As an employer, the prospect of a visit from the Home Office to conduct a UK sponsor license compliance visit can be daunting, even if your business is upholding it sponsorship duties and has a competent HR team and efficient systems in place.
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A common question we encounter as business immigration solicitors is how to best handle these visits. This blog post is designed to alleviate some of those fears by providing a thorough examination of the process, offering sound advice on preparation and outlining the implications of the outcome.
Also read: Does Your Business Need a Sponsor License?
Understanding Sponsor Compliance Visits
The Home Office may visit your business due to various circumstances to make sure you are upholding your sponsor licence duties with regards to immigration compliance and to confirm there is no illegal working taking place at your company. Such instances might include:
If the Home Office has received information concerning your business that warrants a check
Your business is under an action plan with a B rating
A government department proposing a collaborative analysis and concern about your business activities from an immigration perspective
Regardless of the rationale, the key principle is to sustain a state of ‘audit readiness’ consistently to ensure that if a visit is announced or unannounced, you can always demonstrate your business takes immigration seriously. This approach ensures that your organisation does not need to prepare for a visit necessarily and is ready at all times.
Immediate Actions Upon Receiving Notice of a Visit from the Home Office
After receiving a notice for a visit to your premises, a brief period is granted to gear up for the approaching visit. Here’s how you can prepare for this:
Ensure that key staff members are present on the day of the visit. If not, you may request a short postponement of the visit to ensure their availability. Any waiting period should be used to get as organised for the visit. If the official has requested to interview specific employees, make sure that these specific employees, along with their documents, are present and they are aware of the interview and its purpose.
Go through HR documents for all staff, ensuring right-to-work checks have been conducted accurately, documented, and replicated as needed for employees who are on skilled worker or Tier 2 visas.
Confirm the whereabouts of all required files and documents (if not held electronically), as it would reflect poorly if a file requested by the visiting official is missing or off-site.
Ensure that the level 1 user has updated all necessary information on the your employee management system.
Arrange a mock audit, ideally led by someone not related to the business, to carry out a comprehensive and objective evaluation of the company’s strengths and flaws in terms of sponsor licence compliance and HR file maintenance.
Seek legal guidance on any potential issues. A business immigration solicitor might suggest immediate action, demonstrating the business’s proactive stance in identifying, reporting, and resolving any issues related to your immigrtion obligations and compliance.
Announced Vs. Unannounced Compliance Visits from a Home Office Official
The Home Office reserves the right to carry out either scheduled or unannounced sponsor visits at your establishment. If an unexpected visit takes place and you choose not to grant the official access to your premises for the inspection, they don’t have the power to compel entry. However, they could mark your company as non-compliant, resulting in your licence being denied, suspended, or a total revocation of your license which would be detrimental to your business activities.
If you receive an unannounced visit to make sure your business holds a UK sponsor licence and is not breaking any immigration rules, it could be because of intelligence-led (for instance, the HMRC highlighting potential discrepancies) information regarding your businesses activities or if there have been past issues with your company and its immigration responsibilities. Given the unpredictability of a surprise visit, it’s vital that your HR, recruitment, and sponsor management systems are ready for a compliance audit at a moments notice.
How Long Does a Home Office Compliance Visit Take?
Typically, a visit can span from 2 to 3 hours. However, the duration might significantly extend based on the nature of the visit, such as whether it’s conducted before or after granting the licence, the size of your enterprise, and the count of sponsored staff.
A UKVI Visit Before Your Sponsorship Licence Has Been Issued
If you’re going to apply for your first sponsor licence or looking to expand your existing sponsor licence with an extra tier, there may be a pre-licence assessment visit. Here’s what this may aim to uncover:
Whether you have the necessary HR systems to effectively ensure compliance and adhere to the regulations against illegal employment.
To gain an understanding of the amount of foreign employees you intend to sponsor via certificates of sponsorship in relation to your business’s size and nature.
If your business could potentially undermine immigration control.
The ability of your business to employ overseas workers at the required skill levels for their credentials of sponsorship and meet the minimum salary threshold.
The UK visas and immigration department (UKVI) will also utilise this evaluation to confirm any information from your sponsor licence application that they believe requires verification.
A UKVI Visit After Your Sponsorship Licence Has Been Issued
On the balance of probabilities, you’re more likely to encounter challenges during a post-licence check compared to a pre-licence visit. Therefore, understanding what will be inspected during a post-licence visit is crucial. The areas of focus comprise:
Assessing the number of overseas workers at your business and their visa circumstances, immigration status and the consistency of their employment roles with the formal occupational classification code on their credentials of sponsorship. Also to make sure that there is no illegal working taking place at the place of operation.
Whether your business continues to be operational.
The adequacy of your HR systems in place and if they meet their immigration obligations.
If the business operations could potentially compromise immigration control.
The initial amount of sponsorship certificates for foreign workers still aligns with current needs.
