What to expect from a
Home Office compliance visit

Under the UK’s new points-based immigration system, any UK business wishing to hire skilled EU or non-EU workers from January 2021 will need to gain approval to do so, by applying for a sponsor licence. A sponsor licence is a permission granted by the Home Office to an organisation to sponsor non-resident workers within its business.

The process of applying for and maintaining a sponsor licence can seem complex for employers that are new to sponsorship. However, all sponsors have an obligation to comply with Home Office immigration requirements, and failure to do so can result in your licence being downgraded or revoked.

In order to assess whether your organisation is able to meet its sponsor duties, the Home Office may wish to visit your place of business as part of the application process, or indeed at any point throughout the four-year lifespan of your sponsor licence.

The idea of Home Office officials visiting your business premises to scrutinise your internal systems and processes is a daunting prospect for many employers, and compliance audits are one of the most common areas our clients seek support with. The below guide covers some of the most frequently asked questions regarding sponsor licence compliance visits.

Why does the Home Office need to visit my business?

The purpose of a compliance visit is to check your organisation has the appropriate HR and recruitment systems and processes in place to effectively monitor a migrant workforce, and to ensure you are fulfilling your legal obligations as an employer.

Before making a decision on your application for a sponsor licence, the Home Office may wish to visit your business to determine whether:

  • The information you provided in your application is accurate and complete
  • Your business is genuinely trading or operating lawfully in the UK
  • You have a genuine need for a sponsor licence
  • You are able to offer employment to Tier 2 migrants at the appropriate skill and payment level
  • You are committed to and compliant with all the duties of sponsorship

Employers who have already secured a sponsor licence should also expect at some stage to receive a visit from compliance officers. During an audit, officers will focus on the following areas:

  • HR systems – You will need to demonstrate you have the appropriate human resource practices in place to meet your sponsorship duties and monitor your workers’ immigration status.
  • Compliance – Officers will check you are compliant with your legal responsibility as an employer to prevent illegal working, and check for any incidences of non-compliance.

Will I know the date of the visit in advance?

The Home Office may visit and conduct checks on an immediate, unannounced basis. This could include checks at any physical address where your sponsored employees carry out, or would carry out, their employment duties.

Visits will sometimes be pre-arranged, but in either case you must allow Home Office staff to access your premises upon request. Refusal to grant entry could result in your sponsor licence application being refused, or your existing licence being revoked.

Smith Stone Walters would advise any employers who have recently filed an application for a sponsor licence to pre-empt a visit from Home Office officials. For existing sponsors, any changes to your business circumstances may also trigger a compliance visit. This could include, but is not limited to:

  • A change of business address
  • If your business changes ownership, or is involved in a merger or acquisition
  • If your business acquires or loses migrant workers as a result of TUPE arrangements

What happens on the day?

A compliance audit will usually take around two to three hours to complete. During the visit, you can expect the Compliance Officers to focus on five key areas:

  • Monitoring immigration status and preventing illegal employment – You should be able to demonstrate that you have robust systems in place to minimise the risk of employing a migrant who does not have the right to work in the UK.
  • Maintaining migrants’ contact details – You should keep a full history of each sponsored migrant’s UK contact details, and ensure these are up to date and readily available to UK Visas and Immigration upon request.
  • Record keeping – You should keep comprehensive personnel files for each employee, containing documents relating to migrant recruitment, payroll information and a record of absences.
  • Migrant tracking and monitoring – Auditors will want to see you have procedures in place to monitor your sponsored migrants effectively, and ensure prolonged absences or significant changes to their employment are reported to the Home Office.
  • General sponsor duties – You will need to show you have procedures in place to regularly reiew your company’s profile on the online Sponsorship Management System and keep the Home Office informed of any changes

As part of the process, compliance officers may also wish to interview any migrant workers and any of your employees who are involved in recruitment.

What happens after a compliance visit?

For pre-licence assessments, the Home Office will use the information gathered during their visit to make a decision on your application before notifying you of the outcome. If your application is successful, you will be awarded an ‘A-rating’, which indicates that the Home Office is satisfied you are able to meet your sponsor duties.

If you receive a compliance visit after your application has already been approved, the Home Office will contact you to let you know the outcome of the check, and which rating you have been awarded. If any problems are discovered during your audit, you could have your licence downgraded or suspended, depending on the severity of the issues.

Where licences have been downgraded to a B-rating following a compliance check, you will be required to follow an action plan to improve your performance and you may need to pay a fee. More information can be found in the Home Office guidance for sponsors.

Help with preparing for a Home Office compliance visit

To give your business the best chance of passing a Home Office compliance visit, Smith Stone Walters recommends all sponsors carry out regular mock audits to ensure they are prepared.

Even if your business has held a sponsor licence for some time, checks can happen at any time therefore it is good practice to regularly assess your internal systems and processes to ensure ongoing compliance.

Our team of immigration experts regularly help businesses with carrying out mock audits to identify areas for improvement regarding the management of your sponsor licence. For more information about this service, or for an informal discussion about your requirements, please call us on 0208 461 6660, or email info@smithstonewalters.com.

We look forward to hearing from you.

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