In recent years the UK has been facing a persistent shortage of skilled workers. The problem has been exacerbated since Brexit and the end of free movement. Therefore, businesses are now trying to attract talent from all over the globe.
To employ foreign nationals in the UK, companies first need to obtain a sponsor licence. A sponsor licence grants companies the right to employ migrant workers in the UK. However, sponsor licence holders must adhere to specific duties and responsibilities in order to retain their licence.
The Home Office may conduct audits of licensed businesses to ensure compliance with the licensing regime. It is therefore paramount that licensed sponsors are prepared for a Home Office audit.
Navigating Sponsor Licence Audits
A sponsor licence audit involves a thorough examination by the Home Office of a sponsor’s compliance with their sponsorship obligations. In the past few years, there has been a rise in the quantity of on-site Home Office audits performed on sponsors.
In 2022 alone, UKVI conducted more than 1,000 enforcement actions on businesses throughout the country. In these surprise audits, inspectors from UKVI meticulously review employee records to ensure that accurate right-to-work checks were conducted.
Therefore, it is crucial to ensure full compliance with your sponsor duties. Failure to comply can result in serious consequences, including the suspension or revocation of your licence.
This blog aims to provide you with comprehensive insights into preparing for a sponsor licence audit, ensuring that your business remains compliant with the new immigration rules and current sponsor licence regulations.
What is a Sponsor Licence Audit and Why is It Important
A sponsor licence audit refers to a process where the UK Home Office reviews and assesses an organisation’s compliance with the conditions and requirements associated with its sponsor licence. In the context of immigration, a sponsor licence is a permission granted to an organisation that enables it to sponsor skilled workers from outside the UK to work in this country.
During a sponsor licence audit, the Home Office will examine the sponsor’s HR policies and procedures to assess compliance with the licence. This may include verifying that sponsored workers have the legal right to work in the UK, ensuring compliance with licence reporting obligations, and confirming that the organisation is meeting its responsibilities as a sponsor.
The audit process is designed to assess and monitor the sponsor’s adherence to the terms of their licence, and it may involve site visits, document inspections, and interviews with key personnel. Organisations are typically notified in advance of an upcoming audit, allowing them time to prepare and ensure that their records and practices align with the requirements set forth by the Home Office.
Successful completion of a sponsor licence audit is crucial for maintaining the organisation’s ability to sponsor foreign workers and avoid potential penalties or revocation of the sponsor licence.
At present, the Home Office is predominantly conducting the audit through a ‘digital compliance check’ or, in other words, through a Microsoft Teams meeting. During this digital audit, the Home Office official will interview the Authorising Officer and may also interview migrant staff at the business separately.
The Home Office also reserves the right to conduct a face to face interview at the business premises.
How to prepare for Sponsor Licence Audit?
Preparing for a sponsor licence audit is crucial to ensure that your organisation complies with its obligations and therefore maintains the ability to sponsor skilled workers. The revocation of the sponsor licence will result in the cancellation of the visas of sponsored migrants which ultimately can cause a serious disruption to business continuity.
Observing the following steps can not only prepare you for the audit but also help you to streamline your records:
1. Understand Your Duties as a Sponsor
Familiarise yourself with the duties and responsibilities outlined in the sponsorship guidance provided by the UK Home Office. Ensure that you are aware of the rules and obligations associated with being a sponsor, including what and when to report and what to keep on a sponsored migrant’s file.
2. Review and Update Your Records
Regularly update and maintain accurate records of all sponsored workers. Include details such as their immigration status, right to work documents, job roles, and any changes in employment status. Keep this information well-organised and easily accessible.
3. Train Your Employees
Train relevant personnel within your organisation on the sponsor licence requirements and procedures. This ensures that everyone involved understands their roles and responsibilities in maintaining compliance. This specifically refers to Authorising Officer, Key Contact and Level 1 Users – the key personnel handling Sponsor Management System.
4. Stay Updated on Immigration Rules
Make sure you are familiar with changes in immigration rules and regulations. Regularly check for updates from the Home Office to ensure that you are aware of any modifications to sponsorship requirements.
5. Conduct Internal or Mock Audit
Perform internal audits to identify and address any potential issues proactively. This can involve reviewing your record-keeping processes, ensuring proper reporting, and verifying that all sponsored workers have the right to work in the UK. It is a good practice to have an annual internal audit even if the Home Office does not audit you.
Consider consulting an experienced legal professional to run this audit. This can help identify any weaknesses in your processes and ensure that your organisation is well-prepared for the Home Office audit.
6. Prepare for Common Questions
Anticipate the types of questions that may arise during the audit. Practice and ensure that relevant personnel can provide clear and accurate responses. Common questions may relate to how you verify the right to work, monitor employment status, and report changes to the Home Office.
7. Designate a Point of Contact
Designate a specific individual or team as the point of contact for the audit. This person should be knowledgeable about the sponsor licence and able to coordinate with Home Office officials during the audit process. Note that the Home Office will want to deal predominantly with the authorising officer during the audit.
As any audit, a sponsor licence audit can be challenging and stressful. However, with the right preparation, it can be an exercise in elevating your work standards and result in better protection of the rights of migrant employees.
At WestBridge, we provide our clients with a compliance package through the delivery of a mock audit that puts you in a position where you will be confident in demonstrating your licence compliance to the Home Office.
If you have any questions or require further assistance regarding our sponsor licence compliance services, please feel free to reach out to our dedicated team. Your inquiries are important to us, and we are here to provide the support and guidance you need. Contact us to ensure your organisation is well-prepared for sponsor licence audits.
Confidence in demonstrating licence compliance is paramount, and with the right preparation and guidance, organisations can navigate sponsor licence audits with resilience and assurance.