The Home Office has released a Points-Based System (PBS) sponsorship roadmap setting out the key reforms to the sponsorship system for the next two years.
The PBS roadmap, which can be found on the government website here, details key process and technology improvements that sponsors can expect to see from now until the first quarter of 2024.
Expected reforms for the remainder of 2021 include:
- Simplification of the documentary evidence required to become a licensed sponsor with the aim of accelerating the sponsorship application process
- Improvements to the sponsor experience, such as the implementation of a bespoke support service for small businesses, a review of sponsorship fees and the launch of an enhanced Skilled Worker eligibility checking tool
- The piloting of an inter-departmental salary check feature that will sync with HMRC records to confirm that sponsored employees are being paid the correct amount
Reforms planned for 2022 onwards are aimed at improving the customer experience. In particular, there is a focus on re-using data already held by other strands of the government (e.g. HMRC) to substantially reduce processing times and simplify the application process for sponsors. We have set out some of the notable planned changes below.
Modernisation of the sponsorship IT system
A new IT system is set to be rolled out on a phased basis from mid-2022 to early 2023 as follows:
- The first service, "Sponsor a Visa" should be available in around mid-2022 and will allow applicants to be invited to a partly populated visa application form once details of their role have been approved by the sponsor.
- The second service, "Manage a Licence", is described as being an improved sponsor management system for post-licence activities and should launch by the end of 2022. Key features are said to include better functionality for notifying sponsor changes, a dashboard of sponsored migrants and built-in status and further action prompts. We also understand that the system will conduct automatic checks against data held by departments such as HMRC and Companies House.
- The third service, "Become a Sponsor" is scheduled for implementation by early 2023 and will incorporate automated data validation checks into the sponsor licence application process, with the aim of reducing evidence requirements and case working times, as well as minimising the potential for abuse.
Compliance visits and sanctions will continue to feature in the new arrangements. The new sponsorship system aims to make greater use of technology to identify abuse by sponsors, for example by checking the stated salaries are paid to sponsored workers.
Sponsors and prospective and current sponsored workers can be reassured that an overhaul of the sponsorship system is on the government’s agenda. However, reforms have been promised before and we will have to wait and see whether the government is able to achieve its fairly ambitious timetable for reform. We suspect that the reforms proposed, though exciting, are unlikely to be implemented in line with the proposed schedule based on the government’s previous record with IT system delivery and they may not all come into effect within the two years promised.