Immigration strategies for businesses

7th September 2023

Successful companies constantly look to recruit the brightest and best employees and there will be situations where a preferred candidate requires immigration sponsorship.  To compete for the best, companies need to understand the necessary steps to become a sponsor and to then develop an understanding of the ongoing compliance obligations that exist as a licensed sponsor. There is then finally the importance of understanding the immigration system framework, how best to utilise that framework and how to mitigate any risks and costs.

Being ready to sponsor – obtaining a licence

Obtaining a sponsor licence can take several weeks in terms of collating the relevant supporting documents, filing the application, and awaiting the Home Office to approve the application. This delay could prove critical in a candidate’s decision to join an employer. Advantageously the Home Office no longer requires a specific candidate to be identified to apply for a licence, so a company can effectively apply for a licence at any time in preparation for sponsorship, in essence jumping ahead of the game so there is not that awkward conversation with a candidate about the delay due to becoming a sponsor. The statistics demonstrate the increasing engagement companies have with the immigration system, with currently over 69500 organisations registered as licensed sponsors for work and study, and around 7000 licences granted alone between April and June 2023, which was 40% more than the same period for 2022.  You can find out more about the sponsor licence process here.

Maintaining compliance and mitigating risks

The Home Office places the burden on sponsors not just to monitor their sponsored workers’ visa status and ensure a continuing right to work, but to monitor any changes in employment such as work location, job title and role changes (and significant changes can trigger a new visa application), and long term leave and absences. It is therefore important to have robust HR systems in place to monitor and report on these. You may wish to have periodic reviews of your HR processes and have mock audits undertaken to locate any weaknesses and gaps in your systems.  You can read more on compliance obligations here and what needs to be done to remain compliant in the eyes of the Home Office.

Utilising the immigration framework effectively

The UK has one of the more efficient immigration systems but it is not necessarily the cheapest, however costs can be mitigated with the correct strategy. Companies should understand the correct visa routes to use in certain scenarios, such as the choice between the Skilled Worker visa and the Global Mobility visa routes. It can be a costly mistake to place an individual on the wrong route and then to switch them. A company should have an understanding of how to mitigate visa costs, for example minimising the duration to under 6 months for an exemption from the surcharges where practical or understanding when the skills surcharge does not apply e.g. EU nationals transferring from an EU company under the Global Mobility route. It is also beneficial to have an understanding of non-company sponsored work routes and when these would be advantageous to utilise over the work sponsored system as non-company sponsored visas can have considerable cost advantages. Certain sectors have specific visa categories beneficial to them such as the creative sector and the Temporary Creative visa. It is therefore crucial sponsors develop a tailored immigration strategy suited to their needs to ensure use of the UK immigration system effectively.

Developing a plan

Companies should evaluate their recruitment needs and how they wish to interact with the immigration system. A starting example would be assessing labour shortages in their field to evaluate whether obtaining a sponsor licence could be a worthwhile endeavour. Speaking to peers and similarly situated companies in your industry should also provide insight into the value of holding a licence for your company. Certain sectors heavily use the system such as the tech and financial services areas, while other sectors, such as construction, are only just starting to interact with the system.  Once a company determines it has a need for a licence, a plan can then be developed to obtain a licence and put processes in place to be a compliant sponsor.

For those companies already holding a licence it is worth asking whether you are getting maximum value and efficiency from the system. Have you reviewed internal procedures and systems for compliance? Are you aware of all visa routes? Are you aware of cost mitigation strategies? Have you spoken with colleagues in the industry about how they use their sponsor licence? These kind of questions can help enhance understanding and utility of the UK immigration points based system.

Here at SMB we are happy to speak with you about how the immigration framework can work for you or whether you are utilising best practices as a sponsor licence holder, please do get in touch with Tom Mayhew, Partner and Head of Immigration, at