Most UK firms unable to apply for visas

Despite job vacancies in the UK outnumbering jobseekers, just a tiny proportion of employers can secure visas for the overseas talent they desperately need according to a new report. International remote working and applying for a sponsor licence as insurance are among solutions proposed.

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An analysis of Office for National Statistics data by specialist law firm Migrate UK revealed that only 3.5 per cent of employers across the country currently possessed a licence to sponsor EU or non-EU workers.
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Number of licenced sponsors barely changed since Brexit

Jonathan Beech, Managing Director of Migrate UK, said that while there were about 1.4 million private sector employers in the UK, only some 50,000 of them are currently on the Government’s list of licensed sponsors.“Shockingly, since our last analysis prior to Brexit in May 2020, there has only been about a 1.5 per cent increase in sponsor licence holders among businesses – even though this was the biggest change to the UK immigration system in nearly 45 years," Mr Beech said.“When new clients come to us they often say they have delayed this process due to the perceived cost, complexity and amount of red tape needed to do so.“This is not only worrying for the individual UK businesses having sufficient talent in place to provide products and services effectively, but also UK plc. We’re hearing day in and day out of the issues firms are having in recruiting sufficient staff, especially those in the hospitality, science and engineering sectors."

Reducing red tape for businesses employing overseas talent

Mr Beech said that businesses "may be living in hope" that the new Government would expand the Shortage Occupation List (SOL) and make the visa process simpler in the coming weeks.But what was really needed, he added, was for workers on the SOL to be exempt from the likes of the Immigration Skills Charge, which costs employers up to £1,000 per employee, and the NHS Surcharge of up to £624 a year.With sponsor licence applications currently taking between two to three months to process, Migrate UK is advising businesses suffering from persistent skills shortages to apply for a sponsor licence now to aid future recruitment.

International remote working an option?

Helen Astill, Founder and Director of HR firm Cherington, told the People Management website that a lack of such licence could considerably disadvantage organisations and the economy's ability to source talent as “it severely restricts the available talent pool while businesses are currently finding it really difficult to fill some of their posts with those who have the right to work in the UK”.Kate Palmer, Director of HR Advice and Consultancy at Peninsula, said that while there were no ways round the regulations without businesses risking a hefty fine, remote working could be one answer.“Many employers are able to work around immigration rules by employing foreign workers entirely remotely,” Ms Palmer told People Management.However, she added that this was "not an “easy solution, especially when factoring in the need to become familiar with the laws of the country within which the employee resides, and the practical complications such employment can bring, like managing them remotely”.Shazia Ejaz, Director of Campaigns at the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), said that not enabling a cheaper, more efficient system limits the UK’s ability to compete for skills globally.“Opening up the ability to fill vacancies with people from other countries should be a priority consideration for the government as it plans its growth agenda,” he added.

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