Are UK employers ready for the new immigration sponsor system?

new immigration sponsor system

Whilst Brexit took place on 31 January 2020, the Transition Period means that the UK is still subject to EU laws (including EU free movement rules). However, the Transition Period will end at 11pm on 31 December 2020 and, subject to relevant changes, all EEA nationals will need to have immigration permission to work in the UK.

From 1 January 2021, one way in which EEA nationals will have a right to work in the UK is if they have a Skilled Worker or Intra-company Transfer visa (which will also be available to non-EEA nationals such as those from China, India, and the USA).

Will UK businesses need a sponsor licence?

Yes, UK employers intending to hire overseas nationals (including EEA nationals) from 1 January 2020 will need a sponsor licence under the new Skilled Worker and/or Intra-company Transfer category (or categories).

Our business already has a sponsor licence – do we need to apply for a new one?

If you already have a Tier 2 (General) and/or Tier 2 (Intra-company Transfer) sponsor licence, then this should be automatically converted to the new Skilled Worker and Intra-Company Transfer sponsor licences respectively. You will be “Day 1 ready” under the new sponsor system and can (continue to) sponsor overseas nationals (including EEA nationals).

The “old” sponsor licences are essentially being rebranded though the expiry date will remain the same. More information can be found in our previous article:, although we note that the final details have still not been published yet.

What if we want to hire EEA nationals on/ before 31 December 2020?

As EU free movement rules will apply until (at least) this date, UK employers can continue to recruit EEA nationals without sponsorship.

On the basis that an EEA national is moving to the UK for the first time, as long as they are resident in the UK by 11pm on 31 December 2020, they will be able to work in the UK. They will have until 30 June 2021 to secure their lawful immigration status in the UK (including their legal right to work) by submitting an application under the EU Settlement Scheme (“EUSS”).

If they have not submitted an application by 30 June 2020, they may then be in the UK unlawfully and therefore would not have a right to work. As employers are aware, the continued employment of an individual without a legal right to work risks the business being subject to up to £10,000 per illegal worker. More information can be found in our previous article:

What might UK employers wish to consider?

UK employers may wish to:

  • push ahead with any recruitment campaigns for EEA nationals, bearing in mind the above deadlines of 31 December 2020 and 30 June 2021
  • encourage their employees who are EEA nationals to consider making an application under the EUSS
  • ensure your HR teams are aware of the expected changes/ new rules
  • consider applying for a Tier 2 (General) and/or a Tier 2 (Intra-company Transfer) sponsor licence sooner rather than later if the recruitment of overseas national is likely in the next few months

A sponsor licence is usually valid for 4 years and an application will usually take the Home Office up to 8 weeks to process during “normal periods”, although it is usually quicker. However, if there is a surge of sponsor licence applications, this may cause delays.


Forward planning is always important for UK employers. In particular, if you rely (heavily) on EEA nationals to fill vacancies, and wish to minimise disruption to recruitment practices, it is well worth considering how these changes will affect you.

If you have any questions and/or would like tailored advice on any UK immigration matter, please speak to Vincent Chung at: or to your usual Dixcart contact.

The data contained within this document is for general information only. No responsibility can be accepted for inaccuracies. Readers are also advised that the law and practice may change from time to time. This document is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute accounting, legal or tax advice. Professional advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from any action as a result of the contents of this document.