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Top Three Tips for Renewing a UK Sponsorship Licence

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If you have recently received notification that your Sponsor Licence is due to expire, you need to move fast to renew it. Otherwise, you may find yourself in the position of having your licence expire, and being unable to recruit new talent from outside the EU.

If you are unsure of the process of renewing your licence, our top three tips will provide you with the steps to take to ensure a successful application, so you can get on with growing your business.

Tip #1 – Choose an Immigration solicitor who understands the Sponsor Licence regime

The UK Government has toughened up on employers who are hiring or retaining illegal workers. Under the Immigration Act 2016, employers face criminal prosecution if they have reason to suspect that one or more of their members of staff do not have a legal right to work in the UK. The possible custodial sentence for being convicted of such a crime has been raised from two years to five years. The Home Office also has the power to shut down businesses for up to 48 hours if they are found to be in breach of sanctions or employing illegal workers.

Unannounced audits are also the norm now. In the past, employers could expect reasonable notification of a Home Office visit, giving them time to get their policies and procedures in order. This is no longer the case. Business must be prepared for officials to arrive unannounced, to audit their HR systems/ processes, record keeping activities, Sponsor Management System (SMS) updates and files for migrant employees. If they are not satisfied that strict compliance with sponsor obligations are being met, they can downgrade or even revoke the organisation’s Sponsor Licence.

To ensure your business is up to date with the latest Immigration law, and recommended practices and procedures, you need to engage an Immigration solicitor who truly understands UK business and Immigration law and how the two work together. Organisations who hire inexperienced lawyers to guide them on Immigration law matters often find themselves ill-prepared for unannounced audits and in the dark about regulatory changes.

Tip #2 – Ensure your policies and procedures are fully up to date

If changes to the legislation and prospect of an unannounced visit from the Home Office has not galvanised your HR department into reviewing its Sponsor Licence Management processes, then renewing your Sponsor Licence offers the perfect opportunity to ensure your policies and procedures are fully up-to-date.

Especially given that an application for renewal can trigger a Home Office audit.

The Home Office is most interested in five key areas of compliance. These are:

  • Monitoring Immigration status and preventing illegal working
  • Maintaining migrant workers’ contact details
  • Record keeping
  • Migrant tracking and monitoring
  • Recruitment practices and professional accreditations

If you are audited, the visiting official will rate your HR policies and procedures from one to three (a score of one being the best, three the worst). To maintain an A-rating, you will need to receive at least close to a one in all these areas.

The details of the sponsor duties and responsibilities are not contained in the Immigration Rules or any legislation, but instead in the Sponsor Guidance: Tiers 2 and 5 of the Points-Based System (SG).

It is important for employers to note that the courts have taken a strict approach towards compliance with the SG when failure to comply has been challenged by an employer.

The SG notes that the aims of the sponsor duties are to:

  • prevent abuse of sponsor assessment procedures
  • capture any patterns of migrant behaviour early that cause concern
  • address possible weaknesses in the sponsor's processes which cause those patterns
  • monitor compliance with Immigration rules

You should keep these points in mind when evaluating your policies and procedures, constantly asking whether or not your systems support the goals set out in the SG.

When looking at your current Sponsor Licence compliance framework, you should check the following points are covered:

  • are there personnel within your company with specific responsibility for some, or all of the duties and responsibilities who are:

a) sufficiently trained in their areas of compliance

b) aware of the importance of complying and the possible implications of failing to do so

c) aware of others who have responsibility and the scope of their responsibility

  • is there a mechanism in place for the sponsor to keep up with changes to the SG and to report these changes appropriately to relevant personnel in the organisation?
  • do you have sufficient back-up systems and personnel in place in case those with specific responsibility are away from work or there are other potential breakdowns in reporting lines?
  • are personnel with responsibility for the Employment of sponsored migrants aware of the relevant duties and responsibilities?
  • although record keeping and reporting systems can be appropriate to the type and size of the organisation they must be effective, eg a large organisation may utilise a sophisticated software system to record and carry out follow-up right up to work. checks, whereas a smaller one may rely on spreadsheets and calendar reminders
  • are all sponsored migrants made aware from the outset of the sponsor's obligations arising from the licence in:
  1. all job offer letters/contracts of Employment/assignment letters/partnership agreements—these are the most effective as the employee will be signing their consent to comply
  2. Employment policies and staff handbooks
  3. induction procedures
  4. periodic follow-up reminders, eg by email

Tip #3 – Have a mock audit

The best way to ensure your Sponsor Licence policies and procedures are up to date before you renew your licence is to have your Immigration lawyer perform a mock audit. He or she will evaluate your HR systems and provide guidance as to the strengths and weaknesses of your overall framework. You can then work together on a strategy to bolster your processes and procedures, allowing you to be fully prepared for both the Sponsor Licence renewal process and any audit triggered by your application.

OTS Solicitors is one of the most respected Employment and immigration law firms in London. By making an appointment with one of our Immigration solicitors, you can be assured of receiving some of the best legal advice available in the UK today. We will assist you with all aspects of renewing your Sponsor Licence and offer a complete Sponsor Licence Management Service.

If you wish to discuss any of the points raised in this article, please phone our London office on 0203 959 9123.

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