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Home Office compliance visits can be worrying for any business, no matter how small or large. After all, the Home Office official assessing your compliance with your sponsor license holder obligations has the power to downgrade or even revoke your ability to recruit migrants for your business. You will almost always receive a visit to assess your business's compliance when you first apply for a sponsor license. You may also receive a visit because a complaint has been received regarding your sponsor license practices, if you currently have a B-rating and have committed to an action plan to resolve specific problems, or if another Home Office department wishes to investigate other matters within your business but in conjunction with a sponsor compliance team.
Thankfully, there is little to fear from a Home Office sponsor compliance visit; with the correct preparation, understanding, and application of the tips below, you can ensure your organisation is not only ready for a planned visit from the Home Office, but also if it is unannounced.
Under the Home Office rules, sponsor license holders must appoint individuals to manage the sponsorship process, including an authorising officer, key contact, level 1 user, and an optional level 2 user. The individuals holding these positions should be checked regularly and replaced if they leave the business or if they can no longer fulfil their duties. If you are fortunate enough to be given prior notice of a Home Office visit, make sure these individuals are available and able to assist the compliance officer. If you know that one or more of the key personnel will be away, ask for the scheduled date to be changed to a day when they are available.
The compliance officer will want to see that your sponsored staff have been taken through the correct processes. This requires showing evidence that:
During your compliance visit, the Home Office representative will want to view the paperwork held for each sponsored member of staff. By ensuring if the records, whether in digital or paper form, are ready and easily accessed in one place, you will make the role of the compliance officer much easier and this will aid your compliance.
Having compiled and checked all of the sponsored employee records and files, it is then recommended to update the SMS records for each sponsored individual. Make sure that you have created and assigned Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS) to all sponsored personnel, completed all personal information, and updated the activity, status and circumstances of any workers. Also, update the details of the key personnel if these have changed.
While it can be frustrating if a Home Office compliance officer makes an unannounced visit (which is most often the case), it is essential that you facilitate their work. By worrying that you may not be ready for a compliance visit, and refusing entry, you may inadvertently receive an automatic non-compliance status leading to refusal (or revocation/suspension) of your sponsorship license. It is for this reason that your key personnel, systems, and processes for sponsorship should be ready for scrutiny at any time.
Mock audits provide an invaluable way of ensuring ongoing compliance and provide greater confidence should a visit occur. Mock audits can be carried out by internal personnel, or by third-party immigration law specialists who understand each element of the compliance visit assessment process. An independent individual will make less assumption about your sponsor management process, and place your personnel under the same level of scrutiny as a Home Office compliance officer. In addition, the individual carrying out the mock audit will recommend areas for improvement and repeat the process once problems have been resolved.
During the Home Office compliance visit, it is likely that the official will ask to interview some of your sponsored members of staff. One of the main reasons for doing so is to verify that the role they are fulfilling matches with the one stated on the RLMT. If breaches are discovered during the interview process, more interviews may be requested to determine the extent of the problems identified. Also, consider that the Home Office may visit more than one site with sponsored workers. As such, you should ensure that all sites are prepared and that a member of staff familiar with the compliance process is available at each to facilitate the work of the compliance officer.
You should always be able to provide evidence that everything stated on your Sponsor Licence application is true. For example, if you stated you are a small business, you should keep evidence that your annual turnover is £10.2 million or less, and you have 50 employees or fewer (or you did at the time of application).
Almost always, businesses who treat sponsor license compliance as an ongoing concern tend to sail through compliance visits. The uncertainty and business impact of non-compliance can be considerable. But by being meticulous about sponsor license compliance, you will guarantee your business is never short of the personnel it needs to thrive.
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