What will UKVI ask sponsor licence holders during a compliance visit?
UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) compliance officers may visit sponsors at any time to carry out checks before, or after, a decision on their sponsor licence application has been made. The purpose of a visit is to make sure that the information the sponsor gives UKVI is accurate and that it is able, and continuing, to comply with the duties and responsibilities of a licensed sponsor. Visits can be announced or unannounced.
As part of the compliance visit, the UKVI compliance officers may want to:
- Check that the sponsor is genuine and trading or operating lawfully in the UK.
- Speak to any migrant workers.
- Speak to any of the sponsor’s employees involved in the recruitment of migrant workers.
- Inspect records and systems to ensure the sponsor is following its sponsor obligations and adherence to rules, such as those relating to record keeping.
- Conduct checks on other workers to ensure the sponsor is complying with its obligation to prevent illegal working.
If any of the sponsor’s migrant workers perform their employment duties at a third party’s office, it is the sponsor’s responsibility to ensure that the third party is aware of the possibility of unplanned and unannounced visits and checks being conducted at their premises by UKVI compliance officers and to ensure their full co-operation.
Examples of the type of questions which sponsors may be asked as part of a compliance visit are set out below. This is by no means an exhaustive list(!) and there will be different approaches taken depending on whether the questions are being asked pre-licence approval, post-licence approval or, following a complaint regarding non-compliance. Some of these questions may also be asked of sponsored migrants who are interviewed by the compliance officers to verify the information given by the sponsor.
Common questions- The Organisation
What does the organisation do?
Sponsors are required to provide a summary of their business activities in the UK to demonstrate that the organisation is trading or operating in the UK. UKVI may ask for evidence of how long a sponsor has been trading or operating.
Does the organisation own or have links to any other business?
Sponsors should describe the structure of their organisation, including group companies in the UK and overseas. The organisation should know if any other group companies have their own sponsor licences.
Does the organisation have a website? If not, why not?
UKVI compliance officers will want to understand the operational and marketing side of the sponsor.
Where are the organisation’s premises?
Sponsors should disclose the premises from which they operate in the UK and those where sponsored migrants work. UKVI may ask how long a sponsor has been at premises, how long a lease is and ask to see a copy of the lease. Sponsors must notify UKVI of a sponsor change of circumstances via the sponsor management system if they occupy any new premises or vacate any premises previously listed as a place of work on the sponsor licence. Sponsors must also notify UKVI of a migrant change of circumstances if a sponsored migrant’s place of work changes during their employment.
Is the organisation operating lawfully?
Sponsors are expected to operate lawfully. For example, compliance with the National Minimum Wage requirements (unless exemptions apply) or compliance with the pension auto enrolment provisions.
Does the organisation have any mandatory accreditations?
Sponsors should be able to detail any accreditations that are required in order for it to operate lawfully.
How is the organisation funded?
Sponsors will be expected to explain any funding arrangements in place.
How much space is there at each of the organisation’s premises?
UKVI compliance officers will be keen to check that there is enough space at the sponsor’s premises to allow its sponsored workers to perform their roles.
How many staff does the organisation employ at each of its premises?
UKVI may cross reference this information against the information provided by the sponsor as part of its sponsor licence application.
The number of employees in an organisation can affect whether the Home Office classify the organisation as a “small” or “large” sponsor. A company is considered small if it meets two of the following qualifying conditions:
- A turnover of not more than £10.2 million.
- A balance sheet total of not more than £5.1 million.
- Not more than 50 employees.
The size of the business will affect both the level of the sponsor licence application fee and the immigration skills charge payable by the sponsor when sponsoring a migrant worker under the Skilled Worker route.
Sponsors are required to notify UKVI within ten working days if the size of their business changes from small to large or vice versa. The ten working day period runs from the time that the sponsor is aware of the change in the size of its business, such as when its annual accounts are produced, rather than when the accounts are submitted to Companies House.
How many staff are overseas nationals?
Employers are expected to know how many of their staff are overseas nationals and are subject to immigration control. The response to this question may be cross-referenced against the answer given by the organisation on its sponsor licence application form.
Does the organisation have a staff list?
It will assist UKVI compliance officers in their inspection if the sponsor has a full list of its staff. Ideally the sponsor will also have an organisational chart showing reporting lines and each employee’s position within the business. Depending on the size of the organisation, this may not be possible.
What is the organisation’s long-term staffing strategy regarding overseas workers?
A sponsor should be prepared to explain its approach to recruitment and whether it tries to employ settled workers in the UK where possible. The UKVI compliance officers may also want to know why the organisation has needed to recruit overseas migrants historically.
Common questions- Genuineness of the Role
How does the organisation ensure potential employees have the qualifications necessary for their role?
