Sponsor licence holders & Home Office compliance
You’ve successfully navigated the Home Office sponsorship licence application process, and have been granted a sponsor licence – time to put your feet up? No chance!
This is where the hard work really starts.
Meeting your duties as a sponsor licence holder will require resource, effort and commitment. Depending on the size of your organisation and how you use your sponsor licence, it’s likely that it won’t require daily attention, but similarly your licence can’t be left to run itself.
With more than 27,000 sponsor licence holders in the UK, the Home Office places duties on these organisations to inform of certain organisational and employee changes to ensure their records are kept up to date, and that immigration enforcement is upheld.
If you fail to keep your licence up-to-date, the Home Office can downgrade, suspend or even revoke it – with potentially catastrophic impact on your sponsored migrants, as well as on your ability to recruit and employ sponsored migrants in future.
If your licence is downgraded you will be required to pay UKVI for the privilege of being given an action plan that specifies the issues that you must remedy in order to be upgraded back to A-status. If your licence is revoked you may be barred from applying for a new licence for a six month ‘cooling off period’.
So what do you need to do to ensure your licence remains compliant? Here are some common scenarios where sponsor licence holders are required to take positive action to notify the Home Office of changes in circumstances.
If you change company address
If your company has moved address, the Home Office needs to know. They don’t like turning up for an unannounced audit visit to find a completely different company in situ (yes, we have heard of that happening.) It tends to make them nervous about what else you might have failed to tell them.
If you change your Authorising Officer
It’s essential that you have an Authorising Officer in place at all times. That means if the current incumbent leaves the company, or relocates overseas, or goes on sabbatical or maternity leave, you need to appoint someone else to fill the role – even if it’s just a temporary move. UKVI see the Authorising Officer as their key point of contact with your company, even if they aren’t involved in the day-to-day work of immigration. They will be e-mailing your Authorising Office from time to time, and if they get an automatic reply telling them ‘Mr Smith left the company in 2014, please contact…’ they won’t be happy. In their eyes if you don’t have an Authorising Officer in place then no one is taking responsibility for immigration matters.
If you open or close a UK branch
UKVI want to have up-to-date information on your UK sites – because that’s where your migrant workers will be based. Unfortunately it can be easy to lose track of what you’ve told the Home Office, because details of your branches aren’t published on the Sponsorship Management System. That means the only way you’ll know which addresses are in your licence is by keeping clear records and making sure they’re amended every time you open or close a branch.
If you establish or close an overseas branch, a subsidiary company or a linked entity
It can be even easier to lose track of which overseas companies are covered by your licence – yet again none of this information is viewable on your Sponsorship Management System. And if you’re part of a Group with a complex global structure, we appreciate that sometimes UK HR may be informed rather late down the line when a new subsidiary in Azerbaijan is established. Usually just at the point that one of your Managers wants to bring over an employee from there to the UK. Ideally you should be updating UKVI every time a linked entity overseas is established (or shut down), and certainly you must have done this before you can consider transferring an employee from that overseas company to the UK, but if your Group is constantly opening new overseas branches or companies then we would suggest programming in the submission of an update to UKVI every quarter, or yearly – it will depend on how frequent those kind of changes are.
Other significant changes to the company
Takeovers, acquisitions, mergers, TUPE transfers. All of these will have ramifications for your sponsor licence. This is a much more complex matter, so there isn’t room to talk through all of the implications here, but in most cases these changes have to be reported to UKVI, usually within a very tight timescale of 28 days after a change occurs. And you may need to submit a new licence application in this timeframe too. We would strongly suggest that you take expert advice on what is needed, at an early a date as possible.
DavidsonMorris can advise on Home Office compliance
Our advice for maintaining compliance and keeping the Home Office happy? Don’t fall into the trap of ‘out of sight out of mind’.
Give your licence a little bit of attention and TLC on a regular basis. Schedule in regular check-ups and you’ll avoid problems coming to bite you later.
Avoid isssues, scrutiny and penalty by keeping on top of your duties. A neglected licence may cause issues at renewal stage. An immigration audit can also be extremely helpful in identifying potential issues before the Home Office comes calling.
Keep all aspects of your HR compliance in check; HR processes, policies, and importantly record keeping.
If you are unsure about any aspect of your duties as a sponsor licence holder, or are preparing to apply to renew your licence and are concerned about your HR house-keeping, contact our business immigration experts for a no-obligation discussion.