If the Home Office considers your organisation has breached its immigration compliance duties, it may take the decision to suspend your sponsor licence. Your organisation could also see its license suspended if it is no longer eligible or suitable to hold a licence.
When a licence has been suspended, the Home Office can decide to either reinstate the licence or to revoke it. This outcome will depend on how you respond to the suspension notification.
If you receive notification that your organisation’s sponsorship licence is being suspended, you will need to act quickly to resolve the issues if you want to retain your status as a licensed sponsor.
If you fail to respond to the Home Office, you risk your licence being revoked, meaning you lose your permission to hire skilled workers. Given the current challenges in the talent market, retaining valued, skilled workers will be business-critical.
In this guide for sponsors, we explain what to do if your sponsor licence is being suspended. We consider the options open to you and the steps you can take to resolve compliance issues and regain your permission to sponsor skilled migrant workers.
What does a suspended sponsor licence mean?
If UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) believe that you are breaching your duties as a sponsor, and/or that you pose a threat to immigration control, or that you are engaging in actions or behaviours that are not deemed to be conducive to the public good, your licence may be suspended while further enquiries are made into any suspected non-compliance.
If you are subject to a suspension decision, you will no longer be able to assign Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS) to be able to sponsor new migrant workers, where your licence will be suspended in all routes in which you are currently licensed. The function to replace your nominated Authorising Officer or Key Contact, and to automatically add new Level 1 Users, will also be suspended, and your entry from the public register of sponsors will be removed. However, you must continue to comply with all your sponsorship duties during your period of suspension, and if your licence is due to expire during this period, you must still apply to renew it if you would like to continue sponsoring migrant workers moving forward.
Any existing migrant workers will be unaffected by any sponsor licence suspension, at least for the time being. Equally, if a worker has already been granted entry clearance on the basis of an CoS assigned before a decision was made to suspend your licence, they will still be allowed to enter the UK and start work for you, provided your licence has not been revoked by the time that they travel. Still, if a worker makes a visa application supported by a valid CoS assigned prior to your licence suspension, or if you are supporting a worker’s application for settlement, UKVI will not decide that application until resolution of the reason(s) for suspension, unless the application falls for refusal on other grounds.
Common grounds for suspending a sponsor licence
It is not uncommon for a sponsor licence to be suspended in circumstances where a request has been made of the sponsoring organisation for further information or documentation, for example, in the context of a sponsor licence renewal application, and the sponsor has failed to comply with that request, either within the specified timeframe or at all.
However, one of the most common reasons for the suspension of a sponsor licence is where UKVI has conducted a compliance visit, either immediately prior to renewal of a sponsor licence, or where concerns have been raised or reports made about the possibility of non-compliance, and evidence of non-compliance is suspected during that inspection.
When it comes to sponsorship responsibilities, you must:
- check that any prospective new recruits have the necessary skills, qualifications and/or professional accreditations to do their jobs, retaining copies of documents showing this
- only assign CoS to workers when the job is suitable for sponsorship, where you can only sponsor a migrant worker if the job that they are going to be doing has a suitable rate of pay and skill level, and meets any other criteria needed for their visa type
- conduct right to work checks on all new recruits, regardless of their nationality, with follow-up checks on existing migrant workers with a time-limited right to be in the UK, retaining clear and compliant records of these checks
- tell UKVI if your sponsored workers are not complying with the conditions of their visa.
In the context of recording and reporting responsibilities, you must have in place adequate HR systems to be able to monitor your employees’ immigration status; to keep copies of relevant documents for each worker, including passport and right to work information; to track and record employees’ attendance; to keep employee contact details up to date; and to report any problems to UKVI, such as if an employee stops coming to work.
As a sponsoring organisation, you must also report any significant changes in your own circumstances. This could be where you have substantially changed the nature of your business; you are involved in a merger or take-over; you have made changes affecting your relationship with any overseas businesses that have transferred workers to you; or you have made changes to a contract covering secondment workers or service suppliers. You must also tell UKVI if you are changing your details, like your allocated roles or your address.
It is important for sponsors to fully understand this guidance and keep abreast of any changes made, remaining up to date at all times in the context of compliance. The various reasons for which UKVI may make a decision to suspend your licence are also set out in this guidance.
