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Sponsor licence holders should complete mock audits to prepare for Home Office checks


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When employers apply for and are granted a licence to sponsor workers, they make a pledge to accept all the duties of sponsorship, and the Home Office can take compliance action when they consider that a sponsor has failed to uphold their duties or otherwise poses a risk to immigration control. One of the most effective ways for the Home Office to check whether a sponsor is compliant is to audit them through a site visit. They will inspect HR documents and processes and interview employees to verify that the sponsor is complying with their duties.

The Home Office is currently targeting some employers and plans to use “every available power across government” to identify and reduce illegal migrants and to ensure that only those who are eligible can work, receive benefits and access public services.

Sunak makes a pledge to crack down on illegal working

The Nationality and Borders Act 2022 came into force last summer and the threat of criminalising illegal migrants has unfortunately turned into a reality. Now it seems real action is beginning to take place.

In January 2023, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced the creation of a special taskforce, which allows the government to share information across government departments (and now banks) to identify and reduce the number of illegal workers in the UK.

This was followed by the publication of three reports in February 2023 outlining the government’s strategy to ensure that people don’t illegally access employment, benefits and services.

This sudden wave of activity is no coincidence. The government clearly want to be seen to be doing something to reduce and prevent small boat crossings. In trying to assist with the rhetoric that they are cracking down on illegal migration and creating a more hostile environment, the government is casting the net wider, targeting people in the UK who were not previously targets.

The best defence is a good offence: sponsors should review their processes 

The Home Office reports in its latest Transparency Data, that they suspended 416 sponsor licences and revoked 315 in 2022 alone.

To avoid being the next statistic, sponsor licence holders should expect and be prepared for a Home Office audit at any of the following stages:

  1. At the pre-licence stage of the licence application process, whereby the Home Office will look to inspect the organisation’s HR systems and processes before granting the sponsor licence;
  2. At any point during the four-year validity of the licence; or
  3. After making a licence renewal application.

An audit can also be triggered if a civil penalty for illegal working has been issued or if the Home Office is already aware of a history of compliance failures.

During an audit, sponsors will be assessed in the following key areas:

  • Monitoring immigration status and preventing illegal employment
  • Maintaining migrant contact details
  • Record keeping and recruitment practices
  • Migrant tracking and monitoring
  • All other specific sponsor duties

Let’s not forget one of the pinchers that lead to civil penalties – the completion of compliant right to work checks. Immigration Enforcement data confirms that in 2022, the Home Office issued almost 1000 civil penalties amounting to 16 million pounds.

Employers should ensure that they have updated their right to work processes following the changes to right to work checks from 6 April 2022 and again when adjusted right to work checks ended on 30 September 2022. Now that we are six months on from these changes, some employers may wish to consider refresher training for their staff on completing compliant right to work checks. You can read more about conducting compliant right to work checks here.

Be prepared to demonstrate how you are and will remain compliant

Penalties for non-compliance can include fines of up to £20,000 per worker found to be illegally working.

Additional penalties for sponsor licence holders can include downgrading, suspension, or revocation of the sponsor licence. For sponsored workers, their immigration status could be revoked or curtailed. Part 3: Sponsor duties and compliance contains detailed guidance on duties as a licensed sponsor and the compliance action the Home Office can take if employers fail to meet those duties.

Don’t get caught out!

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Pip Hague

Pip Hague is a Senior Practice Development Lawyer at Lewis Silkin.