Tier 2 Sponsor: Preparing for Home Office Compliance Visits

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Tier 2 Sponsor: Preparing for Home Office Compliance Visits
20
Jun

Tier 2 Sponsor: Preparing for Home Office Compliance Visits

The frequency of compliance visits to holders of Tier 2 sponsor licences are steadily rising. It is imperative that the employers have their organizational records to ensure renewal of their licence – which can otherwise be suspended or revoked altogether. In this instalment of the Tier 2 Sponsor Licence Holder Compliance, we bring to you the essential aspects of preparation for Home Office Compliance visits.

A notification of the impending compliance visit is bound to make any Tier 2 sponsor licence holder nervous. Therefore, to make the visit a success and ensure licence renewal the employer needs to work consistently and get his HR systems and documents in place. In view of its requirements, the Home Office outsources a part of its role of monitoring immigration compliance to companies applying for sponsor licences. thus, retaining a duty to ensure that they fulfil their responsibilities including compliance checks. The trust placed by the Home Office on its sponsors entices the latter to act responsibly in accordance with immigration rules and Standard Guidance (SG) for Tier 2 Sponsor Licence compliance.

Tier 2 Sponsorship

When a sponsor has failed to ensure proper Tier 2 Sponsor Licence compliance, as deemed mandatory, or poses a risk to immigration control, the Home Office is bound to take an action against it. The Home Office has been granted some special rights which it exercises accordingly. One of the prominent special rights is conducting announced or unannounced visits to the premises of any organization sponsoring Tier 2 migrant workers.

Home Office auditors, during compliance audits, check whether the sponsor meets their obligations, have a necessary HR support system and procedures in place, send accurate information to the Home Office periodically, and comply with all necessary duties to prevent illegal workforce immigration. Documentation and policies are reviewed and key personnel and support staff are interviewed as well. 

Audit Visits

The chances of visit, though generally low for most sponsors, have been steadily increasing. A majority of the post-licence visits have resulted in suspension or revocation of the licences. Also, majority of the visits are scheduled following intelligence reports which raise concerns of illegal working.  A red flag is raised if workers are paying tax but have not shown a valid visa, or are working more hours than permitted. If a worker receives a civil penalty or enquiry from the Home Office, then it is very likely that a compliance audit visit shall follow suit. Auditors generally review at least 10% of sponsored worker files, half of right-to-work documents and interview at least three sponsored workers.

Downgrading licences

The sponsor licence may be downgraded to a B-rating or revoked in case the visit does not go well. Subsequently, a B-rating can be improved by a three-month action plan at a cost of £1,476. The sponsor licence holders are not permitted to sponsor new staff or make any changes to the licence during this period. Thereafter, compliance approval is subjected to a second-visit.

In case the licence of a sponsor licence holder is revoked, the employees holding Tier-2 visas can have their visas curtailed and have to find another sponsor within 60 days, failing which they and any dependant family members in the UK have to leave the country and cannot return before a cooling period of 12 months. The licence can only be reinstated by meeting the auditor’s terms.  

These outcomes are serious and often unavoidable in cases of non-complaint organizational structure. Organizations must start preparing for the compliance audit from the very minute they are notified, usually through email, of the visit.

Preparing for the Compliance Audit Visit:

1. Requesting to postpone the visit

The visitor normally allows a postponement of one to two weeks to the sponsor licence holder to buy more time to bring affairs in order and ensure that appropriate systems and trained personnel are in place.

2. Reviewing files and documentation

It is imperative that the key in charge of licence management of the organization and the HR team regularly review the files and documentation pertaining to sponsored workers to fill any gaps and ensure all details comply with Appendix D – Record keeping requirements of the Standard Guidance (SG).

All information must be up-to-date, and any changes in personal circumstances have been reported as required. Any pattern of late, erroneous or non-reporting can lead to the licence being revoked as this suggests that the employer and the support staff are not aware of the sponsor duties. In case of any discrepancies, kindly take advice on their proper addressing.

3. Arranging a mock audit 

A mock audit is always helpful and instructive to the sponsor to review files and ensure compliance with the sponsor guidance before the actual visit of the compliance auditors takes place. Experts such as immigration lawyers and legal advisors can list out major areas requiring improvement, guide sponsors before and during a compliance visit, and conduct a mock interview with your compliance in charge and the HR team of the organization to prepare for the visit.

 

4. Reviewing right to work documentation 

It is imperative that all employees must have all their documentation, including right to work, checked, copied and retained before starting work. This includes checking of original passport and visa documentation if applicable. Any gaps in documentation must be carefully reviewed and filled by taking fresh copies. This process is extremely important as any case of illegal working, if reported or found, can attract heavy fines.

5. Preparing key personnel and sponsored staff 

Compliance auditors generally interview the key authorizing staff to check their understanding of the sponsor licence and other related duties. They will also check that the key personnel handling the sponsor licence management are skilled enough to be able to handle those responsibilities on a recurrent basis, and that the staff are paid accordingly as per their visas. They also cover general legal compliance and understanding of employment law. An authorising officer may need time to prepare to keep himself / herself abreast with all Home Office rules and to review the guidance. Hence, authorising officer and support staff must be given considerable time to prepare for the visit.

An audit visit is time-consuming and stressful and may lead to real business problems if not handled seriously. Sponsors must ensure that their workers’ files remain up-to-date at all times and take licence compliance seriously.

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