should be aware of.

As per the new structure in the UK, a new immigration system applies to people arriving in the UK from 1 January 2021.

Employers will need a license in order to be permitted to employ international workers. Meanwhile, EU citizens moving to the UK to work will need to get a visa in advance.

In this guide, we’re going to take a look at everything a British employer needs to know about hiring EU staff after Brexit.

Do I need a licence to hire EU citizens?

Yes. Every employer will need to be granted a sponsor licence in order to be able to hire most workers from outside the UK. This includes any citizens of the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland who arrive in the UK anytime after 31 December 2020.

However, you will not need a license to sponsor certain employees, like:

  • Irish citizens,
  • those with settled or pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme, or
  • those with indefinite leave to remain in the UK.\

How does a UK employer get granted a sponsor license?

1. Check if your business is eligible

To obtain a licence you cannot have:

  • criminal convictions that you have yet to spend time for.
  • Been revoked of your sponsor licence in the last 12 months.

You will need to have appropriate systems in place to monitor sponsored employees.

Your application will be reviewed by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI). They can visit your business to check whether you are capable of carrying out your duties as a sponsor.

2. Choose the type of licence you want to apply for

The type of licence you will apply for will depend on what type of worker you want to sponsor.

Worker’s licence

This licence will allow employers to employ people long-term or permanently.

There are a number of different options within this licence, including:

  • Skilled Worker: this must be for a role that meets the job suitability requirements.
  • Intra-Company Visas: for multinational companies that need to transfer established employees or graduate trainees to the UK. It includes Intra-Company Transfer and Intra-Company Graduate Trainee.
  • Minister of Religion: for those working for religious organisations.
  • Sportsperson: if they are based in the UK and are an elite sportsperson or coach.

Temporary Worker licence

This licence will enable you to employ people on a temporary basis. It’s split into:

  • Creative or Sporting Worker: allows people to work as a high-level sportsperson (up to 1 year), entertainer or artist (up to 2 years).
  • Charity Worker: for charity workers that are unpaid (up to 1 year).
  • Religious Worker: for those working in a religious order or organisation (2 years).
  • Government Authorised Exchange Worker: work experience (1 year), research projects or training, for example, practical medical or scientific training (2 years) to enable a short-term exchange of knowledge.
  • International Agreement Worker: for jobs that are covered by international law, e.g. employees of overseas governments.
  • Seasonal Worker: if a worker is coming to complete farmwork, for up to 6 months.

3. Decide who will manage sponsorships within your business

When you apply for a licence, employees within your business will need to be appointed to manage the sponsorship process.

The main tool the appointed people will use is the sponsorship management system (SMS).

The roles are:

  • Authorising Officer – a senior employee who would be given responsibility for the actions of those who use the SMS
  • Key Contact – the person who is the main contact point for UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI)
  • Level 1 User – the person in charge of managing your licence using the SMS on a daily basis

The same person can carry out each of these roles, or they can be assigned to different people.

Once you have your licence, you have the option to appoint a level 2 user.

This user would have more restricted access to the SMS than the level 1 user.

For example, they wouldn’t have access to withdraw a certificate of sponsorship.

You and your employees will be checked to ensure suitability for these roles. Anyone involved in sponsorship can not have:

  • an unspent criminal conviction
  • received a fine by UKVI in the past 12 months
  • been reported to UKVI
  • broken the law
  • been involved as a ‘key person’ with another sponsor whose licence has been revoked in the last 12 months
  • failed to pay VAT or other excise duty

You and your allocated staff must also:

  • spend most of your time be based in the UK
  • not be involved in a contract for a specific project
  • not be in line to receive a bankruptcy restriction order or undertaking, or a debt relief restriction order or undertaking
  • not have been non-compliant with sponsor requirements in the past


4. Apply online and pay the fee

Applications for your licence can be filled in online.

Once you’ve finished the online application, you need to send the following documents to the UKVI:

  • the submission sheet at the end of the application
  • your supporting documents

If you are sending an affidavit or statutory declaration, they must be witnessed by a qualified, independent person, such as a solicitor, Notary Public, Justice of the Peace, Commissioner for Oaths, or a Councillor (in Scotland only).

The fee you pay will depend on the type of licence you’re applying for and what organisation category you fall under.

You are classed as a small sponsor if two of the following apply:

  • your annual turnover amounts to £10.2 million or less,
  • your total assets are worth £5.1 million or less, or
  • you have 50 employees or fewer.

You’re a charitable sponsor if you’re either:

  • a registered, excepted or exempt charity, or
  • an ecclesiastical corporation established for charitable purposes.

For example, if you are a small sponsor applying for a worker licence, your fee will be £536. However, if you are a medium or large sponsor, your fee will be £1,476.

Please note: sponsoring someone does not guarantee that they will be granted a visa to enter the UK.

How long does it take to get a decision?

8 out of 10 applications are dealt with in less than 8 weeks (In general, the processing time is 6 to 8 weeks).

After you apply, you will be told if you have the option to pay £500 to get a decision within 10 working days.

After you apply

As mentioned above, you should hear a decision about your application within 8 weeks.

If your application is successful, you will be given an A-rated licence, which allows you to start assigning certificates of sponsorship if you have jobs that are suitable for sponsorship. Your licence will be valid for 4 years.

If your sponsor license is refused, you can’t reapply within 6 months, you will have to wait to apply again after 6 months have passed.

Please note that your A-rated licence may be downgraded to a B-rating if you do not meet your responsibilities as a sponsor.

You will not be able to issue new certificates sponsorship until you have made improvements and upgraded back to an A-rating.

However, you will still be able to issue certificates to your current employees, if they wish to extend their permission to stay.

To upgrade your licence, you will need to follow an action plan provided by UKVI. The action plan will cost £1,476.

You must pay this within 10 working days of being notified of the downgrade by UKVI. If you don’t, you will lose your licence.

Once you complete all of the steps in the action plan, you will be upgraded to an A-rating. If you do not complete the steps, you will lose your licence.

You can only receive two B-ratings in the four years that your licence is valid. If you still need to make improvements after your second action plan, you will lose your licence.

If your licence has been revoked, you will need to wait 12 months to reapply.

When can employees apply for their work visa?

Once the employer’s sponsor license is approved, a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) must be assigned to any new employees that they hire.

The CoS is assigned through the sponsorship management system (SMS).

Once assigned, the CoS will be processed by the Home Office within 1 working day. Once issued, the CoS is valid for 90 days and the employee can start the process of obtaining a visa.

Why Visa First?

Visa First provides visa processing and immigration services globally. We remove the stress associated with arranging travel visas and permits.

Visa First can help with the application for both visa types – the UK Skilled Worker Visa (Tier 2) as well as the UK Seasonal Worker Visa Tier 5.

Apply for your UK visas today and our visa experts will take care of the tricky paperwork.


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