Sponsor licences permit organisations to access the global talent market and recruit non-UK resident workers, but they come with onerous compliance duties for employers.
Any failure to comply with sponsor licence duties can lead to a downgrade in the licence rating, or suspension or revocation of the licence, putting the jobs and immigration status of existing migrant workers at risk.
Before granting or renewing a sponsorship licence, the Home Office will undertake checks to verify that an organisation has sufficient HR systems in place to ensure compliance.
Site inspections can be held at short notice and all sponsor licence holders are expected to be compliant with their duties at all times.
This requires sponsors to take a proactive approach to managing their sponsor licence, by having the relevant key personnel assigned and trained to undertake the duties, supported by HR procedures which facilitate compliance. What does this mean in practice?
Assigning key personnel roles
Sponsor licence holders are required to assign a number of compliance roles to individuals who meet the suitability criteria. These roles can be assigned to a single person or multiple people.
The authorising officer should be the most senior employee with authority to hire migrant staff. They are ultimately responsible for the sponsorship licence.
Level 1 and 2 users
Initially, there need only be one Level 1 user. Additional users can be added at any time and can include employees and external users.
Level 2 users can also be added and have restricted system access.
The key contact is responsible for liaising with the Home Office. Again, this role may be outsourced to an external party, such as an immigration solicitor.
Allocated staff must be based in the UK and must not be subject to any bankruptcy or debt relief restrictions.
When making a sponsorship application, the Home Office will verify that all key personnel do not pose a threat to immigration control.
Any prior failures to carry our sponsorship duties or convictions for immigration offences, fraud, money laundering, or failure to pay VAT, may put a licence in jeopardy.
A large part of sponsor licence duties involves maintaining accurate records.
Sponsor licence holders must keep all required records until an officer has examined them, or, if an officer has already examined them, for at least one year (if an employee works for less than a year, the duration of the employment).
Some documents may need to be held for longer periods to satisfy other laws and avoid a civil penalty for illegal employment.
For all visa types, a licence holder must keep a photocopy or electronic copy of:
- The relevant pages of the sponsored worker’s passport, including those pages which contain personal identity details, leave stamps, immigration status and the period of leave to remain
- The worker’s biometric residence permit
- The worker’s National Insurance number
- The worker’s current and historic contact details
- The worker’s disclosure barring service check (if relevant)
- A record of the worker’s absences
- The worker’s contract of employment
- Any other document required for the worker’s visa type
Employers must also keep sufficient details of pay rates (for example, payslips, bank transfers, contracts of employment and evidence of allowances) and sufficient documentary evidence to establish that the position and applicant are of the necessary skill level.
Sponsored worker monitoring & reporting
Beyond keeping records, there is a positive duty on sponsor licence holders to report to the Home Office using the SMS Portal within 10 working days if any of the following events have occurred:
- A sponsored employee does not turn up to work on their first day.
- A sponsored employee’s contract is terminated early.
- A sponsored employee is absent from work for 10 of more days, without permission. Sponsors must ensure all sponsored employee absences are authorised, including sickness, annual leave, study leave and overseas travel.
- There are significant changes in a sponsored contract of employment.
Organisations are also expected to monitor the immigration status of their employees and report any changes, and to notify the Home Office of any suspicions and evidence that an individual is breaking the conditions of their stay in the UK.
Reporting organisational changes
Changes to an organisation’s circumstances must be reported within 20 days:
Change of company address
If your company has moved address, the Home Office needs to know.
Unannounced site visits remain common, requiring current addresses for immigration enforcement officials to attend and carry out inspections.
Change of Authorising officer
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 immigration work.
It’s essential that you have an Authorising Officer in place at all times. If the current incumbent leaves the company, relocates overseas, or goes on sabbatical or maternity leave, you need to appoint someone else to fill the role, even where on a temporary basis to ensure continuity of cover.
Opening or closing a UK branch
Details of UK branches are not published on the SMS. This can make it difficult for employers to keep track of which addresses are on the licence.
Maintaining clear, internal records and making sure these are amended every time a branch is opened or closed is the most effective way to ensure the licence is kept up to date.
Authorising officer Establishing or closing an overseas branch, subsidiary company or linked company
As with UK branches, overseas branches and subsidiaries are also not viewable on the SMS, making it challenging to know exactly which overseas companies are covered by your licence.
Best practice is to update UKVI each time a linked entity overseas is established or closed.
In any event, you must have informed the Home Office before you can look to transfer an employee from that overseas company to the UK.
For groups that are prolific in opening new overseas branches or companies, programming in the submission of an update to UKVI every quarter, or yearly as appropriate, can help to ensure compliance.
Authorising officer Other significant changes to the company
Such changes will generally have complex implications for your sponsor licence, for example you may need to submit a new licence application within the 28-day timeframe. We would strongly recommend taking expert advice on what is needed as early as possible to avoid issues with your licence.
Applications & renewals of certificates
When a certificate of sponsorship has been allocated to an individual, an organisation must assign it to the worker within three months.
Annual allocations of unrestricted certificates of sponsorship expire at the end of each financial year. Organisations must request to be allocated a new certificate every year and can do so from 5 January.
Organisations must only assign certificates for jobs that are suitable for sponsorship and must ensure that their employees have the necessary qualifications.
Failure to comply with your licence duties can result in Home Office enforcement action, including suspension or revocation of the licence.
As UK business immigration specialists, we provide ongoing compliance support and guidance to sponsor licence holders.
Sponsor licence duties FAQs
What are the responsibilities of a sponsor for an immigrant?
By sponsoring a worker, you will need to comply with specific reporting, monitoring and record keeping duties in relation to your licence and to sponsored workers' activities.
What is an employer sponsor?
A sponsor is an organisation licensed by the Home Office to employ non-UK resident workers.
What do you have to do to be a sponsor?
An organisation has to apply to the Home Office for a skilled worker sponsor licence to be able to hire non-UK resident workers.
How do I sponsor someone to work in the UK?
You will need to make an application for the relevant type of sponsorship licence. This requires ensuring the organisation is eligible; compiling and submitting the application and supporting documents; and paying the application fee.
Last updated: 30 October 2020