How to Prepare for a Home Office Visit – Making Sure Your Sponsorship Duties Are Met
Ensuring readiness for a compliance visit needs to be a top priority task for your key personnel. Delays in preparation until a notified visit can lead to difficulties in HR file reviews, training key personnel and sponsored staff for interviews, and rectifying any breaches of your licence that may be identified during the file reviews and simulated audits. It is always recommended to implement a system of “ongoing compliance” to avoid situations that could result in your licence being downgraded or revoked.
Conducting a Mock Audit
While it might feel unnecessary or frustrating to arrange a practice audit when your HR team is already under the pressure of preparing for an announced compliance visit, it can be beneficial in the long run. Conducting compliance tests can uncover potential areas of concern prior to the actual audit visit. This foresight allows you to address issues such as unreported matters on the HR system by key personnel or incomplete employee files. Solutions may include:
Resolving issues of late reporting
Providing additional training to HR staff on how to uphold sponsored worker licence compliance
Investing in a computerised HR system to support staff or allocating more level two users
Engaging a professional sponsor management service
Ideally, such an exercise should be routine, regardless of whether the business is selected for a visit, as they can identify issues early on and may decrease the likelihood of your business being chosen for a compliance visit.
Training Your Key Personnel and Sponsored Staff
Equipping your key employees and sponsored staff for possible interviews during the visit is vital. While you or your HR director may be accustomed to such interviews, your Tier 2 sponsored worker may not be and might find the prospect of an interview daunting unless adequately prepared.
Certain UKVI officials may wish to interview certain members during the visit. They may also request particular documents to be ready for the visit. However, it’s essential not to assume that only the pre-identified sponsored staff will be interviewed or that the visit will focus solely on the requested documents. It’s crucial to be fully prepared for the compliance visit, as additional interviews or HR file requests may be made on the day of the visit.
What to Expect from Interviews on Sponsored Staff
Sponsored staff might understandably be anxious about an interview with a governmental official during a post-licence compliance visit. If the compliance visit is scheduled, the official may notify you prior about the sponsored employee they plan to question. However, it’s possible that you won’t know which sponsored staff will be called for an interview.
Discussions with sponsored employees might centre on whether their day-to-day job duties align with the standard occupation code and the job specification on the certification of sponsorship. For instance, if a certificate was obtained for a staff member with a job description of ‘accountant’, the job functions performed by the sponsored staff member must correspond to those expected of an accountant, not those of a financial assistant conducting routine administrative tasks.
Before the compliance visit, the Home Office representative typically conducts an initial investigation, reviewing data on sponsored employees held by the Home Office, possibly using digital government databases to scrutinise specifics about individual roles and the reports on individual staff members on a company’s system.
HR File Review
It’s of paramount importance to thoroughly review your HR records prior to the visit, ensuring they are well-organised. If your HR documents are stored electronically, multiple versions of job contracts or both dated and undated replicas of right-to-work checks may cause confusion for both your HR team and the Home Office official. If your records are not easily navigable, the official may be under pressure and incorrectly assume that the required paperwork is missing when, in fact, it is present but not readily identifiable.
Reporting and Record Keeping
As part of your daily obligations as a sponsor licence holder, you must maintain accurate records and ensure timely reporting. The Home Office provides guidance on this through this guide. This document outlines the specific responsibilities related to record-keeping and reporting for holders of a sponsor licence. Your key personnel must be well-versed in these duties.
What’s Next After the Immigration Compliance Visit?
Following a visit, a report will be prepared by the Home Office official, which will include a recommendation about the status of your license. In case the visit was conducted before the license was granted, you will be informed if your application for a sponsor licence has been approved. If the compliance visit occurred after the licence was granted, your licence could potentially be:
Downgraded from an A grade to a B grade
Your sponsor licence may only be suspended or withdrawn if there has been serious breaches of the duties associated with the sponsor licence or if your company is deemed to pose a peril to immigration control.
In the event that your licence is demoted from grade A to grade B, the Home Office will supply an action plan outlining the necessary steps you need to take to upgrade your sponsor licence back to grade A. This action plan provides a three-month period to address any concerns regarding compliance with the sponsor licence.
Upon completion of the action plan period, a subsequent visit may be scheduled to evaluate whether you have adhered to the action plan. Failure to do so could lead to the revocation of your licence by the Home Office.
What Does the Revocation of a Sponsor Licence Mean?
If your licence is cancelled or revoked, it is imperative that you act swiftly to understand how this will impact your business. Revocation means that:
You are no longer able to retain your current sponsored employees or bring new foreign workers requiring a sponsoring employer.
Your sponsored employees have a 60-day window to secure a new sponsor for employment. Failure to find a new sponsor within this timeframe will necessitate their departure from the UK.
Although there is no formal right to petition against a Home Office conclusion to withdraw your company’s licence, if you believe the decision was irrational, illegitimate, or procedurally unacceptable, you have the option to apply for a judicial review of the Home Office decision.
