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The Do’s and Don’ts of dealing with sponsored worker visa fee increases

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Samar Shams, Managing Partner at Changes Immigration, considers how businesses can accommodate sponsorship fee increases whilst ensuring compliance with sponsor duties.

Sponsorship and related visa fees will increase on 4 October 2023.

We have found that sponsors are increasingly seeking to share the financial burden of sponsorship with the sponsored workers themselves. It is possible to do so, but there are some compliance points to consider.

The Home Office revoked the sponsor licences of several sponsors earlier this year on the basis that contractual payback clauses represented debt bondages preventing workers from leaving without paying sums of money they could not afford.

Employers can mitigate the impact of the fee increases without falling foul of Home Office requirements.

What are the new fees?

The visa fee increases are not dramatic: Most fees for permission under the two main sponsored worker categories of Skilled Worker and Senior or Specialist Worker will be 15% higher. The bigger change in costs will come later this year or early next year, when the Immigration Health Surcharge will almost double.

The fees for permission listed here apply to the main applicant and to their dependent partner and children, i.e. each dependant pays the same fee as the main applicant.

Skilled Worker and Senior or Specialist Worker

Application fees from 4 October 2023

In-Country/OverseasFee CategoryCurrent FeeFee from 4 Oct 2023
In-CountrySkilled Worker or Global Business Mobility – Senior or Specialist Worker, three years or less £719£827
OverseasSkilled Worker or Global Business Mobility – Senior or Specialist Worker, three years or less£625£719
In-CountrySkilled Worker or Global Business Mobility – Senior or Specialist Worker, over three years£1,423£1,500
OverseasSkilled Worker or Global Business Mobility – Senior or Specialist Worker, over three years£1,235£1,420
In-Country or OverseasSkilled Worker, shortage occupation three years or less  £479£551
In-Country or OverseasSkilled Worker, shortage occupation over three years  £943£1,084
In-Country or OverseasSkilled Worker – Health and Care Visa three years or less £247£284
In-Country or OverseasSkilled Worker – Health and Care Visa over three years £479£551

Certificate of sponsorship and priority fees are similarly increasing.

From 4 October 2023, when a sponsor assigns a certificate of sponsorship to a Skilled Worker or a Senior or Specialist Worker, they will pay a £239 certificate of sponsorship fee rather than the current fee of £199.

The priority service fee, for processing of sponsored workers’ applications within 5 working days, will remain £500 for in-country applications. The fee for priority service for overseas applicants will also be £500, up from the current fee of £250. Processing times are otherwise 8 weeks for in-country applications and 3 weeks for applications made from overseas.

Sharing the burden

As immigration fees have risen over the years, sponsors increasingly ask ‘Who pays this fee, us or the worker?’. The answer is generally ‘It’s up to you’ but take note of certain restrictions.

Restriction 1 – The sponsor must pay the Immigration Skills Charge

The sponsor must bear the cost of the Immigration Skills Charge. The Immigration Skills Charge is £364 per year of visa duration for small companies or £1000 per year of visa duration for large companies, paid as a lump sum when a sponsor assigns a certificate of sponsorship.

The Immigration Skills Charge is the one cost, amongst all those involved in the sponsorship process, that the sponsor is expressly prohibited from passing on to the worker in any way.

Restriction 2 – Any costs born by the worker must not be linked to their salary

Sponsors can agree with a worker that the worker will bear some immigration costs, but any such agreement must be totally separate to the salary.

Sponsors will be familiar with the strict salary requirements that apply when sponsoring non-UK nationals to work. The Home Office wants to be sure that the salary listed on a worker’s certificate of sponsorship reflects their actual salary.

The salary figure listed on the certificate of sponsorship must reflect the basic gross pay. Some allowances can be included for Senior or Specialist Workers. The salary figure on the COS cannot include other costs borne by the employer, e.g. visa costs.

The Home Office considers ‘clawing back’ of visa costs from a sponsored worker’s salary to reduce the basic gross salary. A sponsor seeking to share the burden of visa costs with workers should have a written agreement in place making clear that any costs for which the worker is responsible are not taken from salary payments, either during employment or at termination.

Conclusion

Given the ongoing labour shortages, sponsorship of non-UK nationals will likely remain an attractive option despite fee increases. Employers for whom the rise in immigration costs starts to bite can arrange to share the burden, as long as any agreement clearly reflects that the sponsor continues to meet its responsibilities in respect of salary.

If your organisation needs help in drafting the relevant agreements, please get in touch.

Publication Date: 18/09/2023

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Author avatar
Samar Shams
Managing Partner @ Changes Immigration
samar.shams@changesimmigration.com
+44 (0) 7591 385033