Priti Patel this week gave a glimpse of her plans for the UK’s post-Brexit immigration system. Most headlines focussed on her pledge to deter asylum seekers who come to the UK “illegally” with “immediate returns.” (Sadly ignoring, as Home Secretaries tend to, that the lack of what she may call “legal” routes for claiming asylum in the UK is largely due to the Carrier’s Liability Act making safer routes illegal for airlines etc.)
Behind the headlines about refugees, the other publicity campaign the Government launched barely got a mention in the press.
Patel said ending free movement between the UK and the EU at the end of this year was a pledge her Government was delivering on, insisting, “those seeking to work, study or settle in the UK will need a sponsor and a visa.”
At the same time the Home Office launched a nationwide marketing campaign as literally hundreds of thousands of businesses are still not ready to sponsor employees from abroad when free movement ends.
Most UK companies still unprepared for post-Brexit system
From next year, all businesses that want to employ new workers from the EU will have to be Home Office-approved. Previously, under the free movement principles of the single market, firms employing EU workers did not need a sponsor licence.
With just 12 weeks until freedom of movement ends, there are fears of a massive backlog if businesses leave applications until the last minute.
The Home Office’s campaign to persuade businesses to ready for the new system will run throughout the Autumn as the vast majority of UK firms still have not secured the sponsor licences they will need to employ staff from the EU from January 1 2021.
The Home Office said it was using a wide range of channels to reach employers, including radio, social media, digital, and outdoor advertising. The campaign targets employers who are yet to become sponsors, with the key message that the way they hire from the EU is about to change, and that to recruit from outside the UK, they will need to be a licensed sponsor.
The Home Office’s own figures reveal that so far only 29,514 enterprises are registered to sponsor applicants on Tier 2 visas – the main immigration route for employing skilled workers. This means the vast majority of UK businesses are still unprepared to employ new arrivals to the country at the end of the year.
Firms caught out with just 12 weeks until free movement ends
At present it takes around 6-8 weeks for the Home Office to process a company’s application for a sponsor licence, plus the time it takes to prepare for an application which can also take weeks. Unless the majority of firms that have not yet applied for a sponsor licence start registering now, many will be caught out when the UK leaves the EU on 1 January 2021.
The Home Office said it was committed to “providing certainty and support on the system” as it was vital employers were ready for the implementation of the new system. According to the Home Office, despite the end of freedom of movement and the extra expenses entailed, the new system would be simpler for businesses to access the talent they needed because of the removal of the Resident Labour Market Test. The skills and salary threshold have also been lowered and the cap on skilled workers suspended to make hiring staff from outside the EU easier.
The Home Office added: “We are also introducing special schemes to enable more scientists, academics, investors, entrepreneurs, and health and care workers to come to the UK easily and are reviewing the recommendations of the independent Migration Advisory Committee on the shortage occupation list, so that the government can work with sectors to fill roles quickly where shortages may occur.”