How to respond to a licence suspension notice
The way in which you should respond to a suspension notice will all depend on the basis upon which your licence has been suspended. For example, if a suspension decision has been made because you failed to submit certain documentation requested by UKVI, this information must be submitted as quickly as possible, together with an explanation for your delay. In contrast, if your licence has been suspended because you have failed to comply with your recording and/or reporting responsibilities, these omissions should be rectified, and an adequate explanation again put forward to UKVI to explain your non-compliance.
However, in all cases where your sponsor licence is suspended, you should immediately seek expert legal advice from an immigration specialist to help secure reinstatement of your licence. Your adviser can ensure that a robust defence is presented to UKVI addressing any issues raised in your suspension notice, helping to maximise the prospects of no further action being taken against you and your licence being reinstated as soon as possible.
What happens after you submit your response to the Home Office?
Following receipt of your response, the Home Office will investigate further before making a decision. The suspension will remain in place until UKVI makes a decision on what action to take.
Home Office accepts your response
If the Home Office accepts your response and remedial actions, your licence should be reinstated, either as an A-rating or a B-rating.
If the decision is to reinstate your licence without further action, your suspension will be lifted and your entry on the public register of sponsors will be reinstated.
If reinstated with a B-rating, the organisation will still have a lot of work to do to meet the required standards.
The contents of the action plan will depend on the nature of the breaches and you will need to evidence sufficient progress has been made within a specific timeframe, usually up to 3 months.
If you can show the organisation has followed the Home Office action plan, the licence will be upgraded to A-rating. If you fail to meet the action plan, the licence could be revoked.
Home Office decides to downgrade your sponsor licence
If you are failing to meet some of your sponsor duties, your licence may be reinstated but with a B-rating. If this happens, you will still be able to issue CoS to migrant workers you already employ who want to extend their visa, but you will not be able to issue new sponsorship certificates until you have upgraded back to an A-rating having made improvements. You will need to follow an action plan provided by UKVI to upgrade your licence at a cost to you of £1,476. This fee must be paid within 10 working days of the date that UKVI tells you about the downgrade. If you fail to pay, you will lose your licence.
At the end of the action plan, you will be upgraded to an A-rating if you complete all the steps and there is nothing else you need to improve. However, if you fail to complete all the steps, you will lose your licence. If you still need to make other improvements you may be given another B-rating, but will have to follow a new action plan and pay another fee. You can only have two B-ratings in the 4 years that your licence is valid. This means that you will lose your licence if you still need to make improvements after your second action plan.
Home Office decides to revoke your sponsor licence
Importantly, if you are failing to meet your sponsor duties in a serious way, for example, where you have knowingly given false information in a sponsor licence application or you are found to be employing workers illegally, your licence can be revoked by UKVI without the option of paying for an action plan. If you are subject to a sponsor licence revocation, any migrants that you currently sponsor will also have their leave curtailed.
If UKVI decide to revoke your licence, they will write to you to inform you of this. There is no legal right of appeal and you will not be allowed to apply for a sponsor licence again until a minimum of 12 months has passed since the date of being notified of the revocation.
What if you ignore the Home Office suspension notice?
Failure to engage with the Home Office in relation to any aspect of the sponsorship process will not be considered favourably.
If you do not respond to the suspension letter, or if you fail to respond in the required timeframe or refuse to engage actively with the Home Office through the suspension process, your licence could be revoked.
In the absence of a response to a suspension notice, UKVI will proceed with the action considered appropriate and inform you of its decision in writing. However, in most cases, it is likely that UKVI will go on to revoke your sponsor licence. This is because they will have no basis upon which to consider reinstating your licence with its original A-rating or, with a B-rating, providing you with a second chance by way of an action plan.
Following a suspension decision, workers you are sponsoring at the time of that suspension, and who have valid permission to enter or stay, will not be affected, unless or until UKVI decides to revoke your licence. However, once your sponsor licence is revoked, you will no longer have permission to sponsor migrants workers and the permission of any existing workers will be cut short. This means that these individuals may have to find alternative sponsorship, switch into a different immigration route or leave the UK altogether.
