A Guide To Sponsorship Licence Inspection Visits
Immigration solicitors are warning UK business owners applying for their first sponsor licence, and companies who hold sponsor licences to employ skilled migrant workers on Tier 2 or Tier 5 visas, that Home Office inspection visits have resumed following their temporary curtailment during the COVID-19 lockdowns. In this article, business immigration solicitor Oshin Shahiean, looks at what UK employers should expect from a Home Office inspection of their Sponsorship Licence.
UK Immigration solicitors
For specialist advice on sponsor licence inspection visits and Sponsorship Licence compliance call the business immigrationlaw team at OTS Solicitors on 0203 959 9123 or contact us online. Appointments are available by phone or video call.
Why flag up the resumption of Home Office Sponsor Licence inspection visits
The Home Office conduct inspection visits to assess:
- An application for a first sponsor licence or
- An application to renew a sponsor licence – especially where Sponsor Licence compliance issues have been raised during the four-year life span of the preceding Sponsor Licence or
- Whether Sponsor Licence enforcement action should be taken, resulting in the downgrading of the Sponsor Licence rating, the suspension of the Sponsor Licence or, in the worst-case scenario, the revocation of the sponsor licence.
Not all first applications for a Sponsor Licence will result in a pre-grant Home Office inspection visit but the Home Office has said that the initial focus of their resumed inspection visits will be on pending sponsor licence applications. However, immigration solicitors anticipate that as COVID-19 restrictions continue to ease, one consequence will be that Home Office officials will turn their attention to Sponsor Licence enforcement through sponsor licence compliance audits.
As many UK employers have had to focus all their attention on their business surviving the economic impact of COVID-19, many businesses have not had the time or energy to focus on Sponsor Licence compliance. Flagging up the resumption of sponsor licence inspection visits, for both pending Sponsor Licence applications and for enforcement purposes, gives UK employers a timely reminder about sponsorship audits.
What are Home Office inspection visits looking for?
With a pending Sponsor Licence application, the Home Office auditor will be particularly keen to check that:
- The Sponsor Licence application is not designed to abuse the Immigration process and
- The business has genuine vacancies for skilled migrant workers and
- The right HR systems in place to comply with Sponsor Licence reporting and recording duties.
With an existing Sponsor Licence holder, the Home Office inspector will be looking at specific sponsorship compliance issues. They may not necessarily relate to skilled migrant workers. For example, there could be a systematic failure to carry out right to work checks on all employees or to conduct them correctly.
What to expect during a Sponsor Licence inspection visit?
If you haven’t experienced a Sponsor Licence inspection visit you can fear the unknown. Immigration solicitors say that a bit of fear can be healthy as it makes you better prepared for an announced or unannounced Home Office inspection visit.
The first point to make is that it’s best not to make assumptions about what will happen during a Home Office sponsor licence inspection because each Home Office official conducting an audit has a degree of autonomy over precisely how the inspection visit will be carried out. However, Home Office caseworkers do have to follow Home Office issued guidance on how to conduct the compliance visit and what action should be taken in light of their audit findings. Importantly, a UK employer is entitled to see the notes taken by the Home Office official during the course of their inspection visit.
Generally, a Home Office inspection visit will involve:
- Introduction and discussion with the authorising officer.
- Compliance assessment by looking at general HR and Sponsor Licence procedures.
- A review of files (in announced inspection visits the Home Office official can request files in advance but that won't always happen. A Home Office inspector can ask for a list of all HR files, including sponsored employees and settled workers, to make sure right to work checks are completed on all employees and repeated where necessary).
- Discussion with key personnel, for example, with a level one or level two user (to ensure that all key personnel are aware of Sponsor Licence reporting and recording duties and conversant with the firm’s procedures).
- Discussion with individual skilled migrant workers (the workers can be identified by the Home Office official either before an announced audit or during a visit where there is an existing Sponsor Licence and sponsored employees. The purpose of the interview is to check that the skilled worker visa holder or Tier 2 (General) visa holder is carrying out a job that matches the job description in their certificate of sponsorship and meets the skills and minimum salary threshold visa criteria).
- Any follow up queries with key personnel.
Home Office caseworkers won't necessarily follow the above procedure as some like to carry out interviews prior to reviewing files but files do need to be easily available in either paper or electronic form.
The outcome of the Sponsor Licence audit won't be conveyed on the day as the Home Office official will liaise with the Home Office sponsorship compliance unit about their findings and assess those against the information held on the sponsor management system.
What to expect after a Sponsor Licence inspection visit?
Sometimes no news is good news as that will normally mean that the pending Sponsor Licence application is being processed or no action is being taken in relation to an existing Sponsor Licence. However, if there are concerns raised about a pending sponsor licence application during a Home Office inspection visit this is likely to lead to a refusal of the Sponsor Licence application.
If there are concerns about an existing Sponsor Licence this could result in notification of suspension of the Sponsor Licence. When advising that a Sponsor Licence has been suspended the Home Office has to explain the basis for the decision. The Sponsor Licence holder then has an opportunity to respond to the points raised.
Its best to be prepared for a sponsor licence inspection visit so that any issues are addressed in advance of the visit but, failing that, any UK employer should take immediate Sponsor Licence legal advice if they are informed that their Sponsor Licence will be suspended following a Home Office inspection visit. That’s because failure to challenge the suspension or address the Home Office concerns could lead to the revocation of the sponsorship licence.
If a Sponsor Licence is revoked it means that:
- The UK employer can't sponsor current skilled migrant workers or recruit skilled migrant workers from the EU or from non-EEA countries who are subject to Immigration controls and require sponsorship.
- The Sponsor Licence key personnel and the directors and owners of the business are not allowed to make another sponsorship application for twelve months.
- Any existing sponsored employees will have their skilled worker visa or Tier 2 (General) visa shortened or curtailed to sixty days so they will either have to find new Employment with a sponsoring employer or leave the UK.
Act now to get ready for a Sponsor Licence inspection visit
If you are a UK business owner or HR director reading this article you may think that preparation for a Sponsor Licence inspection visit needs to go on your ‘to do’ list if you get a letter informing you of a forthcoming Home Office audit, but immigration solicitors advise that:
- Many Home Office inspection visits are unannounced so your business needs to be ready now.
- Even if a Sponsor Licence inspection visit is announced the lead up time to the audit won't give you sufficient time to get ready for the inspection visit.
Many UK employers have been lulled into a false sense of security by the government encouragement of applications for sponsor licences and the cessation of suspension and revocation of sponsor licences during the COVID-19 related lockdowns. As inspection visits resume, Sponsor Licence applicants in perceived high-risk industries will see more first sponsor licence applications being refused and inspections after Sponsor Licence compliance issues will result in more existing sponsor licences being suspended or revoked.
Immigration solicitors say that it is best to put the time in to get the right procedures in place for your first Sponsor Licence application or in checking that your sponsor licence compliance systems remain fit for purpose in case your business receives either an announced or unannounced Home Office inspection visit.
UK Immigration solicitors
For specialist advice on Sponsor Licence inspection visits and sponsor licence compliance call the business immigration law team at OTS Solicitors on 0203 959 9123 or contact us online. Appointments are available by phone or video call.