Immigration: Is your business sponsoring workers in the UK? How can you ensure that you don’t lose your sponsor licence?

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Immigration: Is your business sponsoring workers in the UK? How can you ensure that you don’t lose your sponsor licence?

Since the UK’s sponsorship system was introduced, the number of organisations holding a sponsor licence has significantly increased. The majority of organisations that now hold a sponsor licence enabling them to sponsor workers – 115,383 as at 12 June 2024 - became sponsors in recent years; the UK’s departure from the EU has seen many turn to sponsorship for the purposes of filling gaps within their workforce. Those that hold a sponsor licence must be aware of the extensive duties imposed upon them as a sponsor, and will need to ensure compliance with these duties.

What are the duties imposed upon sponsor licence holders?

Reporting duties

Organisations that sponsor workers must report certain changes about their organisation and sponsored workers via the Sponsorship Management System (SMS). Organisation changes to be reported include changes to key personnel, amending the name of the organisation, adding branches, and reporting (and undertaking the necessary action) if the organisation is subject to merger, takeover or similar change. Changes that must be reported in relation to sponsored workers include reporting if they don’t commence work, are absent from work without permission, if pay is reduced, if their role/location changes, or if the sponsor decides to cease sponsorship.

Many of these changes need to be reported within 10 working days of the event taking place, so it is important that sponsors have procedures in place to ensure that their nominated users on the sponsor licence are informed about the change.

Record-keeping duties

Specified documents must be retained for each worker that is sponsored. These are outlined in sponsor guidance, and include documents to confirm the worker has the right to work in the UK, the date the worker arrived in the UK (if they have sought entry clearance), the worker’s national insurance number, and various other documents such as a record of the worker’s absences, how the worker was recruited, and specified documents relating to the worker’s salary and duties. Documents should be retained throughout the entirety of sponsorship, and until at least one year has passed from the date sponsorship ended, although many organisations decide to retain documents for at least 6 years (the limitation period).

Complying with immigration laws

Immigration laws must be complied with, so sponsors must familiarise themselves with requirements contained in Immigration Rules which confirm when an individual can receive a visa enabling them to work. These include requirements that the worker must be appropriately qualified to undertake the role, that the role must be a genuine vacancy, only allowing workers to undertake roles permitted by the conditions of their visa, only assigning Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS) to workers who will be able to meet the immigration requirements, not assigning CoS to a relative or partner, and understanding ATAS responsibilities (if applicable).

Complying with wider UK law

Sponsors also have a duty to comply with wider UK law, so it is important that advice is secured from a full-service firm. For instance, UK employment law must be adhered to, which means employers must pay the National Minimum Wage, the Working Time Regulations must be followed, and where necessary, employees should be enrolled on a pension scheme. Any necessary registrations and licences required for trade must also be held, and DBS checks must be undertaken where they are a requirement of the role. Sponsors must not engage in criminal activity and must pay VAT or other duty penalties.

Not engaging in behaviour or actions that are not conducive to the public good

UKVI (the Home Office) expects organisations to not behave in a way that they consider is not conducive to the public good. In other words, UKVI would not expect sponsors to foster hatred, or justify or glorify terrorism. Organisations must also not discriminate against anyone in light of someone’s sex, age, disability, gender reassignment, sexual orientation, marital/civil partnership status, race or religion.

Why must sponsor licence holders comply with these duties?

UKVI make it clear that “sponsorship is a privilege not a right”; they believe that by complying with the above duties, and ensuring that sponsored workers are monitored, sponsor licence holders will be able to prevent immigration laws being abused. Organisations are essentially assisting UKVI to monitor workers, and the extensive duties imposed upon sponsor licence holders encourages sponsors to behave in a particular way that will assist the Home Office with monitoring sponsored workers.

What would happen if a sponsor licence holder doesn’t comply with their sponsorship duties?

This will depend on the severity of the breach claimed by UKVI; the more serious the breach, the more drastic the consequences will be. For example, a sponsor licence could be revoked, suspended, or downgraded to a B-rating with an action plan put in place to assist the sponsor with regaining their A-rating. The permission to remain by the workers sponsored could be cancelled, and if it is believed that a criminal or civil offence has taken the place, the police or other relevant authorities may be informed.

How will the Home Office know if a sponsor licence holder is complying with their sponsor duties?

The Home Office can conduct a compliance check, either before a licence is issued or at any time while a licence is held. They will also undertake checks with HMRC to ensure that sponsored workers are being paid in accordance with Immigration Rules. It is, therefore, important that organisations understand their sponsorship duties, and ensure that robust company policies and procedures are in place to ensure that the relevant sponsorship duties are met.


If you wish to speak to us about an immigration or employment matter do not hesitate to get in touch with JMW's specialists by calling 0345 872 6666 or by completing our online enquiry form.

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