Recently, the press have highlighted sponsorship and the duties imposed on sponsors following the UKBA’s decision to deprive London Metropolitan University of its “Highly Trusted Sponsor” status. Due to London Met losing its licence, around 2,600 students face deportation if they are unable to find an alternative sponsor.

The UKBA found evidence of what it described as “serious and systematic failings” in the way London Met recruited foreign students, with more than a quarter of students sampled having no leave to remain in Britain. In addition, in 40 per cent of cases there was no confirmation that students had met basic standards of English, and in 57 per cent of cases the university was unable to confirm if students had turned up for lectures.

The sponsorship duties for employers are slightly different to those of education providers, but the outcome of failing to comply is the same. If you are non-compliant you could lose your sponsor licence resulting in your employees losing the right to remain in the UK.

Employing migrant workers

Employers have a duty to prevent illegal working. This means they must identify potential employees who require permission to work in the UK and undertake prescribed document checks before and during employment. Failure to do so could result in criminal and civil penalties including fines of up to £10,000 for each illegal worker and even imprisonment.

Certain categories of migrants are able to work in the UK without permission; for example, those who have indefinite leave to remain in the UK, nationals from the European Economic Area (except those from Romania and Bulgaria, who require an accession worker card), Swiss citizens and Commonwealth citizens with a UK ancestry visa.

Unless a foreign national falls within a suitable category, they will need to get immigration permission to work in the UK under one of the five tiers of the points-based system:

  • Tier 1: entrepreneurs, investors and exceptional talent;
  • Tier 2: skilled migrants with job offers who are coming to the UK to fill a gap in the labour market;
  • Tier 3: low-skilled migrants recruited to fill a specific temporary labour shortage (this category has not been introduced);
  • Tier 4: students; and
  • Tier 5: temporary workers and migrants under the youth mobility scheme.

Employers need to get a UKBA sponsor licence and become registered sponsors before employing a migrant worker under Tier 2 or Tier 5. Each year a maximum of 20,700 skilled workers can come to the UK under Tier 2 (General) to do jobs with an annual salary below £150,000.

Getting a sponsor licence

To get a sponsor licence, you need to register with the UKBA and file an online application form. You will need to prove that you are a genuine employer based in and working lawfully in the UK and that you are able to comply with employment and immigration law and good practice. You will also need to agree to take on record-keeping and reporting duties, as outlined below. Sponsor licences have to be renewed every four years and cannot be transferred between companies, even if the sponsored employees transfer, for example, because of a TUPE transfer.

Responsibilities as a sponsor

In applying for a sponsor licence, you agree to undertake the following duties:

  • to check immigration status and prevent illegal working by assessing individuals’ right to work before they start, by checking original immigration documents and keeping copies on file;
  • to keep up-to-date contact details for migrants and save their historic contact details;
  • to keep certain records to do with the migrant’s employment (e.g. job advertisement, contract of employment, record of absences) and to ensure that full personnel files are kept;
  • to report to the UKBA within 10 days of certain events occurring, e.g. the migrant not turning up for their first day of work, being absent for more than 10 working days without permission or being dismissed.

The UKBA are increasingly visiting employers before approving sponsor licence applications to assess whether their HR systems are robust enough. If a site visit does not take place before a licence is granted, you will need to self-assess to make sure that your internal processes will withstand a UKBA audit when it does take place.

If you do not comply with your sponsoring duties, UKBA could revoke your sponsor licence, meaning that your sponsored employees would no longer have permission to work in the UK and could be deported, like the London Met students. If this happens you would need to dismiss these workers or risk penalties for employing migrant workers illegally.