Without a valid sponsor licence, you are not permitted to lawfully employ sponsored migrant workers. This leads to a number of immigration problems directly affecting the immigration status of your sponsored employees, resulting in unwanted disruption to your operations.
In most cases, sponsor licences are left to expire without the sponsor’s knowledge. For smaller businesses in particular without an HR function, there may not be adequate processes in place to monitor the status of the licence. In larger organisations, a change in personnel may result in the licence expiry being inadvertently overlooked.
In this article, we consider how to deal with an expired licence and steps to take to avoid expiry and renewal issues arising.
How do you know if your licence has expired?
Sponsor licences are issued by the Home Office to employers for a period of four years. If the employer does not successfully apply to renew their licence in advance of the expiry date, the licence will automatically expire.
The licence expiry date is found on the organisation’s Sponsor Management System (SMS).
This is a standard communication that usually reads:
Your sponsor licence was granted for an initial period of four years. We wish to inform you that this period will shortly come to an end and, unless you apply to renew your licence, it will expire on XX/XX/XXXX.
In 30 days, the function to renew your licence will become available in SMS. If you want to continue to sponsor migrants, we strongly advise that you apply to renew your licence as soon as you are able and in any event at least one month before your licence expires.
No action is required by you at this time. You will receive another email in 30 days, notifying you that you are able to apply to renew your licence and providing further details of the licence renewal process.
For more information, please refer to the sponsorship policy guidance and SMS user guides, which are available at:
UK Visas and Immigration
A key assumption with this notification is that it will be received and read by the relevant key personnel at the organisation.
While it is a requirement under the Home Office’s sponsor guidance to keep organisation contact details up to date on the SMS, the reality is this doesn’t always happen. The SMS may hold contact details for a previous legal adviser, or the authorising officer (AO) could have left the organisation and no new contact details have been input into the system. The result – the sponsor doesn’t receive the notification and isn’t reminded of the impending deadline and licence expiry date.
It is also common for the employer to become aware that they no longer hold a valid sponsor licence when a sponsored employee makes an application to the Home Office for further leave to remain. It’s at this point, when conducting their checks as part of the employee’s application, that UKVI sees the expired status of the licence and takes subsequent enforcement action against the sponsor.
We’ve also taken many panicked calls from HR teams needing to secure the release of a sponsored visa employee, detained for attempting to re-enter the UK – without knowing that their employer’s licence has expired, which automatically compromises their immigration status.
A further concern is that the notification omits to specify the full consequences of failing to renew the licence. Think for example of smaller employers with no in-house HR expertise or with only one sponsored employee – such businesses may not fully understand the urgency and ramifications of an expired licence.
Implications of an expired sponsor licence
Without a valid sponsor licence, the organisation will not be able to assign any new Certificates of Sponsorship to migrant workers and the organisation will be removed from the Home Office’s Register of Licensed Sponsors.
The employers existing sponsored workers (eg under Skilled worker or Global Business Mobility routes) will no longer be lawfully employed by the organisation. As a result, the sponsored employees can expect their leave to be curtailed.
This means the employees will have 60 days (or up to their visa expiry date if earlier) to leave the organisation and either apply for a new visa to remain in the UK, for example, by finding a new sponsor, or leave the UK.
To avoid losing the worker, the employer must take swift action to reinstate the licence and its permission to sponsor migrant workers.
Reinstating the licence & permission to sponsor workers
If you are made aware that your company’s sponsor licence has expired, the steps required to resolve the licence and related immigration problems can be complex, stressful and costly.
Your course of action will be largely determined by the wider context and circumstances, how you have previously managed your licence and any other immigration-related issues. Seek advice as soon as you become aware of any problem with your licence to decide on the most appropriate strategy to mitigate damage and costs for your organisation.
Your visa holder employee(s) will also have to decide what to do next; whether to wait while their employer attempts to address the expiry the issue with the Home Office, or whether to find alternative, permitted employment with a new sponsor and make a new application for leave to remain before their curtailed leave expires. Failing that, they face having to leave the UK.
Steps to avoid sponsor licence expiry issues
Sponsor licence expiry is clearly an issue that all sponsor licence holders need to be aware of and take action to prevent, as part of the wider demands of sponsor licence holders’ compliance duties to support immigration control.
Diarise the expiry date
The simplest step is for all parties involved in the organisation’s licence management to diarise the date of licence expiry – AO, SMS users and the HR director. The date can be found on the summary page of the SMS. It is advisable not to rely on Home Office reminders alone.
Start to prepare your renewal application 6 months before expiry. You won’t be able to actually apply until 90 days before the licence is due to expire, but having everything prepared, including all the supporting documentation collated and ready to be submitted, takes the pressure off and allows any issues to be picked up and resolved ahead of the expiry date.
Apply to renew your licence ahead of expiry
Sponsors make an application to renew their licence on the SMS. On receipt the application and before making a decision, the Home Office may request further information or documentation, which the sponsor must submit within five working days, or officials may attend the organisation’s premises to conduct a site inspection.
The Home Office will then make a decision as to whether to approve the renewal, or if there are allegations of compliance breaches, they may take enforcement action against the sponsor. The penalties will depend on the severity of the breaches, and could include reducing CoS allocations, or downgrading, suspending or revoking the licence.
Ongoing licence management
Most importantly, licence compliance is an ongoing business concern. Employers should approach their sponsor licence in the same way they do other legal and compliance requirements, such as self-certifying business accounts. Accept that the sponsor licence requires ongoing management, attention and expertise, to comply with your duties and to support future renewal applications to maintain your sponsor status.
Schedule regular checks of all details on the SMS and update your records. Check the information that was originally submitted to UKVI. Are there any changes that need to be reported? Look across all areas – organisational details, information on key personnel and migrant workers – are all sponsored employees on there and are all of their details correct and up to date?
Where employers only come to look at their sponsor licence when a recruitment need arises, this creates inevitable risk of non-compliance and Home Office scrutiny and penalty.
Case law relating to employers’ failure to keep their contact details up to date in the SMS and issuing CoS with incorrect details (such as an incorrect company address) has emphasised that the courts are supporting the Home Office in their enforcement action. Don’t expect sympathy or concession – breaching this duty is deemed sufficiently serious to justify revocation of the licence by the Home Office.
Effective immigration compliance practices will avoid issues with the validity of your licence and the visas that depend on it.
We have substantial experience helping businesses resolve issues relating to an expired sponsor licence and PBS visa curtailed leave. We also offer training for inhouse HR and personnel involved in licence management on immigration compliance. Speak with one of our immigration specialists for advice.
Expired sponsor licence FAQs
Do Tier 2 or Skilled Worker visa employees need to leave a company with an expired sponsor licence?
Sponsored visa workers will no longer be lawfully employed if their employer’s sponsor licence has expired, This is because their certificate of sponsorship will no longer be valid with a licence in place. If the employer is unable to secure a new or renewed licence, the employee will have to leave the organisation and either apply for a new visa or leave the UK.
How long do sponsor licences last?
Sponsor licences are issued for a period of four years. Sponsors have to apply to the Home Office to renew their licence in advance of the licence expiry date at the end of this four-year period.
Will the company need to apply for a new licence?
Depending on the circumstances, the organisation could apply to renew the licence or they may have to make an application for a new licence. Taking professional advice will ensure you proceed with the best course of action for your organisation.
How can DavidsonMorris help?
DavidsonMorris are UK immigration specialists, with specific expertise in helping employers reinstate their status as a sponsor licence holder and minimising the impact of an expired licence on their sponsored visa workers and business operations. For advice on how to address an expired licence, contact us.
Last updated: 15 July 2023