5 common pitfalls
when applying for a
sponsor licence

A sponsor licence is a permission given by the Home Office to an organisation to employ non-UK resident workers within its business. Under the points-based immigration system, UK employers wishing to ‘sponsor’ EU or non-EU workers on a Skilled Worker visa must hold a valid sponsor licence.

Sponsor licence applications are considered by the Home Office on a case-by-case basis, and businesses must meet the strict eligibility requirements and submit a range of supporting evidence to demonstrate they are a reputable employer and will be able to meet the ongoing compliance obligations or ‘sponsor duties’ placed upon them as a licensed sponsor.

However, there are several reasons why Home Office caseworkers may refuse a sponsor licence application. Employers should be aware of these potential trip hazards, as refusals will not only cost your business time and money, you also risk losing out on any overseas candidates you wish to hire.

In this article, we examine five of the most common circumstances in which the Home Office may refuse a sponsor licence application and how to avoid these pitfalls when preparing an application for your business.

Missing or incorrect documentation

Many sponsor licence applications are refused on the basis of missing or incorrect supporting documents. If you fail to provide the required documentation, your application could be significantly delayed or refused entirely.

The documents you will need to submit depends on your organisation type, the type of sponsor licence you are applying for, and the type of roles you are looking to sponsor overseas workers in. A full list of documents you must provide can be found in Appendix A of the Home Office’s guidance for sponsors. In most cases, you will need to provide at least four supporting documents from the list included in Appendix A.

All relevant supporting documents must be sent within five working days of submitting your application. If you fail to send the correct documentation, the Home Office may contact you to request further evidence, however this is at the discretion of the decision maker. Where requests are made for further evidence, you must supply this within the given timeframe or your application will be refused and your fee will not be refunded.

Common grounds for refusal based on supporting documentation includes cases where the supplied documents are out of date, incomplete or uncertified, or have not been submitted within the required timescale. With this in mind, Smith Stone Walters would recommend businesses check the validity of each document ahead of submitting them to the Home Office.

Failing the ‘genuineness’ test

Before granting a sponsor licence, the Home Office must be satisfied that the business applying is a genuine organisation operating lawfully in the UK, and is able to offer genuine employment that meets the skill and salary requirements of the routes in which they are applying to be licensed.

You can demonstrate that your business has an operating or trading presence in the UK by submitting the relevant documents set out in Appendix A. The Home Office may verify these documents with the issuing organisation to confirm they are genuine before approving your licence. If caseworkers are unable to verify whether a document is genuine or false, they will not consider the document as supporting evidence and may ask for further documents.

Businesses must also be able to demonstrate that the vacancies they wish to fill with sponsored workers are ‘genuine’ vacancies, and have not been created solely to facilitate the entry of a specific migrant to the UK. You must be able to show that the vacancies you seek to fill are at the relevant skill level for the route, and sponsored workers will be paid an appropriate salary.

In some cases, the Home Office may not be satisfied you can offer genuine employment. For example, if:

  • You do not currently employ, or have never employed anyone in a role which meets the Skilled Worker requirements, or
  • You require a worker to fill a role which does not appear necessary for your business.

If your application is refused based on the genuineness test, you can ask the Home Office to review the decision through the ‘error correction request process’ if you believe there was a caseworking error, or apply again after the appropriate cooling-off period, if applicable, has ended.

Choosing inappropriate key personnel

When submitting your sponsor licence application, you are required to nominate certain members of staff within your organisation to take on a number of key roles relating to the licence. The Home Office refers to these nominated individuals as “key personnel”, and there are four roles:

  • Authorising Officer
  • Key Contact
  • Level 1 User
  • Level 2 User

There are certain eligibility requirements that all key personnel must meet in order to qualify for the roles.

  • Be permanently based in the UK for the duration of the time they are in the role
  • Not have any unspent criminal convictions
  • Be a paid member of your staff or an office holder, not a contractor or a consultant hired for a specific project.

It is important to select nominees carefully, as part of the licence application process will involve background checks conducted by the Home Office to ensure key personnel are suitable for the roles.

Applications may be refused if these checks uncover anything about a nominee’s background that the Home Office would consider a risk to immigration control. This could include records of previous adverse involvement with the Home Office, criminal convictions for related offences, or financial risk factors such as bankruptcy or debt relief restrictions.

Smith Stone Walters recommends choosing people within your business who you expect to remain in the company for some time, and who you know to be of good character. You can also appoint a suitably qualified UK-based representative to fill some of these key personnel roles, such as the Key Contact or a Level 1 user.

Appointing your immigration advisor as one of your key personnel allows them to take over some of the responsibilities regarding your Sponsorship Management System (SMS), so you can be assured your licence will be kept up to date and compliant.

Failing to prepare for a pre-licence visit

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 before making a decision on your application.

During a pre-licence visit, Home Office compliance officers will check your organisation is a legitimate business with 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.

Visits can be carried out on an immediate, unannounced basis so it is important to be prepared. As well as visiting your main office address, the Home Office may wish to visit any other physical addresses where your sponsored workers would be carrying out their employment duties. This could include their home address, if they normally work from home.

In order to ensure you are fully prepared for a pre-licence visit, Smith Stone Walters recommends carrying out regular mock audits on your internal systems and processes to identify any issues and ensure you are able to maintain compliance after your licence has been granted.

A history of non-compliance

If your business has previously held a sponsor licence of any type and that licence was revoked by the Home Office or surrendered by you whilst compliance action was being undertaken against you, your new application may be refused.

In some cases, a ‘cooling-off’ period may apply after a previous application has been refused, a previously held sponsor licence has been revoked or withdrawn, or after you have been issued with a civil penalty.

The length of the cooling-off period depends on the circumstances, but it is important to wait until your cooling-off period has ended before submitting a new application. If you attempt to apply or reapply whilst you are still subject to a cooling-off period, your application will automatically be refused.

If your organisation has previously had a sponsor licence revoked, Smith Stone Walters recommends seeking specialist advice before submitting a new application. A carefully considered approach will be required for any sponsor licence applications where there has been a history of non-compliance or enforcement action.

Help with preparing a sponsor licence application

Taking the time to prepare a strong application, including the correct supporting documentation, will give your business the best chance of securing sponsor approval first time. Seeking legal advice on the process from an immigration specialist can help your business save time and avoid costly errors.

Smith Stone Walters has worked with businesses of all sizes and in a range of sectors to help them successfully secure a sponsor licence and maintain ongoing compliance thereafter. For an informal discussion about how we can help your business, please contact us today.

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