The Home Office views the ability to sponsor non EEA nationals as a privilege and, as a result, companies who want to be able to do this must comply with the obligations imposed on them. This system replaced the old work permit system and a recent court decision has confirmed that a high degree of trust is placed on sponsors and that, where they have failed to comply with their duties, it will be difficult to challenge any enforcement action taken by the Home Office.
What are the sponsor duties?
There are 4 main duties imposed by the Home Office:
1) Record keeping - Companies must keep stringent records of their employees' right to work, contact details, evidence of payment of wages and evidence from their recruitment exercises. The Home Office provides details of what documents must be retained and keeping evidence is just as important as following the correct procedures.
2) Reporting - Once an employee has been issued a Certificate of Sponsorship the company is obliged to report certain events to the Home Office, for example: changes to their start date, unauthorised absences, changes in circumstances, changes in employment location or the end of the contract.
3) Compliance - Companies must comply with all employment and immigration legislation. This is not just in relation to sponsored staff but applies to all members of staff regardless of nationality. This means an employer has to keep up to date with the Home Office guidance, which changes on a regular basis. The Home Office will not accept ignorance of any changes as an excuse for non compliance so it is vital the procedures for complying with the Sponsor Duties are regularly reviewed and amended.
4) Co-operation - The Home Office can audit a company or request information from it and this must be provided within set timescales. This means that information must be easily accessible as otherwise there is a risk that a deadline will be missed. As an example, I have seen a case where the Home Office suspended a Sponsor Licence because the employer could not provide a list of staff contact details during an audit as they were stored off site.
How can you ensure compliance?
The first step to complying with the sponsor duties is to assess your existing systems and make sure they allow you to record the information you need. There is no gold standard and the appropriate system will depend on the company but having clear policies and procedures will help to protect the company.
Secondly, it is important to make sure that staff who are dealing with immigration are properly aware of the policies and procedures. In the past I have suggested that clients ask all sponsored staff to sign a document confirming they are aware that they must update their employer if any of the listed events occur. In the event of non compliance this can then be shown to the Home Office to demonstrate that the company took all available steps to comply.
Finally, there is no point in having systems in place if you don't check they are being applied properly. Carrying out regular checks and audits will allow a company to identify any potential issues before they become a problem.
What can we do to help?
We can advise companies on the Sponsorship Licence process and the steps they need to take to make their systems compliant.
We offer support packages for new sponsors and a retainer service for existing sponsors who need advice or tailored updates on the requirements imposed on them. We are also able to offer fixed priced audits and training sessions for employers to help them manage their sponsor licence and maximise their use of it.
If you would like to discuss how to comply with the sponsor duties please contact me on the details below.