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Sponsor Licences and Home Office Action Plans

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If you are calling an immigration solicitor to enquire about Home Office action plans then it’s bad news as your sponsor licence will have been downgraded from an A to a B rating after a Home Office compliance visit. To expert sponsor licence solicitors, action plans are all in a day’s work. Specialist business immigration lawyers are experienced in dealing with all the issues that Home Office officials can raise after an audit. The key point is not to delay in sorting out and getting advice on a Home Office action plan as failure to deal with it could result in sponsor licence revocation.

UK Online and London Based Immigration Solicitors  

For specialist advice on sponsor licence action plans or sponsor licence management services call the immigration lawyers at OTS Solicitors on 0203 959 9123 or contact us online. Appointments are available by phone or video call.

What is a Home Office action plan?

A Home Office action plan is issued by a Home Office official if, after a sponsor licence audit and compliance visit, the sponsor licence holder is deemed to be in breach of sponsor licence responsibilities or reporting and recording duties. Whilst you may be devastated to be told that your sponsor licence rating is being downgraded from an A rating to a B rating the only positive that you can take out of the situation is that the Home Office hasn’t deemed the situation so bad that the sponsor licence should be revoked without the opportunity to address the issues.

During an announced or unannounced Home Office audit and compliance visit the Home Office official conducting the audit will be assessing the business and its compliance with Home Office sponsor licence standards. They will either confirm the continuation of the sponsor licence A rating or down grade it to a B rating with an action plan. The action plan should detail where the sponsor licence holder has fallen short of sponsor licence expectations and outline the plan and action steps the sponsor licence holder needs to take to get their sponsor licence reinstated to an A rating.

Why is a sponsor licence A rating important?

The board or business owners may question whether it is worth following a Home Office action plan, especially if the recommendations will cost money to implement. After all, a B rating doesn’t sound too bad. However, within the context of sponsor licences, a B rating is bad and the downgrading from A to B could have serious consequences for the business and your future plans.

With an A rated sponsor licence, a sponsoring employer can allocate a certificate of sponsorship to a successful job applicant so they can then apply to the Home Office for a skilled worker visa. Without a certificate of sponsorship reference number, the work visa won't be issued.

When a sponsor licence is downgraded to a B rating not only is the sponsor licence register published with the downgraded rating for the business but the company can't allocate new certificates of sponsorship to skilled migrant workers looking to apply for skilled worker visas. In effect, any overseas recruitment is put on hold until the sponsor licence secures A rating status. That can be a major headache for a UK employer who was planning to recruit additional staff and who knows, from the UK skills shortage, that realistically they will need to recruit job applicants on skilled worker visas.

The Home Office action plan timeline

A Home Office action plan is time limited. The maximum time a business can be the subject of an action plan is three months. A sponsor licence holder therefore needs to action the requirements in the plan within that period. A Home Office official won't simply accept that the plan has been followed but instead will carry out a further compliance visit to check all recommendations have been acted upon.

The cost of a Home Office action plan

If the Home Office conduct an audit of a sponsor licence and downgrade the sponsor licence from grade A to B then there is a cost to the action plan, namely:

  • A fee of £1,476 for an action plan. This fee is payable to the Home Office or UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI). If the fee is not paid within ten days of the request, then the sponsor licence will be lost.
  • Administrative fees or, in effect, hidden fees of the cost of employing your HR and administrative staff to conduct reviews and prepare for a second Home Office compliance visit and to action the steps in the Home Office action plan.
  • Sponsor licence solicitor fees to advise on the appropriateness of the Home Office decision to downgrade the sponsor licence or to advise on the best way to implement the Home Office action plan or to conduct an internal review of HR files and procedures or to assume sponsor licence management duties. Sometimes these sponsor licence solicitor fees can reduce the hidden administrative fees and therefore be the best cost effective and long-term management solution.

The Home Office second compliance visit

You may assume that at the second Home Office compliance visit that the Home Office official will confine themselves to matters in the action plan and to checking that the action plan has been completed. That isn’t correct.

Whilst the Home Office official will look at whether recommendations in the action plan have been followed, they can choose to conduct a further full audit, looking into areas not covered by the action plan. That’s why immigration solicitors say it’s best to be fully prepared for the second audit and compliance visit. Preparation can include:

  • An audit of HR files – preferably carried out by a business immigration solicitor as an external auditor can carry out a thorough review to avoid issues arising at the second compliance visit.
  • Key personnel and whether additional training on sponsor licence reporting and recording duties is required or the addition of an extra level two user.
  • A review to check if systems are sufficiently robust to prevent future threats of sponsor licence suspension or even revocation. For example, advice on right to work check procedures, tips on systems to ensure right to work checks are repeated where employees only have limited leave to remain and advice on the retention of evidence to show that the right to work check has been completed properly.

At the end of the action plan and after the second Home Office audit and compliance visit, the Home Office official will decide whether the action plan has been followed and the business should revert back to an A rated sponsor licence.

A sponsor licence A rating will be given after completion of an action plan if the business has completed all the steps in the action plan and there is no other step that the business needs to take to comply with sponsor licence reporting and recording duties.

If other improvements are needed and identified at the second Home Office audit visit the business will be given a B rating again. Unfortunately, if a second B rating is given this means the business will have to pay for and follow a new Home Office action plan.

Why is it important to adhere to the Home Office action plan?

Immigration solicitors say that getting a Home Office action plan isn’t something to be ignored. Some businesses assume that, like a driving test, the business can keep actioning the action plan until it gets it right and it can upgrade to an A rating then. The sponsor licence rules do not work that way. A sponsor licence holder can only have two B ratings during the four-year period that their sponsor licence is valid for. The sponsor licence will be lost if the company can't satisfactorily action a second Home Office action plan.

It is for this reason that it makes commercial sense to get the professional and expert sponsor licence legal advice your business needs to avoid the sponsor licence being revoked and the company having to start afresh with a new sponsor licence application.

UK Online and London Based Immigration Solicitors  

For specialist advice on sponsor licence action plans or sponsor licence management services or training call the immigration law team at OTS Solicitors on 0203 959 9123 or contact us online. Appointments are available by phone or video call.

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