Acquiring a sponsor licence requires close attention to Home Office requirements, in terms of supplied supporting documents and the online application. However for many sponsors, once the licence is secured and they proceed to sponsor a non-EEA employee that is largely the end of their contact with Home Office with regards to the licence. Indeed the Home Office is particularly bad at explaining that the acquisition of a sponsor licence requires the assumption of some quite specific duties on behalf of the sponsor. A failure to meet these duties can lead to a downgrading and restriction of the licence or its complete revocation.
These duties are not particularly onerous, but they are specific to the licencing system and require some work to ensure compliance. Employers should be aware that certain triggers will result in a compliance visit from the Home Office, in particular when a licence comes up for renewal. The difficulty with this is that 4 years will have passed since the licence was acquired and the internal policy in relation to sponsors has been massively extended and refined. Sponsors then coming to deal with the Home Office again after 4 years find a significantly different system to the one under which they initially applied.
Renewing a licence properly is extremely important, a failure to do so will affect the rights to work and reside of the sponsored employees. Yet there are a number of pitfalls that can frustrate the renewal, necessitating various change of circumstance requests to be made before the renewal application itself, to ensure the existing licence is in good shape.
Given the trigger point of a renewal and the general increase of sponsor compliance visits, it is extremely important to get professional advice at an early stage. A perceived benignity in the system may exist from past dealings, but take it from us, this was more to do with a lack of clarity in the guidance and lack of resources on the Home Office's part. Compliance is now a Home Office's key concern and officers who detect failings on behalf of the sponsor will not hesitate to take action.
All is not lost though, there are various avenues of redress, including judicial review. In many cases though engagement with the sponsor team and an understanding of their own operational guidance can bring about resolution. The key issue is getting advice before problems occur.