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Recruitment challenges - can the immigration system help your school fill the gaps?

on Tuesday, 12 December 2023.

With academies and schools throughout the country struggling to fill vacancies at all levels, many are now recruiting staff from overseas.

Whilst some foreign nationals will hold their own visa that which allows them to work in the UK - such as the 'Youth Mobility Scheme' or as the family member of a British citizen. Foreign nationals, who do not hold such a visa, are likely to require sponsorship from their prospective employer in the UK to sponsor their visa application.

This type of Sponsorship would fall under the 'Skilled Worker' immigration route - the key features of which are:

  • The prospective employer must be granted a sponsor licence by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI)
  • The licence is used to assign a Certificate of Sponsorship to the worker, which confirms the details of the job and is used to support the worker's application for a Skilled Worker visa
  • The job in question must be a genuine offer of employment which meets the Skilled Worker skill level and salary thresholds
  • The worker must also satisfy an English language requirement
  • The worker can be accompanied by their spouse/partner and children under the age of 18
  • Applicants for Skilled Worker visas overseas who are coming to the UK to work as teachers will need to obtain criminal record certificates from all countries they have lived in during the 10 years prior to their visa application. Their spouses/partners will need criminal record certificates too, even if they do not intend to work in a school.

Note that sponsorship under the Skilled Worker route can be used for roles in schools other than for qualified teachers, such as teaching assistants, education support and learning assistants, nursery nurses, laboratory technicians, personal assistants, and IT systems technicians and managers.

In advance of applying for a sponsor licence, or in reviewing the operation of a licence that is already in place, there are a range of points to be considered for schools and MATs.

Structure of the sponsor licence

A sponsor licence can be set up to cover a single school/academy, an entire MAT or just some of the academies within a MAT. When applying for their licence, the sponsor can decide how to do this, provided they can demonstrate common ownership or control within the academies included on the same licence.

As compliance with most sponsorship duties will rest with the HR function, we generally advise that the structure of the licence should reflect the structure of the MAT's HR function.

Key personnel

When applying for the sponsor licence, the sponsor must nominate employees or office holders who will be responsible for overseeing and operating the licence. It is important that those individuals have a good understanding of their responsibilities and how the licence is to be operated.

Ongoing compliance

Before applying for a sponsor licence you should ensure that:

  • All employees have the right to work in the UK
  • You have robust processes in place for conducting right-to-work checks - perhaps with a specific policy in place setting out how checks are to be conducted
  • Your HR systems can demonstrate that you are able to comply with the record keeping, monitoring and reporting duties set out in UKVI's Sponsor Guidance.

Consider clawbacks

Sponsorship is expensive. In January 2024, the Immigration Health Surcharge - an additional levy paid by applicants for UK visas - will increase by around 66%. Following this increase, the total fees to be paid by an applicant for a Skilled Worker visa and their sponsor, where the applicant is being accompanied by a partner and two children, will be in excess of £26,000.

Some of those costs must be met by the employer, but others could be paid by either the employer or the sponsored worker. The position you adopt may vary depending on several factors including the type and seniority of the role and your levels of desperation. Where paying the fees on a sponsored worker's behalf you may wish to consider using a clawback agreement to recover some or all of the fees should they leave their employment earlier than anticipated. For consistency and fairness, we suggest that sponsors consider in advance the situations in which they will and will not be prepared to pay those fees and set this out in a policy.

Another point to consider is that even in cases where you decide that the worker must pay some or all of the fees, they may not have the funds available to make such large payments in one go and so will require assistance with making those payments, perhaps in the form of a loan.

How can we help?

VWV's immigration team advise many schools, MATs and academies on all work-related immigration issues.

Many of the immigration queries we receive from academies can be dealt with under our Legal Services Retainer for no additional charge. Where a Retainer client requires more substantive immigration advice - such as support with an application for a sponsor licence, sponsorship of individuals and their visa applications, training or an audit - then we are able to offer discounts to our usual fixed fees.

For further information on the immigration support available to your school or MAT, please contact Tom Brett Young in our Immigration team on 07393 148 352, or complete the form below.

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