Sponsor licences authorise organisations to recruit migrants from outside of the EEA but they come with onerous duties for employers. Any failure to comply with sponsor licence duties can lead to a downgrade in user rating, suspension or revocation, putting the jobs of existing migrants at risk.
In the UK, where many industries face recruitment difficulties, these duties cannot be taken lightly.
Before granting or renewing a sponsorship licence, the Home Office will verify that an organisation has sufficient HR systems in place to ensure compliance.
Inspections can be held at short notice and all sponsor licence holders are expected to be compliant with these duties at all times.
What do employers need to do to ensure compliance with their sponsor licence duties?
Sponsor licence holders are required to assign key roles to people within the organisation. These roles can be assigned to a single person or multiple people.
- Authorising officer
The authorising officer should be the most senior employee with authority to hire migrant staff. They are ultimately responsible for the sponsorship licence.
- Level 1 and 2 users
Users perform the day-to-day activities required of the sponsor licence holder, through the online Sponsorship Management System.
Initially, there need only be one Level 1 user. Additional users can be added at any time and can include employees and external users.
Level 2 users can also be added and have restricted system access.
- Key contact
The key contact is responsible for liaising with the Home Office. Again, this role may be outsourced to an external party, such as an immigration solicitor.
Allocated staff must be based in the UK and must not be subject to any bankruptcy or debt relief restrictions.
When making a sponsorship application, the Home Office will verify that all key personnel do not pose a threat to immigration control.
Any prior failures to carry our sponsorship duties or convictions for immigration offences, fraud, money laundering, or failure to pay VAT, may put a licence in jeopardy.
A large part of sponsor licence duties involves maintaining accurate records.
Sponsor licence holders must keep all required records until an officer has examined them, or, if an officer has already examined them, for at least one year (if an employee works for less than a year, the duration of the employment).
Some documents may need to be held for longer periods to satisfy other laws and avoid a civil penalty for illegal employment.
For all visa types, a licence holder must keep a photocopy or electronic copy of:
- the relevant pages of the sponsored migrant’s passport, including those pages which contain personal identity details, leave stamps, immigration status and the period of leave to remain;
- the migrant’s biometric residence permit;
- for Croatian migrants, a Purple Registration Certificate;
- the migrant’s National Insurance number;
- the migrant’s current and historic contact details;
- the migrant’s disclosure barring service check (if relevant);
- a record of the migrant’s absences;
- the migrant’s contract of employment;
- any other document required for the visa type.
Where a Resident Labour Market Test has been carried out by an employer, they are also required to keep a copy of:
- any document that demonstrates a business has a rolling recruitment programme (if relevant);
- any advertisements that were placed;
- all evidence of the competitive process that took place.
- all evidence of the recruitment process, including:
- applications and names of applicants short listed;
- notes from the final interviews conducted;
- for each EEA national who was rejected, the reasons why.
- for milkrounds, a letter from each university confirming the dates and methods used in the milkround;
- endorsements from governing bodies (if relevant);
- detailed job descriptions.
Employers must also keep sufficient details of pay rates (for example, payslips, bank transfers, contracts of employment and evidence of allowances) and sufficient documentary evidence to establish that the position and applicant are of the necessary skill level.
Beyond keeping records, there is a positive duty on sponsor licence holders to report to the Home Office using the SMS Portal within 10 working days if any of the following events have occurred:
- A sponsored employee does not turn up to work on their first day;
- A sponsored employee’s contract is terminated early;
- A sponsored employee is absent from work for 10 of more days, without permission; or
- There are significant changes in a sponsored contract of employment.
Organisations are also expected to monitor the immigration status of their employees and report any changes.
Applications and Renewals of Certificates
Licence holders seeking to apply for “restricted” certificates of sponsorship for Tier 2 (General) visas should be aware that, in additional to other criteria that must be met, there is an annual limit to the number of certificates that are allocated per year.
Organisations should apply for a certificate from the Home Office as soon as they have completed the Resident Labour Market Test. When a certificate has been allocated, an organisation must assign it to the non-EEA worker within three months.
Annual allocations of unrestricted certificates of sponsorship expire at the end of each financial year. Organisations must request to be allocated a new certificate every year and can do so from 5 January.
Organisations must only assign certificates for jobs that are suitable for sponsorship and must ensure that their employees have the necessary qualifications.
Other Sponsor Licence Duties
To hold a sponsor licence, an organisation must:
- be a genuine organisation;
- be operating legally in the UK.
Changes to an organisation’s circumstances must be reported within 20 days, including where a business becomes insolvent, changes the nature of their operations or undertakes a merger with another company.
Any changes to a business address or key personnel must also be reported.