I jumped on a call to the client the other day to congratulate them on securing a sponsorship licence and go through the general compliance issues with them as a newly minted sponsor. They are a young, ambitious start-up, developing ground-breaking technology in the medical diagnosis area.
After thanking me and the team for the work we had done, the next thing client told me, is ‘I’m terrified. I laughed it off. Across the line, there was a woman who had taken chances, left a lucrative career to start a business and develop a product that she believed in. It was someone who had the courage, guts and tireless energy to start a business and push it into a stable growth trajectory. By the time we were having that conversation, I had worked with her for long enough to see the long hours she was putting in, the missed weekends, the constant international travels and so on. So, my first reaction was to laugh that someone like that would find being a sponsor to an overseas migrant terrifying. It must have been a joke, surely!
We continued our conversation and then she repeated the same thing, in different words this time and I could not ignore it anymore. So, I took it in and thought about it. I realised I had seen this reaction from countless clients, maybe in less candid words. This was the reason that I decided to sit down and write a piece that would hopefully alleviate similar fears in everyone else, who is a holder of Sponsor Licence or is thinking of becoming one.
So, what is so scary about being a Sponsor to an Overseas migrant?
The added responsibility and hassle are not an easy commitment. Businesses that have been long established and have all aspects of their operations running smoothly, will not usually concern themselves with such worries. New businesses, in particular, Startups are a different story. It is to be pointed out that established businesses fail in upholding their Sponsor duties just as often, if not more often, as bad habits would have more time to develop there, however, the confidence with administrative duties is normally higher with more established businesses.
Start-ups, as I already said, are different and here is why. It so happens that I work with startups a lot and I am quite familiar with their unique culture, their singular perspective and mindset. Life in a Start-up is exciting, filled with passion and oftentimes slightly terrifying. Much like taking a plunge into the water from a high edge. It takes a special type of individual to start on that journey. It is also very taxing and, in most cases, requires the full attention, energy and passion of the individual or individuals embarking on this journey. Therefore, what they don’t want to be doing is adding other variables to their already busy lives. Often, this reluctance translates into many of them missing out on the chance to widen their talent pool. In today’s dynamic market, the continuously expanding globalisation has meant new opportunities for Startups, but it has also meant the human resources have become more precious than ever. Individuals with the required level of skills and knowledge can make or break a start-up. There can be no compromise when it comes to hiring for a Start-up, yet many are reluctant to look for talent outside of the UK, often enough with significant damage to their business.
I often get calls from potential clients to enquire about the possibility to hire overseas workers. In most cases, they will either ask ‘how difficult is it to get a Sponsor Licence’ or even go further with ‘it’s too complicated, isn’t it?’. Well, the good news I give to those clients is – it isn’t. The bad news is, there is a lot more to a Sponsorship Licence than just getting it.
How difficult it is to get a Sponsorship Licence?
Getting a Sponsorship Licence is not a particularly difficult process. There are requirements to be met and formalities to comply with, but an experienced solicitor specialising in Sponsorship Licences will be able to assist and quite effortlessly lead you to the coveted Licence. The best immigration solicitors who have experience in dealing with global mobility issues, know how to map things out to ensure that not only the Sponsorship Licence is secured, but it can properly serve its purpose.
First, let’s have a look at the general requirements for the Sponsorship Licence.
In a nutshell, if you are a genuine organisation, you are honest, dependable and reliable, you are offering genuine employment and you are capable of meeting your duties as a Sponsor.
The first two requirements are normally not difficult to meet, at least not if the business is a genuinely trading organisation. In most cases, it is more about how credible your business looks, what kind of history it has and what kind of presence.
The third requirement can seem challenging, however in most cases a vacant position with a history of attempted recruitment will be sufficient.
The most challenging part is the last part: being able to meet the duties of a Sponsor. Here it takes diligence and proper administrative organisation. This is also the time-consuming part and the part my client from above was worried about.
So, how can an organisation assure they do not fall foul of these Sponsor duties?
What are the Sponsor Duties?
The first part of the duties of any Sponsorship Licence holder are the record-keeping duties. This means that the Sponsor organisation needs to keep accurate and updated records of their personnel. There are specific documents that the Organisation is meant to keep and Passport and BRP are one of the most significant ones.
The next set of duties falls under the Reporting duties. The Sponsoring organisation will have a duty to report certain changes or events to the Home Office. These duties include reporting when the migrant’s circumstances change, ie salary raise, position change etc, they will further need to report on certain behaviour, such as missing work for more than 10 days, being on unpaid leave for more than 4 weeks, or if their employment is terminated for any reason etc.
Another set of duties deals with compliance with the law in respect of Sponsoring an overseas migrant. As such, understanding who you can sponsor and in what circumstances is crucial.
In all cases, the Sponsor should not sponsor anyone unless there is a genuine vacancy. Cooperation with the Home Office throughout the period when the business is a Sponsor Licence holder is vital.
It is important to be well-aware of your sponsor duties. Any failure to uphold the sponsor duties may lead to the sponsorship licence being suspended of revoked, leading to dramatic results for the organisation. I have seen situations where a revoked sponsor Licence had meant the organisation lost nearly 20% of their workforce overnight.
No matter how well-aware of these duties, there is always the concern that something might have been missed, or some of the rules were not understood correctly etc. Professional help is always recommended and the safest way of ensuring your continued success.
This is the reason I always recommend to my clients to have external audits carried out by immigration specialists. Periodic audits ensure that the business is on track with keeping up with their duties, that the record-keeping duties and overall compliance is being adhered to. This can also have a secondary effect, in case of a Home Office inspection, the knowledge that the Sponsor has, in fact, invested in professional help to ensure that they are compliant can show that the Sponsor Organisation is taking its role seriously. This will have a positive effect.
I usually recommend that these audits take place at least once a year, unless a serious change has taken place, as a restructuring of the business, Merger, Acquisition, large expansion where new branches were created etc. In which case, the Immigration lawyer should be involved, ideally from the onset. Advice from a top Immigration Lawyer can be indispensable in such circumstances and should not be dispensed with.
I also recommend that they do not treat the sponsorship licence application process as a one-off thing and ensure that they keep in touch with their immigration solicitors. I often get calls from prospective clients seeking help or information in respect of how to use the Sponsorship Management System or how to act in a specific situation etc. Each time, I am surprised if I hear that they obtained the Licence through an immigration adviser but are not in contact with them anymore. That is a mistake, but unfortunately, it also talks about the possible lack of professionalism on the side of the lawyers.
Sponsorship Licence is an ongoing commitment. Therefore, having it does not end the relationship you have with your lawyer. Or at least it shouldn’t. You have invested a lot in finding the right personnel, securing the sponsorship for them and often enough in securing their visas. So, why would you jeopardise it by not maintaining a relationship with your layer where simple questions that can seriously affect your business can be immediately addressed?
There are also options to appoint your legal representative as ‘key personnel, which will mean they will have access to your Sponsorship Management System. This, however, might not work for all organisations and not all Immigration firms offer this service.
Overall, holding a Sponsorship Licence does not have to be anything stressful or terrifying. It can be indispensable for the growth and performance of your business and with a help of the best immigration solicitors out there, the Sponsorship Licence and the duties that come with it can be easily managed.