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Pre-Licence Visit - What is the Home Office Assessing?

If your business/employer has recently applied for a Sponsor Licence from UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI), you may be concerned about your upcoming pre-licence compliance visit. You may feel rather like a student about to enter an exam during which your every answer is scrutinised. After observing hundreds of compliance visits, we can assure you that as long as you are prepared and you know what to expect, you have absolutely nothing to be concerned about. It is important to remember why UKVI conduct pre-licence and post-licence compliance checks. Their ultimate goal is to uphold the integrity of the points-based sponsor licence system, which is used both by employers of international workers, and schools and universities educating overseas students, by ensuring that businesses have the necessary people, processes, and systems in place to meet their sponsor licence holder duties and responsibilities. In this article, we will explain what the UKVI compliance officer will be looking for when they carry out a pre-licence compliance visit.

What Is The Difference Between A Pre-Licence And Post-Licence Compliance Visit?

The pre-licence compliance visit is about checking that Sponsor Licence applicants have the ability to adhere to the duties of a licence holder. The post-licence compliance process is about checking that an existing sponsor licence holder is following the correct processes when hiring overseas workers. The latter requires the sponsoring business to show evidence and records relating to sponsored workers and that they have made the necessary reports to UKVI when required to do so. In addition, pre-licence visits are also carried out for existing sponsors that have applied for an additional licence type. Where this is the case, existing migrant information may be used to verify the HR system is working correctly for the purposes of sponsor management.

What Will UKVI Check During A Pre-Licence Visit?

The checks carried out by UKVI compliance officers are published by the Home Office. The guidance tells them to check the following during a pre-licence compliance visit:

  • The applicant has the necessary human resource (HR) systems in place to carry out their sponsor duties (as outlined below)
  • Whether there is any evidence to suggest the applicants would pose a threat to immigration control
  • Any areas of concern that UKVI have identified as requiring further inspection relating to the potential sponsor’s application, for example, verifying the original documents that the applicant did not submit with their application
  • If the potential sponsor has applied for a Tier 2 / Skilled Worker licence, that they will genuinely be able to offer employment that meets the Tier 2 requirements at the correct skill and pay level

The term ‘HR Systems’ does not necessarily mean IT or electronic systems, it may also mean paper-based systems. When checking your HR systems, the compliance officer will be particularly focused on whether you can carry out your sponsor duties and responsibilities, as follows:

Record Keeping

During the pre-licence visit, UKVI will want to be reassured that you have a process in place and a system for keeping records on sponsored worker’s immigration status (including the type of visa and expiry date), passport and right to work information, attendance, and contact details. A full list of the documents and details you need to retain and keep up to date can be found in Appendix D of the sponsor guidance. It is essential that these be kept up to date at all times, as during subsequent visits, UKVI will often speak to sponsored workers to clarify their current contact details and then compare these against your records. Any discrepancy may risk a potential downgrading of your licence. By showing UKVI, you have a way of requesting and then keeping this information secure and up to date, you will be able to satisfy their requirements.

Reporting Duties

In addition to the record-keeping duties of a sponsor licence holder, you will also need to report to UKVI using the Sponsorship Management System (SMS) (an online portal they will give you access to) if there are any significant changes relating to sponsored workers and your organisation. This includes if the sponsored worker does not end up working for you, if they do not turn up on their first day, or whether they take a long unauthorised absence. The purpose of reporting significant changes regarding sponsored employees is to prevent potential abuse of the immigration system. Likewise, if your company changes ownership (e.g. through a merger or takeover), or if the nature of the business changes, this will also need to be reported.

Compliance With Immigration Laws And Other Laws

Beyond the record-keeping and reporting duties, UKVI will also want to be satisfied during a pre-licence visit that you only intend to fill genuine vacancies with suitably qualified and experienced overseas candidates and that you will not be using the cover of sponsorship to bring people to the UK for other reasons. A genuine vacancy is one which:

  • requires the jobholder to perform the specific duties and responsibilities for the job and meets all of the requirements of the relevant route
  • does not include dissimilar and/or predominantly lower-skilled duties
  • is appropriate to the business in light of its business model, business plan and scale

You will also need to show that you understand your duties under the Data Protection Act 2018 and the General Data Protection Regulation when it comes to storing information on sponsored members of staff.

In Summary

The pre-licence compliance visit is only one of a number your business may receive during the period you hold a sponsor licence. If you are unsure if your business is ready for a compliance visit, we recommend engaging the services of an Immigration Solicitor who will be able to carry out the necessary checks and point to any gaps or issues which need to be rectified. They can also carry out periodic mock compliance audits to make sure that your business continues to remain compliant at all times. By taking this proactive approach, you can be assured that once you have secured your sponsor licence, you can keep it for as long as it is needed.

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