Home Office in Chaos
Employers are currently struggling to obtain Certificates of Sponsorship for existing and new employees, preventing them from hiring skilled workers in the UK and preventing some existing employees from continuing to work.
If an employer in the UK wishes to continue employing a sponsored employee under Tier 2 General or the Tier 2 ICT (Intra-Company Transfer) categories they need to obtain an Unrestricted Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) to support the Tier 2 General visa extension application. This also applies to those who are currently in the UK working for a different employer and wishing to move to a new employer or students who have successfully completed degree-level studies and wish to work for a UK employer.
Employers submit a request for a Certificate of Sponsorship to the Home Office via their Sponsor Management System. Until recently these requests were usually dealt with within around one week. The Home Office simply need to add an allocation to the system so that the employer can then create and assign the Certificate to the employee. Unrestricted Certificate of Sponsorship do not come under the restrictions in place for Certificates used to support applications from overseas.
Late last year the Home Office decided that instead of doing this relatively simple process in a week or so they would give themselves 18 weeks to complete the task. At the same time they introduced a service where they would expedite the request and get it done in a week or so for £200 (this is in addition to the £199 that an employer has to pay when assigning the Certificate to the employee). Nice business if you can get it!
To request that the Certificate is issued in a timely manner, employers must call the Home Office on the telephone to make payment and this is where things get worse. Many employers are having to dedicate multiple staff to call the Home Office repeatedly but still either cannot get through, find the service is down or get told the allocation has been used, as only a certain number can be expedited each day. Many employers are doing this for a week or more on a daily basis and are still unable to get their requests expedited.
When a Certificate has not been allocated it cannot be assigned to the employee and the employee is therefore unable to submit a valid visa application, which can quite easily result in their existing visa expiring. Home Office rules state that if a visa application is not submitted before expiry of the existing visa then the employee must cease work and potentially leave the UK.
Employers are becoming increasingly frustrated by the lack of timely progress and assistance provided by the Home Office. Sources have indicated that the already understaffed Home Office have had to move staff from business departments to deal with EU applications, which appear to be seen as more of a priority than British businesses.
Increased costs such as this and the proposed ‘tax’ on skilled works of £1,000 per year per sponsored employee are likely to make it harder for smaller Companies to attract the talent required to develop their businesses, putting them at a significant competitive disadvantage.