Sponsor Compliance: One Size Fits All?
Sponsor compliance duties are intended to be “one-size fits all” – that is to say, all businesses with ambitions to become a licensed sponsor are expected to follow the same rules, regardless of size and industry.
But in reality, are you going to have to work harder than some other businesses for your sponsor licence?
In this blog, we look at “what” sponsor compliance is, and question whether the rules are structured to favour certain types of business.
Importance of Sponsor Compliance
Anyone who has been visited by the Home Office will know that you only get one chance to show:-
- you understand your sponsor duties in relation to HR; and
- you are implementing your HR policies, proactively.
One misstep and you can easily have your sponsor licence downgraded or revoked.
If you are visited following a sponsor licence application and you do not meet the standards to warrant an A-rating, your application would be refused and furthermore you would be subject to a 6-month cooling off period on re-applying for a sponsor licence.
If you are a registered sponsor and fail a visit, you can get your sponsor licence suspended, downgraded and even revoked.
What are the Sponsor Duties?
When applying for a sponsor licence, the business is taking responsibility for each and every migrant they employ and is also committing to operate the business in a way not just compatible with UK law, but at the highest standards of HR compliance:-
- Responsibility to ensure that statutory Right to Work checks are made on the whole workforce, including (but not limited to) sponsored workers
- Responsibility to keep updated contact details for staff. The sponsor must be able to contact the migrant at home, at any given time, and be in a position to pass on the migrant’s contact details to the Home Office, where required.
- Responsibility to keep records of the migrant’s sponsorship, ready for inspection at any given time, by the Home Office. This includes documents like evidence of their qualifications, employment contract, job description and salary payments.
- Responsibility to inform the Home Office of any changes to the migrant’s employment or the organisation’s details. This could include informing of a migrant’s promotion within the business, or the sponsor’s change of address.
- Responsibility to keep precise records of the migrant’s absences from work, including holiday and sick leave.
- Responsibility to comply with the general law as a UK business, including employment law and Health and Safety regulations. It is also a responsibility to ensure that only genuine job offers are made to migrant workers.
One Size Fits All?
As we know, in December 2020, the Skilled Worker route was expanded to include a larger variety of skill level jobs. Previously the skills threshold was RQF level 6 (graduate level), but now RQF level 3 (A level) jobs can be sponsored.
Although RFQ level 6 does not automatically equate to an “office job”, most of the roles that qualified for sponsorship were office-type jobs, from Business Development, Sales and Marketing to Financial Services and IT. Typically, those roles would be 9-6pm office-based jobs, where the whole or most of the workforce were also office-based.
Now, various jobs in hospitality, retail, construction and adult social care can be sponsored and businesses that are struggling to find local workers to fill their vacancies are looking very seriously at the sponsorship route.
Since the covid pandemic, there has been an increase in virtual working, so where companies used to have a full-time office, it’s now quite trendy and economical to have a “virtual office” with meeting rooms hired on a needs basis.
Despite these changes, the sponsorship duties apply to all businesses equally – one size fits all.
Who might struggle?
Having assisted a vast variety of businesses, we have noticed that some businesses may have to work harder than others for their sponsor licence.
- High turnover of staff
- Managers juggling multiple responsibilities
- Remote working / hybrid work patterns
- Typically employ off-payroll (i.e. casual workers/contractors)
- Directors with zero employees (i.e. no existing HR systems in place)
- Multiple offices or branches, with different HR personnel
- Unsophisticated or no HR filing systems
- Proportionately large number of non-British workers
Any sponsor can reach a satisfactory level of compliance, with the correct support
There is a very real argument that Home Office are “harsher” on certain industries when it comes to compliance and visits. Whilst this is a valid point, the Home Office’s approach to perceived “high-risk industries” is a topic for a whole other blog!
In the real world, any business type can comply with sponsor duties.
In some industries, the idea of “compliance” comes more easily. Heavily regulated companies (for example FCA regulated firms) have pre-existing regulatory requirements. This doesn’t necessarily make immigration compliance easier – it just might be easier for them to absorb immigration compliance into existing HR practices.
What is key (for any future sponsor) is to understand each area of compliance in turn, making conscious decisions on how to adapt and implement HR policies.
Knowing what needs to be done is not the same as taking proactive steps to implement the policies.
Rather than wading through the guidance trying to “work it out”, it’s often best to seek advice from a reputable legal adviser, who can help navigate the guidance and provide tailored support for your individual business. This advice applies to all types of business.
Even if you are a new start-up, or have little or no HR systems as of today – don’t worry pre-emptively or be discouraged by horror stories. Think practically about how your business operates and seek to implement systems that would work for you.
It is certainly possible to be a Home Office compliant sponsor – whatever your industry!
BUT while the rules may be “one size fits all:” guidance should be tailored to you.
On the face of it, the sponsorship system does appear to favour employers of office workers. Employers that have staff working 9-5pm in office jobs, should ostensibly be able to meet the requirements much more easily than, for example, a virtual IT consultancy or a busy high street restaurant.
However, any sponsor can fall foul of the rules, and complacency is discouraged.
A company that operates a non-traditional structure or that operates in a “high-risk” field, with the right approach, can become and remain compliant sponsors and can even be a shining example of how to operate a compliant business.
Guidance that can seem intensely intimidating at first, will start to make sense and cease to be a worry, once you engage with the right advisor and dedicate the right level of internal HR resources to implement the rules.
“Difficult”, “Onerous”, and “Minefield” – are words commonly used by sponsors, in any industry, when they first engage with their sponsor duties.
“Straightforward”, “Simple”, and “Common Sense” – are words that come later, from the mouths of sponsors who have completed quality compliance training and have set in motion an achievable strategy for HR compliance.
At A Y J Solicitors, whatever your industry and whatever your business structure, we can assist you with tailored support to obtain and maintain your sponsor licence.
We fit around your needs and requirements to achieve the results you desire.