We are seeing an increasing number of companies applying for a Home Office sponsor licence to sponsor and employ migrant workers from both EU and non-EU countries. At the end of 2023's first quarter, the number of organisations on the UK's register of work sponsors reached 61,153. Compare this with the end of the first quarter of 2022, recording 41,621 registered sponsors, we see a staggering increase of over 20,000 organisations registered as sponsors for migrant workers in 12 months.
Home Office statistics and management information explains that there were approximately 9,153 decisions on applications for sponsor licences between April and June 2023, 40% more than in April to June 2022. This increase can largely be attributed to the introduction of the Skilled Worker and Skilled Worker Health and Care visas established by the government in December 2020. The visa route has enabled 190,711 visa grants in these categories in the year ending June 2023, with Health and Care visas increasing by 157% compared with the previous year.
With the rapid increase of applications and subsequent grants comes the inevitable increase in the Home Office completing digital and in person compliance checks. It is possible that the Home Office will complete a pre-licence check on the organisation which may include a visit to the intended sponsor's place of business as confirmed within the licence application, or via a video link with screen-sharing facilities.
Organisations must ensure that they adequately prepare for these checks prior to them taking place. The Home Office will want to review HR policies and procedures as well as any HR software used by the sponsoring entity.
Sponsors should ensure they hold the following and be prepared to present these documents on the date of the check.
- Details for employees including their names, date of birth and emergency contact details
- Copy of employment contracts (if applicable).
- A sample of right to work checks for British/Irish/settled employees and employees who are subject to immigration control
- Details about the proposed sponsored worker, including their Standard Occupation Classification (SOC) code for the job role, their salary, and their job description
- Hourly rates for employees (remember increases to the National Living Wage coming from 1 April 2024)
- What procedures the sponsor would follow if it is discovered that their employees no longer have the right to work in the UK
The Home Office may ask for further information so be prepared to answer questions about the process and procedures you have in place to monitor the duties, functions and responsibilities of each worker employed by the organisation.
This outcome aligns with the Home Office's recent announcement that the maximum civil penalty issued to employers found to be non-compliant with immigration and right to work checks are increasing significantly.
On 15 November 2023, 'The Immigration (Employment of Adults Subject to Immigration Control) (Maximum Penalty) (Amendment) Order 2023' confirmed that the civil penalty for employing illegal workers is to be raised to £45,000 (from £15,000) per illegal worker for a first breach and £60,000 (from £20,000) per illegal worker for repeat breaches (within three years). The £5,000 discount will still apply for cooperation and other good practices by the employer, but it is a sign from the Home Office that organisations need to follow the most up to date guidance on right to work checks for employees.
The draft code of practice on illegal working penalties is set to take effect on 22 Jan 2024.
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.