Should you accept the suspension?
There may be circumstances when challenging a suspension would not be the best course of action. For example, if the allegation is factually correct, a challenge to the decision may well incur unnecessary costs without real prospects of success.
If the allegations are true, your focus should be on remedial measures to rectify the breaches identified by the Home Office and to demonstrate you have taken action to prevent the issues from happening again.
Whatever the strategy, you will need to respond to the Home Office, addressing each point raised in the notice and providing evidence to support your case, within the stated timeframe.
Responding to a sponsor licence suspension letter
How you respond to the suspension notification will largely determine the outcome.
Fundamentally, you should act in full cooperation with the Home Office, as this will be beneficial in resolving the matter. Ignoring the notification or responding late can result in further enforcement action.
The suspension letter will advise the deadline for your response. In most cases, this will be 20 working days. You will be required to respond within this stated timeframe, or your licence may be revoked.
In practice, 2o days will be a tight timeframe in which to carry out the necessary investigations, collate evidence and prepare the response.
When considering your options to challenge a sponsor licence suspension, it will be important to address the reasons given by the Home Office for the suspension. The notification letter should detail the specific breaches under the terms of the licence and explaining the grounds for the suspension. Is there a factual error in these grounds, that can be challenged with supporting evidence? Are there measures you need to take to rectify the breach?
In general, these will relate to breaches of immigration compliance duties in areas such as record-keeping, reporting and employee monitoring.
Close analysis of this information will be critical to determining your next steps and your prospects of making a successful challenge.
If the decision was based on a factual error, you may be able to challenge the decision with supporting evidence or further explanation.
Proportionality may also be a concern. If the breach was relatively minor, yet you can show the impact of losing the licence would be devastating for the organisation, it could be argued that a licence suspension is a disproportionate and unjustifiable measure that should be overturned.
For example, if the loss of a sponsor licence will mean 20 sponsored workers lose their jobs, and the business is forced to close resulting in further job losses to the rest of the workforce, it could be argued that with corrective action and full cooperation with the Home Office, the licence should be reinstated on the basis of wider economic benefit.
If you have been asked to submit further information to the Home Office, ensure you comply.
Should any inconsistencies be identified in your documents, you will need to acknowledge this and explain the reasons for the discrepancies.
Decision-making time can vary depending on the size of your organisation, the number of sponsored workers you have and the complexity of the issues.
Addressing the grounds for suspension
An effective response will address each of the breaches that have been identified by the Home Office in the suspension letter.
These will be specific to your organisation and will require full consideration of the allegations. Taking expert advice will help you to fully assess and consider each of the allegations and how best to respond – both in terms of what remedial action needs to be taken to achieve compliance and what to say in your reply.
Below we consider some of the more common grounds for suspension, and outline what the Home Office is looking for in each area to meet the required standard.
Record keeping duties
Sponsor licence holders are under strict requirements to maintain certain records relating to their licence, organisation and sponsored workers.
You must maintain accurate and up-to-date contact details for any migrant worker that you sponsor, including their UK residential address and telephone number.
Importantly, you must keep these records for whichever of the following is longer:
- one year from the day you stop sponsoring the worker; or
- the date the documentation was reviewed and approved by a compliance officer, if your sponsorship of the immigrant ended less than a year ago.
If you sponsored the worker for less than a year, you must keep the paperwork for as long as the migrant is sponsored—whichever is longer—or until a compliance officer has looked through and approved them.
You should also retain the documents used as part of your sponsor licnec application for the duration of your licence’s validity.
You also have to keep copies of any documents to prove their entitlement to work in the UK and undertake the work in question.
Sponsors are required to keep track of their sponsored employees’ immigration status and report any changes to the Home Office. You also have to inform the Home Office of any suspicions or proof that an employee is failing to abide by the rules governing their stay in the UK.
You must also track and record employee attendance to ensure that any migrant worker is in fact complying with the terms of their visa.
You must also conduct regular right to work checks so as to monitor the immigration status of those that you sponsor, thereby helping to prevent illegal working.
In addition to maintaining records, as a licensed sponsor you are under a strict duty to report certain matters to the Home Office about the migrant workers that you sponsor, such as regular non-attendance, non-compliance or disappearance.
