SMS Level 1 Users are responsible for the day-to-day administration of an organisation’s sponsorship licence using the Sponsorship Management System (SMS).
Failure to carry out these duties correctly can result in enforcement action against the sponsor licence holder. This makes it critical to ensure all level 1 users understand their responsibilities and are trained to perform them to the required standards.
In this guide, we explain what the role of the SMS Level 1 User entails and the part it plays in an organisation’s immigration compliance.
What is an SMS Level 1 User?
When applying for a licence to sponsor migrant workers, the online sponsor application form requires the prospective licence-holder to allocate certain responsibilities to members of staff, some or all of whom will have access to the SMS once a licence is granted.
The SMS is the Home Office online platform through which those with access to the system can assign Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS) to migrant workers, report key changes in relation to sponsored workers and the sponsoring organisation, and generally manage the sponsorship licence. In this way, the SMS can help sponsor licence-holders to ensure compliance with the UK’s Immigration Rules and prevent abuse of the system, acting as the gateway between the employer’s organisation and UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI), the division of the Home Office tasked with issuing both sponsor licences and visas.
The SMS Level 1 User is the person responsible for carrying out the day-to-day sponsorship activities using the SMS. Other key personnel roles include the Authorising Officer (AO), the Key Contact (KC) and SMS Level 2 Users. The AO is the person responsible for ensuring that the sponsor licence-holder meets all of its sponsor duties. They are also responsible for deciding how many staff need to have access to the SMS and what level of permission they can have, as well as the activities of all SMS-users. The KC is the person who acts as the main contact between UKVI and the sponsor licence-holder, while Level 2 Users are able to perform certain actions on the SMS but have fewer permissions than Level 1 Users.
Who can act as an SMS Level 1 User?
As management of the sponsorship licence is conducted mainly via the SMS, any Level 1 User must be fully able and competent to use that system. To act as an SMS Level 1 User, the individual initially nominated for this role in the sponsor licence application must also be a paid member of staff or engaged as an office-holder for the sponsor’s organisation, and be based in the UK for the period that they will be required to fill this important role.
At least one Level 1 User must be an employee, partner or director in the sponsor’s organisation. This means that the person initially nominated in the sponsor licence application must be either a paid member of staff or an office-holder. However, any individual subsequently added as a Level 1 User, can be an employee of a third-party organisation to whom the sponsor licence-holder has contracted some or all of its human resources functions. A UK-based legal representative can also be added as a Level 1 User, provided they have first been appointed as a representative via the SMS.
Who cannot act as an SMS Level 1 User?
Any Level 1 User nominated on the sponsor licence application, or added following the grant of the licence, cannot be:
- a representative who is not based in the UK
- a temporary staff member supplied by an employment agency
- a contractor or consultant who is contracted for a specific project
- someone with an undischarged bankruptcy or who is legally prohibited from acting as a company director.
They must also not have any relevant unspent criminal convictions as set out under Annex L4 of the sponsor guidance, or a history of certain immigration-related offences, or for any offence believed to be of relevance to their ability to discharge the sponsor’s duties.
How many SMS Level 1 Users can be appointed?
When first applying for a sponsor licence, the sponsor can only nominate one Level 1 User who must be an employee, director or partner. Once a licence has been granted, that Level 1 User can use the SMS to nominate more SMS-users, including both Level 1 and 2 Users.
As only SMS-users will have access to the system, the AO and KC must be set up as SMS-users if they also require access. The AO can be nominated as both the KC and Level 1 User in the licence application, where the key personnel roles can be filled by the same person. However, if these roles are to be filled by a combination of different people, the AO and KC will need to be added as Lever 1 or 2 Users after the grant of the licence.
There can be only one AO and one KC, although more SMS Level 1 Users can be appointed once a licence has been granted, unless the licence has a provisional rating. A provisional rating will be awarded if a prospective sponsor is applying under the UK Expansion Worker route, where the AO is based overseas at the time of application. That person must also be named as the Level 1 User, where the sponsor can only change or add more Level 1 Users when it has obtained an A-rating for its licence. The AO/Level 1 User will need to up-rate the licence once they have been granted a visa and updated their details on the SMS.
SMS Level 1 User duties
There are various activities that the SMS Level User 1 will be responsible for when it comes to both managing the sponsor licence and any migrant workforce, including:
- assigning CoS to prospective migrant workers for them to apply for a visa
- asking for an increase in the number of CoS that can be assigned to migrant workers
- asking for more Level 1 Users and adding Level 2 Users to the SMS
- removing Level 1 or Level 2 Users from the SMS
- telling UKVI about minor changes to the sponsor’s details
- telling UKVI about changes of circumstances on the SMS
- reporting migrant worker activity to UKV, for example, informing UKVI if a worker does not start the role for which they are being sponsored or is absent from work without the sponsor’s permission
- withdrawing CoS, for example, where a job role is no longer available
- telling UKVI of changes to work addresses
- changing SMS-user details
- viewing information about the sponsor licence and key personnel
- accessing key messages as posted by UKVI from time to time
- applying to renew the licence and track the progress of this application
- applying for premium customer service and tracking the progress of this application.
What is the difference between Level 1 and Level 2 Users?
