U.K. Sponsor Licence Health Check: Here’s What to Consider For 2024

January 18, 2024 Advisory

The year ahead looks busy for U.K. immigration law. Many changes, like the increase in the Immigration Health Surcharge fee, have long been forecasted. But even more changes are now expected following the Home Secretary James Cleverly’s announcement of his new ‘5 point plan’ in December 2023.

Uncertainty persists on the timing and implementation of these changes, but there is still plenty that professionals and organisations can do to prepare.

The new year provides the perfect opportunity to go back to basics and conduct a ‘Sponsor Licence Health Check’ to make sure your organisation is in the best position to respond to changes as and when they arise.

With this in mind, here are four key questions Sponsor Licence holders can ask themselves:

1. Are you on top of your recordkeeping and reporting duties?

Sponsor Licence holders have a duty to keep the Home Office informed of migrant worker activity, organisation structure changes and more. It is always worth refamiliarising yourself with the Home Office’s guidance, which does change periodically. You might want to consider:

  • Key Personnel: Are all your Key Personnel still in their roles and able to maintain their duties? Do you foresee any personnel changes? Are potential replacements or additions eligible to act as Key Personnel and aware of the responsibilities as a sponsor?
  • Corporate structure change: Such changes must be reported within 20 working days, but this is often overlooked. Are you aware of any upcoming TUPE transfers, changes in company ownership or plans to move sponsored workers to different parts of your business? If the company’s ownership changes, this may trigger the duty to submit a fresh sponsor licence application within 20 working days.
  • Visa Expiry Tracking: Do you have a system in place that effectively tracks sponsored workers’ visa expiries? Will any visas need to be extended this year? Effective management of these dates is crucial to prevent illegal working and possibly reduce the overall costs of sponsorship (e.g., by submitting new and extension applications before costs increase).
  • Licence Renewal: Similarly, you need to be aware of the expiry date of your Sponsor Licence. Extension applications can be complicated and require advance preparation, and can often trigger compliance visits from the Home Office.
  • Reporting periods: Changes should be reported to the Home Office within either a 10- or 20-day period. Are you aware of which changes need to be reported, when? Failure to report is a serious compliance concern which could jeopardise the future of your Sponsor Licence.
  • Recordkeeping duties: Do you have a copy of the sponsor licence bundle on file? Have the required documents been correctly recorded, particularly evidence relating to recruitment? Are the documents kept on file for the required period of time?

2. Are your Right to Work checks being conducted effectively and correctly?

A compliant Right to Work check will provide your organisation with a statutory excuse against civil penalties if an individual is discovered to have been working illegally. It is crucial these checks are conducted correctly. Are you confident which kind of check should be conducted depending on the Right to Work evidence an individual can provide?

Some checks will provide you with a continuous statutory excuse for the duration of a person’s employment with you, and some will be time limited and will need to be updated. Is this information logged and diarised, and is evidence of these checks securely recorded?

3. Are you aware of upcoming changes to the immigration system that might affect you and your sponsored workers?

Sponsors will undoubtedly be aware of the impending increase to the Immigration Health Surcharge, which should come into effect by 6 February. Other upcoming changes to familiarise yourself with include:

  • Increase in civil penalties for illegal working: The maximum civil penalty that can be imposed will be tripling to £45,000 per worker (for a first breach) and £60,000 (for repeat breaches), highlighting the importance of Sponsor Licence and Right to Work check compliance.
  • Ongoing digitalisation of the U.K. immigration system: the Home Office intends to replace all physical immigration documents with e-Visas by the end of this year. Employers should consider how this might affect their current recordkeeping systems and Right to Work check practices.
  • Further activities permitted for visitor visa holders: Business travellers engaging in certain intra-corporate activities may be able to deal directly with clients. Might this provide opportunities for your business?
  • Further clarification on December 2023 announcements: The government has clarified that the Skilled Worker minimum salary increase will be implemented incrementally, and that it will not apply to Skilled Worker migrants already in the U.K. The removal of the Shortage Occupation List is still planned. How might this affect your recruitment plans for the upcoming year?

4. When was the last time you conducted a mock audit?

Mock audits replicate a Home Office compliance audit and are fantastic snapshots into the overall health of your Sponsor Licence and related HR systems. Any questions raised by an audit can be addressed with the help of legal professionals and should put your organisation in the best position to deal with immigration changes, future Home Office audits, and extension applications.

How We Can Help

Armstrong Teasdale’s U.K. Immigration team has extensive experience advising Sponsor Licence holders from their initial application onwards, including navigating their significant compliance duties. Please contact your usual AT lawyer or one of the authors from our U.K. Immigration team with questions and enquiries.

Disclaimer: This publication is provided by Armstrong Teasdale Limited for informational purposes only. The information contained in this publication should not be construed as legal advice. Any questions or further information regarding the matters discussed in this publication can be directed to Armstrong Teasdale’s U.K. immigration team.

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