If an employer holding a Tier 2 sponsor licence does not satisfy the various compliance duties as required under the Immigration Rules, the Home Office has powers to take enforcement action by sending a notification letter stating that the organisation’s Tier 2 sponsor licence has been revoked or suspended pending further investigation. This can have far-reaching consequences for both the employer and their non-EEA visa workers.
What does it mean if the Home Office has revoked a Tier 2 sponsor licence?
Tier 2 sponsor licence-holders are faced with a complex list of conditions and rules with which they must comply for the duration of their licence’s four-year validity. Failure to do so may result in the Home Office suspending or even revoking the sponsor licence.
Revocation of the sponsor licence equates to its immediate cancellation. Suspension of the sponsor licence is a temporary measure put in place while the Home Office makes further enquiries of third parties, such as HMRC, and the employer itself. The reinstatement of the sponsor licence, its down-grading or its revocation will be decided once this enquiry process has been completed.
In addition to the revocation or suspension of the sponsor licence, the employer may incur fines for its actions or inactions. The amount of these will vary depending on the situation, but the employment of illegal workers can generate fines of up to £20,000 per worker.
Grounds for revoking a Tier 2 sponsor licence
A Tier 2 sponsor licence can be suspended or revoked for various reasons, usually because of the employer’s failure to comply with the licence-holders’ rules and regulations. Certain actions or inactions will result in compulsory suspension or revocation, while others are at the Home Office’s discretion.
Immediate revocation may occur where there are allegations of serious breaches of the UK immigration rules and the employer’s prevention of illegal working duties, including:
- The giving of false information on the sponsor licence application;
- The employment of workers illegally;
- Failure to provide documentation requested by the Home Office; or
- A Certificate of Sponsorship being used incorrectly or completed incorrectly.
A lesser penalty of a licence suspension may be imposed where the employer has:
- Not paid a sponsored worker an appropriate salary per the visa requirements;
- Made cash payments to a sponsored worker; or
- Not cooperated with UK Visas and Immigration on an inspection visit.
Impact of a revoked Tier 2 sponsor licence
If an employer’s sponsor licence is revoked, it will not be able to recruit or employ any non-EEA workers under the sponsor licence, regardless of the tier or category. Revocation results in the employer being taken off the register of sponsors. This means that the employer cannot hire any new non-EEA workers and cannot continue to employ its current non-EEA workers.
An employer which has had its sponsor licence revoked cannot reapply for another Tier 2 sponsor licence for a specified period (the ‘cooling off period’), which is 12 months from the date of revocation.
Any non-EEA workers employed in a business which has its sponsor licence suspended, may continue to work there until a final decision has been made by the Home Office. It is possible that the sponsor licence may be reinstated, down-graded or revoked after a full enquiry.
Revocation of a Tier 2 sponsor licence can have serious adverse repercussions for an employer’s business, which could suddenly lose a large proportion of its workforce. This is likely to affect productivity and possibly any competitive advantage that the business has. In addition, the employer’s reputation and the morale of employees are likely to suffer. The finances of the business could also be affected as a result of the imposition of fines on the employer by the Home Office.
Suspension, although not as draconian as immediate revocation, could lead to revocation and ultimately have the same effect, but even where the sponsor licence is reinstated or down-graded, business operations can be seriously affected by the enquiry process. Senior personnel are likely to have to spend a lot of time and effort on refuting the Home Office’s grounds for suspension and there is likely to be a detrimental effect on the morale of the workforce. It is probable that any business which has its sponsor licence suspended will continue to be the focus of the Home Office’s interest for some time afterwards, even if the suspension is only temporary.
The gov.uk website includes an up-to-date list of licensed sponsors. It is, therefore, a fairly simple matter to check whether a business, company or organisation holds a valid sponsor licence or not.
Licence revocation: impact on employees’ visas
If an employer’s sponsor licence is revoked, any non-EEA workers employed at the time will have their leave to remain in the country curtailed. From the date of revocation, any such worker will have 60 calendar days to leave the UK, find sponsorship from an alternative employer or make a new visa application under a different visa category. If the worker is able to find alternative employment, they will need to undertake a new Tier 2 visa application under their new employer’s sponsor licence.
In the event that the worker knew that their employer was in breach of the sponsor licence rules and duties, they will not be given a 60-day grace period to leave the country or make alternative arrangements and their leave to remain in the UK will be curtailed immediately.
