Sponsor licence problems: revocation, suspension and downgrading
To make up for skills shortages, employers are finding it increasingly necessary to recruit skilled employees from outside Europe. Non-Europeans need visas to work in the UK. Most work visas need a UK employer to ‘sponsor’ the non-European migrant. To sponsor someone, the employer needs to be in possession of a sponsor licence. A sponsor licence can be given by the UK authorities after a business makes an application. The authorities will check that the business is real and capable of following the rules before giving a licence. Even after you are given a licence, the authorities will continue to check on your business, and can punish you if you are not following the rules. To help you avoid punishment, we explain common scenarios.
What is expected of employers?
The UK authorities want to know that a business employing foreign nationals will comply with their duties and help to monitor migrants. To check, the UK authorities regularly do announced or unannounced compliance visits at businesses to check their systems and processes. To prepare you for this happening, we can conduct a mock-compliance visit and make suggestions for improvements.
Revocation of the sponsor licence
Revocation is the harshest punishment in relation to your sponsor licence. If your licence gets revoked, you will not have a right of appeal. The visas of any migrant employees will be shortened or cancelled, meaning they have to leave or apply under another visa route.
Common reasons for revocation
The UK authorities have provided a list of circumstances in which your licence must be revoked and another list when it might be revoked. These lists are not exhaustive. In our experience, these are the most common reasons:
Licence will be revoked if:
- You are issued with a civil penalty for employing an illegal worker or have committed an immigration offence
- You give false information on an application for a Certificate of Sponsorship
- You employ a migrant in a job that is not at a high enough skill-level
- The salary actually being paid is different to the salary you said you were going to pay
- Problems with the resident labour market test (which involves advertising the role to allow British and Europeans to apply), such as:
- Not doing the test properly
- Stating that you carried out a resident labour market test although you had not
- Stating that the vacancy was exempt from the test although it was not
- If you are asked by the UK authorities to send a document or information and you do not send the document or information within the given time limit
- It the authorities notice that the vacancy you filled was not a genuine vacancy, i.e. it contained an exaggerated or incorrect job description. For example, if the role you filled was that of an engineering manager, but the person is actually working on the production line
- You fail to assign a new Certificate of Sponsorship to any migrant that needs to make a change of employment application, for example, if an employee continues to work for you, but they change role and their core duties change
- You failed to employ a resident worker who met the requirements for the job, and instead employed a non-European migrant.
Licence may be revoked if:
- You fail to pay a migrant at least the appropriate rate for the job they are being sponsored to do
- Failure to allocate people to and use the Sponsor Management System properly – the Sponsor Management System is an online platform through which you can manage matters associated with your licence
- The authorities notice that a migrant employee has not complied with the rules of their visa
- You fail to co-operate with a compliance visit, or delay compliance activity – a compliance visit is a visit by the UK authorities to your business to check your systems and processes
- You assign the wrong kind of Certificate of Sponsorship to a migrant
Can I reapply if my sponsor licence was revoked?
You will not be allowed to apply again until the end of the cooling off period. The length of the cooling off period varies depending on the reason the licence was revoked. If you apply again, your application will be treated the same as any other application, but you should address reasons why your sponsor licence was revoked before you reapply.
Suspension of the sponsor licence
If the UK authorities have reason to believe that you are breaching your sponsor duties, they may suspend your licence while they make further enquiries.
Effect of sponsor licence suspension
While your sponsor licence is suspended, you will not be able to assign any certificates of sponsorships, which means you cannot hire new staff. Employees who are already working for you at the time will not be affected, unless the UK authorities decide to revoke your sponsor licence.
What to do if your licence is at threat of suspension
If the authorities intend to suspend your licence, they will write to you to give you the reasons. You then have 20 working days from the date of the notification to respond. In the response, you can ask for a review, explain any mitigating arguments and submit supporting evidence. You will normally get a final decision within 20 working days of sending your response. The UK authorities may also conduct an investigation
It is important to cooperate with the UK authorities. It will help if you write detailed representations to explain any reasons why you did not follow the rules.
Steps taken by the UK authorities
If the UK authorities are convinced that there are no sufficient reasons to revoke your licence, they will reinstate it either at an A- or B-rating (see the next section for an explanation of what these ratings mean).
Reinstatement at a B-rating means you must comply with an action plan. The number of Certificates of Sponsorship may also be reduced or set to zero, meaning you must reapply for more.
Downgrading of the sponsor licence
The UK authorities could downgrade your licence from an A-rating to a B-rating. Once awarded a B-rating, you will have to follow an action plan prepared by the UK authorities. You also have to pay a fee. If you do not accept the plan, your licence will be revoked.
Circumstances in which your licence will be downgraded to a B-licence
The UK authorities provide specific examples in their guidance. For example, your licence will be downgraded if you have said that a migrant will not claim state benefits and that migrant then does claim benefits with your knowledge. It will also be downgraded if the authorities are not satisfied that you are using a process or procedure necessary to fully comply with your sponsor duties, for example you are not keeping adequate records of your employees’ visa applications or absences from work.
You should always cooperate with the authorities. If they ask for documents then you should provide them within the given timeframe as a failure to do so may result in downgrading. They may also downgrade if you fail to comply with any sponsor duties so it is important you keep up to date.
Unless actions fall into the mandatory list, the UK authorities will take all the facts of the case into account when deciding what action to take. The authorities will write to you if they are considering downgrading your licence. You will be given 20 working days from the date of the letter to respond in writing. We can take statements from relevant parties, compile the evidence and write a response for you to fight the penalty.
You will receive a decision 20 working days after receiving your response. The authorities may take a variety of actions, such as limiting the number of Certificates of Sponsorship you are allowed to assign, downgrading your licence or not taking any further action.
Sponsorship action plans
If you have been downgraded to a B-rating, you must improve your performance enough to be upgraded back to an A-rating within 3 months. Your licence will be revoked if you do not manage to return.