Employers who are licensed by the Home Office to employ overseas skilled workers under the points-based system, have access to an online portal called the “Sponsor Management System” or “SMS”.
Whether the sponsor licence holder is a company, group of companies, partnership, sole trade or any other relevant business structure, the online portal is the platform through which the licence is managed and maintained – only limited and approved users have access.
The portal is used to request and assign “certificates of sponsorship”, which are virtual documents needed for any potential sponsored worker to submit their work visa application.
The portal is also used to “report” relevant changes to a sponsored migrant’s employment and to update the Home Office of relevant changes to the organisation’s circumstances.
Currently, sponsor licences are granted for 4 years and can be renewed through the online portal, up to 3 months before the expiry date of the licence.
The sponsor management system has been around for over a decade, and as the Home Office look to update and upgrade the immigration processes, key technical changes will be introduced, designed to streamline and improve the user experience, make better use of technology and to enhance the coordination of information-sharing across government departments.
On 26 August 2021, the Home Office published their “Sponsorship Roadmap” which contains some key changes that are due to be introduced over the next 2-3 years, and which should improve and modernise the sponsorship experience for current and future employers of overseas workers.
Changes to the Portal: Sponsorship Roadmap
Some of the key changes timetabled in the Government’s “sponsorship roadmap” are:
- Quicker end-to-end processing for licensing and sponsorship
- Review of sponsorship fees to ensure they remain fair
- Support services for smaller businesses
- Sponsorship “eligibility tool”
- Upgraded systems including a new “dashboard” to make the portal more accessible
- Information linking between the SMS portal (certificate of sponsorship) and visa application
- Upgraded system for reporting, and other routine sponsor management system tasks
- Information sharing with other government organisations such as HMRC and Companies House
- Changes to sponsor licence renewal patterns, so licences do not need to be renewed every 4 years.
These ambitious plans are aimed to achieve faster processing times for overseas sponsorship and should offer a more user-friendly and streamlined process for employers. That said, continuous feedback from stakeholders is required to ensure that these goals are met.
Even as the system becomes more intuitive, sponsors should continue to seek advice to understand the implications of becoming a sponsor before applying and secure support to ensure that they are meeting the Home Office’s compliance requirements as a licenced sponsor.
Whilst the practicalities of applying for a licence and sponsoring a candidate may become quicker and less obviously bureaucratic, it is also critical for the employer ensure that their ongoing compliance obligations are being met behind the scenes.
The Home Office have announced no intention to relax their compliance rules (or diminish the consequences of non-compliance), therefore sponsors need to be equally aware of the work involved in maintaining a sponsor licence, which involves acquiring a relevant understanding of the relevant immigration rules and sponsor duties. The employer must also be able to identify when and where initial or further legal advice is required, to avoid falling foul of the ever-changing immigration rules.