Knowing what duties and responsibilities come with having a sponsor licence are essential. If a sponsor fails to understand and comply with these duties, they are putting their licence, and the visa / permission of their sponsored staff at risk. You can read more about the duties of sponsorship here.
What Happens if We Fail to Comply With Our Sponsor Licence Duties?
If you fail to comply with your sponsorship duties, or a situation in Appendix C1-3 of " Workers and Temporary Workers: guidance for sponsors part 3: sponsor duties and compliance" arises, the Home Office may suspend your sponsor licence. Suspending the licence is an interim measure and is usually used as a mechanism to allow the Home Office to complete further investigations and to allow the sponsor to respond to their concerns.
Where the Home Office has enough evidence to justify the sponsor licence being suspended pending a full investigation, they will write to the sponsor licence holder setting out their initial reasons. The Home Office does not have to suspend the sponsor licence before taking other actions. They can, instead, choose to revoke the sponsor licence or downgrade it without prior suspension.
Should We Respond to the Suspension Notice?
You are not required to respond to a sponsor licence suspension notice, though you may wish to do so. If you do not reply, and the sponsor licence is revoked, there is no right of appeal and you will not be permitted to apply for a sponsor licence until 12 months have passed since the licence was revoked. The only avenue for challenge is judicial review. Therefore, you should consider whether you wish to reply to the Home Office's concerns following a sponsor licence suspension notice. This may result in the licence being reinstated to an A-rating, being downgraded to a B-rating, or being revoked.
You have 20 working days from the date of the decision to reply. You should consider seeking legal advice at the earliest opportunity to ensure that you have time to prepare a detailed and thorough response. The response will need to be tailored to respond directly to any concerns the Home Office has. The reply should set out any mitigating arguments, the reasons why you consider the grounds for suspension / revocation are incorrect, and provide any relevant supporting evidence.
If additional reasons for suspending the licence are identified by the Home Office, you will be notified and be given an additional 20 working days to respond.
If no response is received within the 20 working days, the Home Office will decide what action is appropriate and inform you of the decision in writing.
What Will Happen After We Reply to the Suspension Notice?
When the Home Office receives your response, they will consider it along with the evidence provided. They may ask a compliance officer, other law enforcement agency, government department, agency, local authority, the police, foreign government or other body, for information.
You will be notified of the Home Office's decision on what action will be taken within 20 working days of receiving your response unless the consideration is exceptionally complex or they are waiting on information from a third party. If this is the case, you will be notified.
How Will Having Our Sponsor Licence Suspended Affect Us?
During the period of suspension, you will not be able to assign any CoS. The sponsor licence will be suspended in all routes for which you hold a licence and will not appear on the sponsor licence register.
Workers whom you are sponsoring at the time of suspension will not be affected by the suspension. If the Home Office chooses to revoke the licence, they will, however, be affected.
Those who have a pending application, submitted prior to the sponsor licence being suspended, will have their applications stayed until the reason for suspension has been resolved, unless the application falls for refusal on other grounds. Those who have already been granted entry clearance prior to the sponsor licence being suspended will be permitted to enter the UK and start work for you provided that the licence is not revoked by the time they travel.
You will still be required to comply with all sponsor duties and any requirements set out in the Home Office's guidance. You will not be permitted to change Key Personnel during the period of suspension. If your licence is due to expire during the period of suspension, you must still apply to renew it if you want to keep it.
How Can We Avoid Our Sponsor Licence Being Suspended?
The only way to avoid your sponsor licence being suspended is to ensure that you are properly complying with your sponsor duties. The Home Office can conduct a sponsor compliance visit on an announced or unannounced basis, therefore, you should ensure that you are complying with your duties (including reporting and record keeping) at all times. You should also ensure that all policies and systems are up-to-date and in place for enabling compliance with the duties.
If you are not sure what your sponsor duties are, or would like assistance with preparing policies and systems that will assist with compliance with your sponsorship duties, you should consult a lawyer.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.