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How to Survive a Sponsorship Compliance Visit

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You may think that it is overly dramatic to write an article on ‘how to survive a sponsorship compliance visit’ but for some UK sponsor licence holders the prospect of a Home Office audit and inspection can be daunting with fears, often unfounded, that their sponsor licence will be downgraded, suspended, or revoked.

In this article, our immigration solicitors offer some guidance on surviving a sponsorship compliance visit.

UK Online and London-Based Immigration Solicitors and Sponsorship Licence Lawyers

For advice on sponsor licence management call the immigration lawyers at OTS Solicitors on 0203 959 9123 or contact us online.

Different types of compliance visits

There are several different types of compliance visits. Home Office inspections can take place before a sponsor licence is granted to check a business has the systems in place to successfully operate a sponsor licence or afterwards as part of the compliance process. Compliance visits can be announced or unannounced. Compliance visits can be triggered by other investigations. For example, if there has been an investigation into your compliance with illegal working legislation and the completion of right-to-work checks.

As there are several types of compliance visits, and as they can be unannounced, it is best to be prepared – just in case.

What Home Office officials may check at a compliance visit

No two compliance visits are ever the same but Sponsorship Licence lawyers can offer some general guidance on what may be checked at a compliance visit. The guidance depends on whether the visit is a pre-sponsor licence or a post-sponsor licence compliance visit.

Pre-sponsor licence compliance checks

If you are applying for a new sponsor licence, or adding to an existing sponsor licence, a Home Office official may want to check:

  • If your business has HR systems in place to enable you to comply with your sponsor licence duties if you are granted a licence
  • Whether the number of overseas workers you are looking to provide sponsored employment for is appropriate to the size and nature of your company. For example, your sponsorship needs will be different if you own 1 London restaurant or a chain of restaurants across the south-east region
  • If you are applying for a sponsor licence to recruit skilled worker visa applicants, whether your vacancies are likely to meet the minimum salary threshold and skills criteria
  • If your business could pose a threat to immigration control

Post-sponsor licence compliance checks

If you are facing a post-sponsor licence compliance check this may be because:

  • The Home Office has received intelligence about the sponsor licence. For example, turnover is very limited but your business is continuing to offer sponsorship to large numbers of skilled worker visa applicants in comparison to the size of your business
  • Your business has applied to renew its sponsor licence and your renewal application triggers a requirement for an audit
  • Another government department requests a sponsor licence compliance visit. For example, if HMRC spots apparent issues
  • Your sponsor licence has been downgraded and you are working with the Home Office under an action plan to get your A rating reinstated

In a post-sponsor licence compliance visit a Home Office official may want to check:

  • Your HR systems are sufficiently robust to enable you to comply with sponsor licence duties
  • If your business, or the activities your business undertakes, pose a threat to immigration control
  • Whether the number of certificates of sponsorship requested in annual requests is still justified
  • Whether your sponsored workers are being employed in accordance with the job description on their certificates of sponsorship and if they are being paid the minimum salary for their visa
  • If sponsored employees are complying with their work visa conditions

The duties of a sponsor

The sponsorship duties of a sponsor are many and various but include:

  • Making sure overseas job applicants have the skills and experience for the job they are being recruited to fill
  • Allocating certificates of sponsorship to skilled worker visa applicants and other sponsored work visa applicants
  • Monitoring, reporting to the Home Office and recording sponsor licence compliance. Reporting is carried out through the sponsor management system and recording is often a combination of using the sponsor management system and keeping workers’ HR files up to date
  • Complying with UK immigration and other laws
  • Acting for the public good by not behaving or doing things that are not beneficial to society

If your business does not comply with its sponsor licence duties then you risk the Home Office suspending your sponsor licence and downgrading it or, in extreme cases, the revocation of your sponsor licence.

How to ensure compliance with sponsorship duties

Sponsorship Licence lawyers say that the key to ensuring compliance with sponsorship duties is preparation and effective systems. Those are important points whether you are a start-up with 1 or 2 sponsored employees or a business with a multi-million turnover that is heavily reliant on its overseas workforce.

Our Sponsorship Licence lawyers’ tips on ensuring compliance with sponsorship duties include:

  1. Choose your key personnel with care as they will be the ones on the frontline responsible for the management of the sponsor licence and day-to-day sponsor licence compliance. If the key personnel are stretched with other duties then you should think about adding some extra level 2 users to help manage the reporting and recording duties or consider employing business immigration solicitors to provide a sponsor licence management service
  2. Train your key personnel – Home Office guidance and regulations are regularly updated so make sure your key personnel are kept up-to-date. For example, there have been recent rule changes on the conduct of right-to-work checks and an update on sponsor licence reporting duties on the absences and employment start dates of sponsored employees
  3. Get to know Appendix D of the immigration rules as this appendix details the sponsor licence documents and the records you need to keep for each sponsored worker. For example, you need to keep either a photocopy or an electronic copy of the sponsored employee’s biometric residence permit and relevant pages of their passport (the pages containing identity details, leave to remain periods and leave stamps, and immigration status) and their national insurance number as well as the worker’s employment contract, contact information details and their absences from their employment
  4. Keep your records for the required period as the immigration rules specify how long paperwork must be retained for. Some records must be kept until a Home Office official has looked at them or, if a caseworker has already considered them, for at least one year, or if a sponsored employee worked for your business for less than a year, for the duration of their employment. Other documents need to be held for longer periods. Failure to keep records for the required period could result in a fine. For example, if you do not comply with the rules on record keeping preventing illegal working
  5. Be ready for an unannounced compliance visit as although unannounced audits are rare unless there are red flags about your business or your industry sector it is best to be ready so any announced or unannounced compliance visit is not a major headache. Just like routine fire drills, you can accustom your key personnel to compliance visits by asking your Sponsorship Licence lawyers to carry out internal audits every year. Whilst no one likes having their work reviewed it is best that it is done by a business immigration lawyer so they can flag up any potential areas of concern for you to remedy before a Home Office compliance visit
  6. Keep your paperwork handy as if you are audited the inspection may occur when one of your key personnel is absent. It does not matter if your records are kept brilliantly if no one can access them because the system is so complicated or if it was designed for one specific key worker to use. Finding a system that is both simple and accessible is vitally important so that if a member of the key personnel team is absent, or leaves your employment, the whole HR system and sponsor licence recording process does not break down

If you have questions about sponsor licence compliance visits, or want to know how our sponsor management service works, call our Sponsorship Licence lawyers.

UK Online and London-Based Immigration Solicitors and Sponsorship Licence Lawyers

For advice on licence compliance sponsor licence management call the immigration lawyers at OTS Solicitors on 0203 959 9123 or contact us online.

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