How our Business Immigration Solicitors can Help with Sponsor Licence Compliance visits?
At Gulbenkian Andonian Solicitors, our business immigration solicitors can not only help you in applying for a sponsor licence, but also train your management in how to uphold sponsor duties so that you avoid any potential pitfalls during Home Office compliance visits.
Our team is well-versed in the complexities of UK immigration law and has a robust track record in helping businesses like yours navigate visits from UKVI. We understand that every business has unique needs, and we tailor our approach to best suit your individual circumstances.
We also provide guidance on how to prepare for unannounced visits by identifying potential issues before they become a problem for your business to reduce the risk of fines or revocation.
FAQs About Home Office Sponsor License Compliance Visit
To make sure organisations sponsoring immigrants under the Points-Based System (PBS) are adhering by immigration laws and carrying out their sponsorship obligations, the Home Office conducts sponsor compliance visits. During these inspections, sponsors are evaluated to see if they are in compliance with all of the requirements of their sponsoring licence, including accurate record-keeping, reporting, and adherence to immigration laws.
It’s critical to take the following actions as soon as you learn that the Home Office will be inspecting sponsors for compliance:
- Review the notice with care: Recognise the reason for the visit, the date, the time, and any particular documentation or information required.
- Assemble the relevant paperwork: Gather any important information on sponsored workers, including employment agreements, pay stubs, and other necessary immigration-related papers.
- Review internal compliance procedures: Make sure your company is fulfilling all requirements and that your records are correct and current.
- Appoint a trustworthy person: A representative from your company should be designated to communicate with the Home Office throughout the visit and be present on the specified day.
- Consult a lawyer if necessary: Consult an immigration expert or legal counsel if you have any questions or concerns about the visit or your compliance status.
The Home Office will assess the information gathered and contrast it with the sponsor’s requirements after a sponsor compliance visit. They may take a variety of activities in light of their results, including but not restricted to:
- The action is over: The sponsor may be fully compliant after the inspection, in which case the Home Office may decide not to take any further action.
- Advice on compliance The Home Office could make suggestions or give counsel to help the sponsor’s compliance procedures.
- Advisory or corrective action: The Home Office may issue a warning or take remedial action in instances of minor non-compliance, requiring the sponsor to make the necessary corrections within a predetermined deadline.
- Downgrade or suspension of the sponsor licence: The sponsor’s capacity to sponsor new immigrants may be restricted if the Home Office downgrades or suspends the sponsor’s licence for more serious non-compliance.
- Suspended sponsor licence: The Home Office may opt to remove the sponsor’s licence in cases of egregious or persistent non-compliance, which would preclude them from sponsoring any more immigrants.
Usually, those who play crucial roles in the sponsorship process, like the HR managers or staff involved in hiring, should be there during the compliance visit. They might be called upon to clarify details about your company’s routines and policies.
The complexity and size of the organisation being visited can affect how long a sponsor compliance visit lasts. These visits can often last anything from a few hours to a whole day or even longer. Officials from the Home Office will normally check the location, speak with the company manager, director or CEO and also the sponsored staff, and examine sponsorship records and systems. The magnitude of any compliance issues discovered and the need for additional investigation or explanation may also affect how long the visit lasts.
If you do not comply with the action plan within the specified period, the Home Office could conduct another sponsor compliance visit and potentially revoke your licence.
There’s no fixed schedule for these visits. They can be executed at any time, although they are more likely to happen if the Home Office has concerns about a sponsor’s compliance.
A sponsor licence could be revoked for a number of reasons, including severe breaches of sponsor licence duties or if the Home Office concludes that the company poses a threat to immigration control.
A licence that has been revoked indicates that the Home Office has decided to invalidate or cancel the company’s sponsor’s licence. When there are persistent violations of sponsorship duties, this action is taken. The organisation can no longer sponsor immigrants through the Points-Based System if a licence is cancelled. The cancellation may be effective right away or after a notice period, during which the sponsor may contest the choice or take corrective action. It is a serious consequence that could have a negative effect on the organisation’s operations, reputation, and capacity to attract top people from abroad.
If a sponsor licence is cancelled, the business should pursue legal advice immediately. They should also evaluate the impact of the revocation on their business and analyse their options, which may include a judicial review of the Home Office’s decision.
If the sponsored staff cannot find a new sponsor within 60 days, they will have to exit the UK. The business should help them in their search for a new sponsor during this period.
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Dr Bernard Andonian – the Co-Founder of Gulbenkian Andonian Solicitors, is an experienced Immigration Solicitor, former Judge, and recipient of a PhD in Law from the University of West London. He has over four decades of experience practising UK Immigration, Human Rights and Civil Litigation Law. He has served on the Law Society Immigration Law Panel, achieved numerous groundbreaking decisions in higher courts and is featured in the Legal 500’s Hall of Fame.