There are a number of key differences between an SMS Level 1 User and Lever 2 User.
The Level 1 User is responsible for carrying out the day-to-day sponsorship activities using the SMS. This means that they will have full access to the SMS and will be authorised to use all functions available on that system, including the ability to appoint Level 2 Users.
Although the Level 2 User will also carry out certain day-to-day activities using the SMS, they will have far fewer permissions. They will only be authorised to create and assign sponsorship certificates to migrant workers, and to report worker activity in respect of any CoS they have personally assigned, or which have been transferred to them by a Level 1 User. Level 2 Users cannot report on CoS assigned (and not transferred) by Level 1 Users.
At least one Level 1 User must be a paid member of staff or an office-holder, although employees of any third-party organisation responsible for dealing with some or all of the sponsor’s HR functions can be added as a Level 1 User once the licence has been granted. In contrast, a Level 2 User, who can only be appointed once the licence has been granted, can be a member of staff supplied to the sponsor but employed by an employment agency.
Changing, adding or removing SMS Level 1 Users
In most cases, any sponsor licence change of circumstances, including adding or changing an SMS Level 1 User, must be reported by a Level 1 User using the appropriate function in the SMS. However, a sponsor licence-holder cannot use the SMS to report changes if it no longer has a Level 1 User in place with SMS access, such as where the only Level 1 User has left the employer’s organisation. As such, in scenarios where a Level 1 User is no longer in place, such that no-one in the organisation has access to the SMS, the sponsor licence-holder must instead complete a change of circumstances form to add a new Level 1 User.
When applying for a sponsor licence and when changing any key personnel or adding new ones after the grant of a licence, including SMS Level 1 Users, their contact details must be provided. The contact address given must be either the sponsor’s main address or that of any branch or head office that has been included in, or subsequently added to, the licence. All email addresses must be secure, personal to, and only accessible by, the named individual. Their National Insurance number should also be included, if they have one.
Penalties for non-compliance
If a Level 1 User does not meet the responsibilities set out under the rules, UKVI will take compliance action against the sponsor. This could include a decision to downgrade the sponsor licence, from an A-rating to a B-rating, where the sponsor would be required to pay for an action plan to reinstate their rating. This would give the sponsor a period of just 3 months to resolve any issues to UKVI’s satisfaction. During this time, the sponsor would also be prohibited from assigning sponsorship certificates to any new overseas recruits.
For serious cases of non-compliance, the sponsor is also at risk of having their licence suspended or revoked. Where a licence is revoked, the sponsor would no longer be eligible to sponsor migrant workers, including existing workers already employed by them.
Best practice for sponsor licence holders
To meet the requirements under the rules, the sponsor licence-holder must have at least one Level 1 User in place at all times, unless the sponsor is looking to surrender its licence. It is not possible to meet all sponsor duties without one. If the sponsor is found not to have a Level 1 User in place after a licence has been granted, the licence may be revoked.
The sponsor can decide how many SMS Level 1 Users it needs, although the AO will be responsible for their conduct, so it is strongly recommended that a sponsor does not have more Level 1 Users than really needed, but enough to cover periods of leave or sickness.
When selecting anyone to act as an SMS Level 1 User, they must be honest, reliable and trustworthy. They must also meet the requirements as set out under the rules. UKVI will always check the immigration and criminal history of Level 1 Users, both against UKVI’s own records and the Police National Computer. UKVI will make these checks when initially considering the sponsor licence application and can repeat them at any time during the validity period of the licence. They will also carry out checks if a new individual takes up a Level 1 User role in the sponsor’s organisation, where the outcome of these checks will, or may, influence the decision made on the application, or the status of any existing licence.
The sponsor licence-holder remains responsible for anything done by anyone set up as an SMS-user, including representatives. If UKVI is considering taking action against the sponsor, anything done by a representative on the sponsor’s behalf will be treated as if it were done by the sponsor. As such, sponsors should always carefully check the identity of any representative they appoint, ensuring they are suitable to do the activity required.
DavidsonMorris are recognised UK business immigration specialists. We provide expert advice and support services to sponsor licence holders on all aspects of sponsor licence management and compliance, including training and advice for key personnel such as Level 1 users. For more information, contact us.
SMS Level 1 users FAQs
Who can be a Level 1 User SMS?
The initial Level 1 User must be an employee or office-holder based in the UK, although additional Level 1 Users can be employees of any third-party organisation to whom the sponsor has contracted some or all of its HR functions.
How can a Level 1 User access the Sponsorship Management System SMS?
Once a sponsor licence has been granted, the Level 1 User appointed on the licence application will be granted access to the Sponsorship Management System (SMS). They can then appoint additional SMS-users, including Level 2 Users with fewer SMS permissions.
What is a Level 1 access sponsor licence?
The Level 1 User is responsible for carrying out day-to-day sponsorship activities using the Sponsorship Management System (SMS), although this individual can add both Level 1 and Level 2 Users via the SMS once the licence has been granted.
Can a legal representative be Level 1 User?
A UK-based legal representative can be added as a Level 1 User, provided they are first appointed via the Sponsorship Management System. At least one Level 1 User must also be either a paid member of staff or an office-holder.
Last updated: 6 November 2023