The following must be reported on your Sponsorship Management System (SMS) within 10 days:
- If a sponsored worker fails to show for their first day at work at your organisation
- If a sponsored worker’s employment is terminated early.
- If a sponsored worker has ten or more days of unauthorise absence from work.
- If there are substantial changes to the terms of the sponsored worker’ contract of employment
The following changes to your circumstances must be reported within 20 days:
- Change of address – if the company has relocated, the Home Office has to be notified. Remember that the Home Office can conduct unannounced compliance visits, meaning the contact information on the SMS must be up kept up to date.
- Change of Authorising officer – while the AO may not be involved in the day to day administration of the licence, the AO is the Home Office’s primary point of contact with your organisation and you must ensure that the AO listed on the SMS is correct. It’s also imperative that there is always an Authorising Officer in place and included on the SMS. To maintain continuity of coverage, you must hire someone else to fill the function, even temporarily, if the present incumbent quits the company, moves abroad, takes a sabbatical or maternity leave.
- Opening or closing a UK branch – because iformation about your UK branches is not stored on the SMS, sponsors may find it challenging to keep track of which addresses are included on the licence. The best way to make sure the licence is kept up to date is to keep accurate internal records and make sure they are updated each time a branch is opened or closed.
- Establishing or closing an overseas branch, subsidiary company or linked company – similar to UK branches, foreign subsidiaries and branches cannot be viewed on the SMS, making it difficult to determine precisely which foreign businesses are covered by your licence. Best practice is to inform UKVI whenever a related entity is opened or shut down overseas. In any case, before you attempt to transfer an employee from that foreign company to the UK, you must have informed the Home Office. Scheduling Programming updates to UKVI every quarter, or yearly, as necessary, can help to assure compliance for organisations that are prodigious in forming new overseas branches or corporations.
- Other significant changes to the company – significant organisational changes including takeovers, acquisitions, mergers, and TUPE transfers must be reported to UKVI, often within 28 days of the change taking place. Such changes will typically have complicated effects on your sponsor licence; for instance, you might need to file a new licence application within the allotted 28 days.
To avoid problems with your licence, we strongly advise seeking professional counsel as soon as possible about what is required.
Cooperating with the Home Office
Failing to respond to Home Office communications, or failing to meet their stated deadlines, will not be considered favourably when deciding on whether to resintate or revoke your licence.
You must comply with any requests for information or access to documents during a Home Office site visit, or otherwise. You must also act honestly and openly in any dealings with the Home Office.
The Home Office will be looking to confirm that the roles being filled by sponsored migrant workers are genuine vacancies. Evidencing this continues to prove problematic for employers given the subjective nature of the test.
In particular, evidence will be needed that the job actually exists and that it has not just been created for the purpose of bringing a migrant worker to the UK. Proof will also be required that the job description is accurate and has not been misrepresented or exaggerated to meet the skill and salary level requirements.
Licensed sponsors are required to allocate certain responsibilities to key personnel within the organisation, some or all of whom will have access to the sponsor management system (SMS) to administer day-to-day sponsor activities including, for example, reporting any changes in the circumstances of an individual worker. The authorising officer is the person responsible for the activities of all SMS users and ensuring that your sponsorship duties are met. If either the authorising officer, or any system user, fails in their duties, the organisation remains strictly accountable to the Home Office.
You should always exercise a degree of caution and carry out any necessary background checks to ensure that the individuals who you chose to appoint as your key personnel are honest, dependable and reliable, and therefore are unlikely to represent a threat to immigration control.
Taking a proactive approach to immigration compliance and licence management – making licence compliance a part of your everyday operations and ensuring all key personnel are trained – is the most effective way to manage the risk of Home Office scrutiny and punitive action.
UK sponsor rules place requirements on the employer to pay sponsored workers appropriately.
When assigning a Certificate of Sponsorship to a sponsored worker, the sponsor has to include certain information about the salary that will be paid for the role. This information is used to confirm that the relevant minimum salary threshold and related pay requirements are being met. If this salary information is found to be incorrect and that the sponsored worker is not being paid in accordance with the requirements, the Home Office can take action against the employer while an investigation is undertaken.
