UK Visas & Immigration (UKVI) have recently published their 'transparency data' for the final quarter of 2016. Included in this data is information relating to inspections of and compliance action taken against Tier 2 sponsor licence holders.

UKVI Inspections

The trend over the last 18 months or so has been for the number of inspections of existing sponsors to fall quite dramatically, from almost 800 inspections in the third quarter of 2015, to 224 inspections in the most recent figures. The majority of these inspections continue to be unannounced (around 60 percent). Around 16 percent of applications for new Tier 2 licences require an inspection before a decision is made on the application.

Compliance Action

At the same time, the figures for revocations and suspensions of sponsor licences remains relatively consistent. From a high of 227 revocations in the third quarter of 2015, there were still 146 revocations last quarter. Suspensions range between 142 and 217 per quarter. The data gives no clear indication as to a trend in either direction, particularly if you exclude the highs of the third quarter of 2015.

What The Data Tells Us

It is difficult to be certain about how many suspensions lead directly to revocation of a licence because that statistic is not released and the varying time lag between suspension and revocation means that it is difficult to draw inferences from the numbers from each quarter (a suspension in one quarter may not appear as revocation until the following quarter or perhaps even later). However, looking at the figures over the longer term - 1,006 suspensions in the last 18 months and 984 revocations over the same period - appears to suggest that the overwhelming majority of Tier 2 suspensions lead to revocations.

The fact that suspensions and revocations have remained steady while announced and unannounced compliance visits have decreased means that a greater proportion of inspections are leading to compliance action. This indicates that intelligence is playing a greater role in UKVI deciding which sponsors to target for inspections. This might involve tip offs from concerned members of the public or current and former employees, but we know that UKVI use risk profiling when assessing sponsors. Unfortunately, all UKVI guidance which refers to risk profiling and how to identify when a sponsor should be inspected is heavily redacted. Experience suggests that factors such as the size of the organisation, the level of sponsorship activity, prior dealings with UKVI and the sector of operation in are likely to be relevant considerations.

Comment

Irrespective of whether or not a sponsor is likely to be considered high risk by UKVI, the fact that so many suspensions lead to revocation means that sponsors should ensure they are fully compliant with their sponsor duties to prevent compliance action being initiated. Revocation of a sponsor licence will lead to the curtailment of the leave of the workers sponsored by the organisation and sponsors who have their licences revoked are subject to a cooling off period of 12 months during which they cannot apply for a new licence. A decision to revoke a sponsor licence does not carry a right of appeal other than the prospect of a costly application for judicial review so compliance is vital.

The following are some practical steps organisations can take for ensuring ongoing compliance and being ready for a UKVI audit:

  • Review your sponsorship records against the requirements of Appendix D of the Sponsor Guidance. Knowing that you have retained all required documents will save plenty of sleepless nights!
  • Review the systems, processes and policies you have in place for complying with your sponsor duties. You should also check that the information about your organisation, which was provided to UKVI when submitting the sponsor licence application, is still correct, such as addresses of all sites where sponsored migrants will be working and contact details for all key personnel. Any changes to the organisation since the application was submitted should have been notified to UKVI.
  • Have a third party review everything for you, either instead of or in addition to your own self-audit. This will give you further peace of mind that you are doing everything you can to comply with your ongoing duties.
  • Have a plan in place in the event of an unannounced visit by UKVI. For example, if the key personnel responsible for your licence are not available, is anybody else able to take the compliance officer through your records and systems? While compliance officers might sometimes be prepared to return on another occasion, sometimes they will insist that the audit proceeds regardless.