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Sponsor Licence Application Refused?

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If your sponsor licence application is refused or rejected by UKVI, this can have a hugely detrimental impact on your business operations and workforce planning. It is also likely to see your application fee lost.

While there is no right to appeal if your sponsor licence application has been refused, other options may be open to you depending on the circumstances and grounds for the Home Office’s decision.


Sponsor licence applications refused or rejected?

If the Home Office decides not to grant you a sponsor licence, they will either refuse or reject your application.

Rejections generally result from applications that are deemed invalid.

This is usually due to relatively minor issues with the application that can be rectified by the applicant. For example, there may be documents missing or the incorrect application fee was paid. The fee for a sponsor licence application will depend on the size of your organisation. If you have charitable status, or you are subject to the small companies regime, you may qualify for the small sponsor licence fee currently set at £536. Otherwise, the fee for medium or large sponsors will be £1476 for a licence.

The fee for a rejected application would usually be refunded, allowing the applicant to make a revised application.


Refused sponsor licence application

Sponsor licences are refused where there are more substantial or fundamental issues with the application. Refusals are more problematic for the applicant as the licence application fee will generally not be refunded and the organisation may be subject to a ‘cooling off’ period of 6 to 12 months before a new application can be made.

Your options after receiving a refused sponsor licence application will be determined by the Home Office’s reasons for refusal. Frequently cited reasons for licence refusals include:


Late filing of supporting documents

Unless you are a public body recognised by the UK government, such as a local authority or a company listed on the London Stock Exchange Main Market, you will need to provide a minimum of four supporting documents from Appendix A.

Depending on the nature of your business and the licence category sought, you may also require additional documentation in support. Having completed your sponsor licence application you will need to printout the submission sheet at the end of the licence application form and post this to UKVI, together with the correct supporting documents.

Your application will need to be accompanied by a number of supporting documents, including detailed documentation to demonstrate that you are a genuine company or organisation operating lawfully in the UK. This must be submitted within five working days of your initial application. Where the Home Office has requested further documents and these are not provided within the stipulated timeframe, the application will be refused.

Please note that at the time of writing, relaxed measures have been put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, enabling applicants to submit their documents by email, and it remains unclear if these are temporary or will become permanent.

Incorrect supporting documents

The rules relating to the grant of sponsor licence applications can be complex, not least in making sure that you comply with the documentary requirements under Appendix A. Failure to provide the correct documentation is one of the most common pitfalls when applying for a sponsor licence.

Any hardcopy documents in support of your application must be original or certified copies, unless submitting by email under COVID-19 temporary provisions.

In some cases, however, it may also be possible for UKVI to verify your documentation online. If this is the case, you will need to send a covering letter with the website address where the information can be found.

Please note, in the event that you are unable to provide the necessary documentation in support of your application, or to do so in time, you risk your sponsor licence application being significantly delayed or even denied.


Failing the genuineness test 

If your application was refused because you have been deemed not to have met the genuineness test, the situation is slightly more complex.

If the Home Office believe you were acting in good faith but were simply unable to meet the genuineness test requirements, you will need to build and evidence a robust business case with supplementary information to satisfy the Home Office as to why you need the particular foreign worker for the specific role. No cooling-off period applies in this instance, and a new application can be made straight away. 

If, however, the Home Office allege the organisation has acted in bad faith, for example submitting a document they don’t believe is genuine, or you deliberately tried to defraud by presenting a role as being at the required skill level when in reality the role is at a more junior level, they can bar the organisation from submitting a new application for between 6 months and 5 years (‘cooling-off period’).

If you believe the Home Office is factually incorrect with their allegations, you may consider submitting an application to challenge the decision with reasons and evidence as to why they were factually incorrect.

Falsified supporting documents

Where fraudulent or falsified documents have been submitted, the Home Office can refuse your application and, as a punitive measure, your organisation may be subject to a cooling-off period before you can reapply.


Key personnel issues

The nominated key personnel responsible for carrying out your sponsorship duties must meet suitability criteria and will be subject to background checks as part of the licence application process. If any of your key personnel or those with ownership or directorship found by UKVI to have a history of immigration violations, or unspent criminal convictions for a relevant offence such as fraud or money laundering, this can give grounds for a licence refusal.


Failed compliance visit

Having conducted a site visit prior to the grant of any licence, if UKVI are not satisfied that your HR systems and recruitment practices are adequate such that you are able to comply with your duties, or that key personnel are not sufficiently trustworthy or capable of carrying out your sponsorship duties, the application can be refused.

Caseworker error

If you can identify a factual error in the processing of your application, you can request for the error to be corrected, for example, if they have overlooked a piece of submitted documentation. In such cases, you will need to notify the Home Office of the error within 14 calendar days from the date of the refusal.


Previous immigration breaches

If the applicant has previously held a sponsor licence which was subsequently revoked, the Home Office may refuse the new application. Take advice on how to approach a new licence application following enforcement action, as this is likely to demand extensive preparation and consideration of compliance and licence management practices within the organisation. In addition, applicants that have previously been fined under the prevention of illegal working regime can expect to be subject to a longer cooling off period.


Is there a right to appeal a refused sponsor licence?

If your sponsor licence application is refused by UKVI, there is no right of appeal or Administrative Review.

Aside from accepting the decision and making a fresh application, this leaves two potential avenues to challenge.