The Home Office states it conducts regular checks with HMRC records to monitor pay activity, and it may also act on ‘tip-offs’ about certain sponsors.
In many cases, pay issues arise inadvertently, with the sponsor not being aware that certain changes affect the sponsorship conditions, for example, if there has been a reduction in the sponsored worker’s pay or if they have taken unpaid leave.
No longer eligible for sponsorship
If your organisation no longer qualifies or meets the eligibility or suitability requirements to be a licensed sponsor, the licence can be suspended.
If your suspension follows a compliance visit
Sponsor licence holders are subject to ongoing Home Office scrutiny, from the initial demands of the sponsor licence application process, to the day to day compliance duties as a sponsor licence holder and the renewal process after four years.
As such, licence holders should be prepared to be subject to a Home Office inspection at any time during the four-year lifespan of their licence.
Inspections are used to identify immigration breaches, for which the sponsor licence holder (and migrant workers) could face enforcement action.
It’s common for an inspection to be triggered when the employer is applying to renew their licence. The Home Office may also rely on intelligence, such as complaints from disgruntled former employees, as grounds to carry out an immigration inspection.
Importantly, sponsors should remember that visits can be unannounced.
Organisations should be sufficiently prepared for an inspection to evidence their track record in consistently meeting the required compliance standards and obligations, in order to safeguard the status of sponsor licence holder. This makes it advisable to ensure that immigration compliance is an everyday concern and that the organisation can prove that it is meeting its compliance obligations at any one time through effective processes, systems and documentation.
If the suspension is as a result of a compliance visit, you should request copies of the Home Office’s compliance report and all notes, documents and interview transcripts relating to the inspection.
Scrutinising the Home Office’s conduct in investigating your organisation and issuing the suspension can give rise to grounds for challenge if the Home Office failed to meet certain standards or to follow legal procedure, rendering any enforcement action unlawful. This requires specialist insight and expertise, which we can offer.
Receiving a sponsor licence suspension notice from the Home Office is understandably a huge cause for concern.
Failure to address the Home Office’s allegations can result in revocation of your licence, meaning you can no longer lawfully employ sponsored workers and any existing sponsored employees will have to find alternative sponsored employment or leave the UK. The operational, financial and reputational implications can be devastating.
DavidsonMorris’ business immigration specialists are highly experienced in supporting sponsor licence holders facing a sponsor licence suspension. We have a dedicated team of sponsor licence lawyers who work with employers to resolve licence suspensions, dealing with the Home Office and advising on how to prevent future compliance issues from arising.
At the initial stage, we would review the facts of your case, including the alleged breaches as notified by the Home Office and your current general position to ascertain areas for challenge, such as weaknesses in the investigation process. We would then provide a recommended course of action, involving steps to address the cause of breaches and bring your systems and policies to requisite compliance standards. This could take one of many approaches, determined by the strength of your position and the case against you.
If you are dealing with a sponsor licence suspension, contact us to minimise the impact and disruption to your organisation of Home Office scrutiny.
Sponsor licence suspension FAQs
Why are sponsor licences suspended?
If the Home Office is not satisfied that your organisation meets the required standards, and that corrective action is required for you to maintain your ability to hire skilled workers, you may be subject to a licence suspension.
How long do you have to respond to a licence suspension?
The Home Office notification letter will state how long you have to respond. In most cases, you will need to respond within 20 days. Failure to meet the deadline could result in the licence being revoked.
Can you appeal a licence suspension?
Once notified of the licence suspension, the organisation must respond to UKVI within 20 days, providing any requested information and other supporting evidence as to why the suspension should be overturned.
Will a licence suspension affect visa workers?
Sponsored workers’ visas will not be affected until the Home Office has made a decision on the licence suspension. If the decision is to withdraw the suspension, their visas will remain unchanged. If the decision is to revoke the licence, their leave will be curtailed.
What happens if sponsor licence is revoked?
If a sponsor licence is revoked, the sponsoring organisation will no longer have permission to sponsor new migrant workers. Equally, the leave of any existing migrant workers will be curtailed, meaning that they may be required to leave the UK.
Last updated: 11 March 2023