If a sponsor licence is suspended, any current non-EEA workers may continue to work for the employer until a decision is made by the Home Office.
Revocation of a sponsor licence will result in any pending visa applications under that sponsor licence being deemed invalid. Therefore, any non-EEA workers in the process of applying for a Tier 2 visa will not be granted a visa if their employer (or potential employer) has its sponsor licence revoked during the application process. Such workers will not necessarily be informed of the revocation by the Home Office and will not have the 60-day grace period to leave the country or find alternative arrangements.
Any non-EEA worker who is required to leave the country but does not do so within the 60-day period may be detained and removed from the country. Any application to return following this will be unsuccessful for a period of ten years.
Reinstating a revoked Tier 2 sponsor licence
If a revocation or suspension notice letter is received from the Home Office, it is essential that the employer seeks legal advice as soon as possible.
It is not possible to appeal a revocation decision. Judicial review of the decision may be an option but needs careful consideration. Judicial review is the process whereby the courts consider whether the decisions made by state bodies have been fair, lawful and correct. If the court considers that the decision was not fair, lawful or correct, it may issue a quashing order, which essentially allows the court to remake the decision. Judicial review is an expensive process and there is no guarantee that the sponsor licence will be reinstated at the end of it.
The alternative option is for the employer to wait until the ‘cooling-off period’ has ended and then reapply for a Tier 2 sponsor licence. This is essentially the same as making an initial sponsor licence application although it will be necessary for the applicant to deal with the reasons for the previous revocation.
Revocation can have serious consequences for the business and for current non-EEA workers and needs to be dealt with as soon as possible.
If the sponsor licence is to be suspended pending further investigation by the Home Office, it is crucial that the employer responds in the correct way and in the correct timeframe; a response must be given within 20 working days of receiving the notification letter and the matter is dealt with by correspondence, not a hearing. Specialised immigration lawyers can help here.
Cooperation, accuracy and speed are key in this situation and it is important that an employer discusses the position and agrees a strategy with its relevant staff members and legal advisors as a matter of urgency. Dealing with the grounds for suspension can be protracted, stressful and costly, but this may be counterbalanced by the risks to the business and the personal effect on non-EEA workers if the sponsor licence is subsequently revoked.
The Home Office aims to give its decision no later than 20 working days after receiving the response, although there may be some delay if the matter is complicated or third parties, such as HMRC, are involved.
Need help with a revoked sponsor licence?
The duties of a Tier 2 sponsor licence-holder are onerous and lengthy. Sponsor licence-holders should discuss the requirements with their legal advisors to minimise their chances of falling foul of the Home Office’s requirements.
In addition, the requirements and guidance notes issued by the Homes Office are regularly amended and updated and it is imperative that businesses remain up-to-date with these. Again, using an expert advisor is probably the safest option to ensure this.
DavidsonMorris’ immigration law specialists have substantial experience in helping companies facing a revoked sponsor licence. We can advise on the merits and strengths of your case, and advise on the most appropriate course of action.
We can help you understand the grounds of the alleged breach, and advise on a strategy to respond to UKVI within the timeframes, and support you in addressing and remedying any areas of non-compliance to ensure you retain your licence.
If your sponsor licence is at risk of revocation, speak to one of our business immigration law experts today.
Tier 2 sponsor licence revoked: FAQs
Why was my Tier 2 sponsor licence revoked?
The Home Office will stipulate in its letter of revocation the grounds for the penalty. These typically relate to allegations of non-compliance with immigration duties or mismanagement of the licence and the visa workers employed under it.
Can I appeal a Tier 2 sponsor licence revocation?
It is not possible to appeal a revoked sponsor licence. Your options will generally be to pursue either a Judicial Review or to make an application for a new licence after a specified cooling off period.
Do I have to dismiss my visa employees after a revoked licence?
Your Tier 2 visa employees become unlawfully employed once your licence has been revoked as they are no longer meeting the requirements under the visa route. The employee will need to seek new employment with an eligible sponsor or apply to remain in the UK under a different immigration route. Employers who have lost their licence are advised to take professional guidance on the circumstances to ensure they avoid further immigration breaches or breaching employment laws when addressing the situation.
How can DavidsonMorris help?
DavidsonMorris' specialist team of business immigration lawyers bring specific expertise in sponsor licences, including revocations and applications. If your licence is at risk of suspension or revocation, speak to our experts for guidance on your options.
Last updated: 27th January 2020