The first is challenging the licence application refusal by way of an Error Correction request. An Error Correction request can only be made where the decision is a result of caseworker error or where relevant supporting documents were not considered. The applicant has only 14 days from the date of the decision to make an Error Correction request. Applicants will usually receive a response up to 28 days after submission.

The second option is if the sponsor licence application refusal was arguably unlawful, unreasonable or procedurally improper, then you may be able to apply for a judicial review of the decision.

Judicial review is a process by which a judge reviews the lawfulness of a public body’s decision, examining the way in which the conclusion was reached, rather than evaluating the merits of the decision itself.

As such, even where there is scope to judicially review a refusal decision, this may not necessarily be the best course of action to take as the prospects of a successful outcome can be low, not least because you would have to demonstrate to the court that the decision is one that no reasonable body could have come to.

This is a highly complex area, and you are advised to take specialist guidance on whether a judicial review could be appropriate and open to you. You will also need to act quickly as judicial review applications have to be submitted within 3 months of the refusal decision.


Can you reapply for a sponsor licence?

Although there is no right of appeal, and judicial review of decisions can be challenging, you may be permitted to reapply straight away if the refusal was on the grounds of failure to provide documents or information requested by a deadline for reasons beyond your control or because the online application was submitted by a representative.

You will, however, need to check if a cooling-off period applies before you can submit a new licence application to UKVI. The length of the cooling-off period can vary typically between six months to up to 12 months (although this can be up to 5 years) from the date of the refusal letter, depending on the reasons for the initial refusal.

In the event that your application was refused because you received a civil penalty for employing illegal workers, you will have to wait a period of twelve months after the date the penalty became payable before reapplying.

In some more serious cases, you can only apply for a new licence after five years have passed since the date the penalty was issued.


How to make a successful sponsor licence application

If you opt to reapply for a sponsor licence, ensure your new application addresses the specific grounds for the initial refusal.

To be eligible for either a sponsor licence you will first need to show that your business is both genuine and operating lawfully within the UK. In this respect, you will be required to provide verifiable documentary evidence from Appendix A of the guidance for sponsors. Additional documents may be helpful and valuable in evidencing your eligibility, such as organograms.

Further, when submitting your sponsor licence application, you will be required to nominate key personnel to undertake the duties and obligations as required under the licence. As such, these individuals, as well as those involved in the day-to-day running of your business, must be honest, dependable and reliable. Rules also apply as to who can take on the key personnel roles; level 1 users must, for example, be an employee, partner or director of the organisation.

Finally, you must be able to show that your business has both adequate human resource systems and recruitment practices in place to meet the necessary sponsorship duties on an ongoing and consistent basis. This will include keeping suitable records of your employees, carrying out right to work checks and reporting any changes in migrant worker circumstances.

Please note, if you are applying under the skilled worker visa category, you will also need to demonstrate to UKVI that you can offer genuine employment that meets the required skill level and appropriate rates of pay.

If you are reapplying for a licence after having already been refused, you should prepare to receive a compliance visit from the Home Office on submission of your new application. Officials will be looking for confirmation that you have the necessary processes, systems and policies in place to support ongoing licence compliance and for assurance that the initial grounds for refusal have been adequately addressed.


Can a sponsor licence be revoked?

Even if your sponsor licence application is approved, you may still be at risk of having your licence revoked, not least if you fail to comply with your sponsorship duties or you otherwise pose a threat to immigration control.

You will initially be granted an A-rated sponsor licence, following which you can start assigning CoS to migrants who you wish to work for you. You will also be given access to the Sponsor Management System (SMS). This is an online portal where you can manage your licence and report certain migrant activities, for example, if an individual fails to report to work.

However, if you are found to be in breach of your duties, UKVI may decide to downgrade your licence to a B-rating. This will require you to pay for a sponsorship action plan to reinstate your original A-rating. That said, in serious cases, UKVI may decide to suspend or revoke your licence altogether.

Please note, even if your sponsor licence is not revoked, it will only remain valid for a period of four years after which you will need to apply to renew it.


Need assistance?

In the event that your sponsor licence application is refused by UKVI, this can have a hugely detrimental impact on your business if you are recruiting skilled migrant workers. The application process is demanding and costly for employers, particularly where they have already found a suitable candidate to hire under the skilled worker visa. A delayed or refused application can mean losing out on your candidate and loss of your investment in the recruitment process to date.

Given what is it at stake, it will be important to understand your options if you have received a refusal from the Home Office.

DavidsonMorris’s specialist business immigration lawyers work with UK employers on all aspects of the UK sponsor licence, from the initial application, dealing with refusals, ongoing management of the licence once issued and with the renewal application after four years. We can also support with Home Office compliance penalties such as suspensions and revocations. With our compliance audit service you can help ensure your organisation stays ‘match ready’ in the event of a Home Office compliance visit.

If you have a question or need help with a sponsor licence application, contact us.


Sponsor licence application refused FAQs

What is a sponsor licence?

A sponsor licence grants an organisation the permission to hire skilled migrant workers in the UK.

Why are you applying for a sponsor licence?

UK organisation’s have to apply for a sponsor licence to be able to hire non-UK residents to work in Britain under the points-based immigration system.

Why are sponsor licence applications refused?

Sponsor licence applications can be refused by the Home Office for many reasons, including failure to pass the genuineness test, incomplete applications, issues with the appointed key personnel and falsified supporting documents.


Last updated: 9 August 2021

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