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Most UK businesses unable to sponsor overseas workers

The vast majority of UK businesses are unable to bring in overseas workers to help ease talent shortages.

Only 3.5% of UK companies hold the necessary licence to sponsor EU and non EU workers, according to research from immigration law firm Migrate. This equates to roughly 50,000 businesses across the UK.

Sponsor licences take two to three months to process on average, but once obtained they last for four years and can be used as needed.

Companies which hold a licence have a competitive advantage over those that don't, as candidates know the businesses and their application already have approval from the Home Office.

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Jonathan Beech, managing director at Migrate UK, said misconceptions about the process holds some employers back.

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: "Few businesses hold the licence mainly down to the perceived high costs of obtaining a licence and sponsorship in general (not generally the case – especially for small businesses). Some believe the process is too complicated and time-consuming. Some see it as a lot of red tape as they have another government department to deal with.

"Others think their organisation isn’t big enough to qualify (which is untrue). Some companies believe only very highly qualified or ‘shortage skill’ candidates can qualify for sponsorship i.e. those with PhD’s or rocket scientists - again this is untrue."

Research from HR, payroll and finance software solution provider MHR in July 2022 found 90% of large UK businesses were struggling to fill skills gaps in their workforce, while the Open University found 72% of staff are dealing with an increased workload as a result of staff shortages.

Businesses would benefit from good forward planning to help plug their skills gaps, Beech added.

He said: "It’s important to speed up the process as being a candidate’s market, potential recruits are not hanging about – certainly not waiting for an employer to obtain a licence. Candidates are aware of the Sponsor Register and those employers on the register will clean up the best candidates.

"Businesses need to think ahead. Also, many more businesses are taking on Graduate Visa holders who can work without sponsorship for between two and three years. The employer must plan a sponsor licence application well in advance of an existing graduate employee’s immigration expiry in order to hold on to them.”