UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) has confirmed that with lockdown easing, it is resuming sponsor licence compliance visits. Initial visits will be focused on organisations that have a pending sponsor licence application.
Confirming the resumption of visits in a recent message on the Sponsorship Management System, UKVI was keen to emphasise that visits will be carried out in a Covid-safe manner:
FOR THE ATTENTION OF ALL SPONSORS: Due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and the restrictions imposed by the UK Government in December 2020, all sponsorship and compliance auditing was suspended. As the UK Government has started to ease restrictions, we will shortly be resuming compliance visit activity. To ensure that we continue to operate within a safe environment, ensuring the safety of our customers and that of our officers, we have made some changes to our process when conducting a compliance audit. This will involve complying with Public Health England (PHE) advice including the wearing of Personal Protective Equipment as appropriate and the observation of social distancing measures. Should we conduct a compliance visit, our officers have been instructed to also comply with any measures you have in place.
What can sponsors expect during a compliance visit?
During a routine compliance visit, UKVI will generally send one visiting officer to the organisation in question (typically a business, charity or education provider).
The officer will ask questions about key areas of sponsor compliance. The questions are designed to check that the sponsor is (in the case of licence holders) or is likely to be (for pending applications) compliant with the various duties set out in the relevant sponsor guidance.
Detailed information about the sponsor duties can be found:
- here, if the sponsor licence is for the work routes; and
- here, if the sponsor licence is for the study routes.
There’s also caseworker guidance. Although this is designed for UKVI’s officers to follow, it provides some handy tips for sponsors and their legal advisors.
For example, page 83 confirms that if you ask for a copy of the visiting officer’s notes, they must provide these “immediately” if there are photocopying facilities on site. If not, a copy must be sent by post. In practice, notes are usually sent by email if requested. The important thing here is that many sponsors don’t realise they can actually ask for notes — these can be critical if there is a decision to suspend the licence as a result of compliance concerns.
Is UKVI taking enforcement action against sponsors?
Because compliance visits slowed down during lockdown, we have seen this have a knock-on effect on enforcement action.
Looking at the most recently published sponsorship transparency data for February 2021, we can see at SC_01 (the final tab) that the number of suspensions of licences of Tier 2 sponsors (now Skilled Worker) fell to zero in the last quarter of 2020.
Suspension action had been significantly higher in the 12 months before then:
There was a similar decline in the number of revocations.
We can expect to see an increase in enforcement again over the coming months now that compliance visits have resumed.