Compliance Audits will resume
Sponsors should be prepared for a visit from Home Office to assess compliance.
The Home Office have suspended sponsor licence compliance visits since March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We expect to see compliance visits resume as lockdown restrictions start to ease across the UK.
Sponsors may be subject to a visit at any time during the course of their licence or during the licence application process.
If compliance officers decide to visit a Sponsor’s premises, they will comply with all COVID-19 measures in place for social distancing and use protective equipment whilst they remain in place.
Why do the Home Office use compliance visits?
The visits are primarily to assess that the Sponsor can meet their obligations under the sponsorship regime, or a potential Sponsor has the necessary systems and processes in place to meet their sponsorship obligations.
Visits may be notified in advance or they can occur unannounced. Unannounced visits can be for a variety of reasons, including intelligence led through an operation with another organisation, specific sector risk based, a record of immigration abuse or the outcome of previous visits.
Announced visits can also be for multiple reasons, including information provided through the Sponsorship Management System (SMS), details submitted in a migrant’s visa application or simply to assess the organisation as part of a new licence application. Whatever the reason the Home Office decide to visit, it’s important you are prepared.
How can you prepare for a visit?
Most importantly, you must be aware of your Sponsor duties and compliance.
The format of the guidance has changed since December 2020, so older Sponsors must ensure their key personnel familiarise themselves with the new guidance.
The Home Office places significant trust in Sponsors, who agreed to prevent abuse of immigration laws and the sponsorship regime, maintain robust policies and processes, monitor compliance with the Immigration Rules and the wider law at the time of submitting their sponsor licence applications.
Sponsors must also maintain compliance through record keeping for their migrant workforce and reporting specific changes using their SMS. Right to Work checks must be conducted in line with the Home Office’s current guidance.
Sponsors must cooperate with the Home Office, which means allowing them access to your premises where your migrant workers are based. If your migrant staff are at third party sites, you must notify the third party that the Home Office may visit to carry out checks.
What can happen during the visit?
During the visit the compliance officer will interview the Authorising Officer or Key Contact and potentially some of the sponsored migrants on site. They may ask to review the premises, inspect files on sponsored workers, including pay records and HR files and right to work records for all staff.
Failing to comply with sponsor duties or issues arising during an audit
Sponsors may face serious consequences for failing to comply with sponsor duties. The most serious is licence revocation, resulting in the loss of all migrants on the licence (through curtailment of their leave) and the ability to sponsor migrants in future. Reinstatement of a sponsor licence must be pursued through the courts, usually with little prospect of success.
For minor breaches in duties, Sponsors may have their licences downgraded or suspended pending correction of the breaches.
The Home Office considers, that being a sponsor is a privilege, places great trust in those who are granted licences. With that trust comes the responsibility of immigration control, which is like taking on the role of an immigration officer.
We can assist you in preparing for a visit by conducting a mock audit at your premises. We can also provide you with useful checklists to assist with compliance. We have attended announced visits from the Home Office with our clients which resulted in positive outcomes.
If you have any questions about the contents of this article or if you need any assistance with the sponsor compliance or duties as a sponsor, please contact [email protected] in our Immigration team.