Sponsors are expected to check that their sponsored migrants have the necessary qualifications to perform their roles. Migrant workers must have the qualifications required for their role as stated in the job description and copies of any job advertisement where the role has been advertised.
Do staff require professional accreditations to do their jobs?
Sponsors should disclose whether staff require professional accreditations to perform their roles and how such accreditations are verified. Copies of professional accreditations should be kept on file.
Does the organisation obtain references for all new employees?
Sponsors should be able to explain how references are obtained for new employees and whether they are obtained for all staff.
How many hours per week are sponsored migrants contracted to work?
This information may be checked against the sponsored migrants’ payslips, employment contracts, certificates of sponsorship and, if relevant, the job advertisements for the role. Any sponsored migrants that are interviewed by the UKVI compliance officers may also be asked about the number of hours they work and are contracted to work. UKVI are also known to be checking information with HMRC.
What is the hourly rate of pay or annual gross salary for the roles held by sponsored migrants?
Sponsored migrants must be paid at least the appropriate rate for their role. This will be the minimum for the relevant Skilled Worker route or, if higher, the minimum salary as stated in the relevant Standard Occupation Classification Code (SOC code) for the role. Migrants’ pay information will usually be checked against their employment contracts, pay slips, certificates of sponsorship and, if relevant, any job advertisements for the role.
Any sponsored migrants that are interviewed by the UKVI compliance officers may also be asked about their level of pay.
Are staff expected to work overtime and, if so, what is the rate of overtime pay?
This information will be checked against the sponsored migrants’ payslips, employment contracts, certificates of sponsorship and, if relevant, the job advertisements for the role. Any sponsored migrants that are interviewed by the UKVI compliance officers may also be asked about the amount of overtime they work and how much they are paid for this.
How often does the organisation pay staff?
The sponsor should explain whether sponsored migrants are paid weekly, monthly or by some other arrangement.
How does the organisation pay staff?
The sponsor should explain whether sponsored migrants are paid by BACS, cash, cheque or by some other arrangement. Sponsors are not permitted to pay sponsored migrants in cash. UKVI compliance officers may request to see documentation to confirm the frequency of payments.
Including public holidays, how many days paid annual leave are staff entitled to?
This information will be checked against the sponsored migrants’ employment contracts and any holiday databases. Any sponsored migrants that are interviewed by the UKVI compliance officers may also be asked this question.
Does the organisation offer any benefits to its employees?
Sponsors are required to keep a breakdown of the value of any allowances and benefits it gives to sponsored migrants, such as cost of living, accommodation or car allowances. There are strict rules on the proportion of a migrant’s pay which can be made up of allowances, and of which allowances can be taken into account, when calculating a migrant’s gross annual salary package. C
Do any of the staff work directly with vulnerable people?
This will flag to the UKVI compliance office if DBS checks are required and if so, sponsors will be requested to provide evidence that the checks are undertaken.
Common questions- HR systems and processes
Where are personnel files kept?
Sponsors should explain where personnel files, particularly in relation to sponsored migrants, are held (for example, as locked physical files, password protected electronic documents or a specific named HR or record keeping system). Sponsors should ensure that they are able to provide the documents which they are required to keep as sponsors to UKVI compliance officers, on request. C
Where are policies and procedures kept?
Sponsors should explain where their policies and procedures are held, how sponsored migrants can access them and provide copies to the UKVI compliance officers on request.
Common questions- Record keeping and reporting duties
Is payslip and payroll information readily accessible?
In accordance with sponsor record keeping duties, sponsors must be able to make payslip and payroll information available to UKVI compliance officers on request. Sponsors should consider how best to access copies of payslips and payroll information for migrants who are paid overseas.
Are job descriptions kept for all roles?
Where a recruitment process has been undertaken it is recommended that evidence of process be kept for each role performed by a sponsored migrant. UKVI immigration officers will check if the job descriptions on file are the same as those on the Certificate of Sponsorship and reflect what the sponsored workers are doing. Where a migrant has been recruited by a different process evidence should be retained to demonstrate that the job is genuine and the migrant is suitably qualified for the role.
Do staff have contracts of employment or for services?
There is no legal requirement for an employee to have a written contract of employment. However, section 1 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 requires an employee to be given a statement of certain specified terms within two months of starting employment. It is advisable that offer letters and employment contracts include right to work in the UK clauses.
Sponsors should ensure that contracts of employment accurately reflect what sponsored migrants are doing and their rates of pay. This information should be consistent with the information recorded on the migrants’ certificates of sponsorship and any updates made via the sponsor management system. Any discrepancies are likely to be picked up by a compliance officer.
Sponsors must keep copies of each sponsored migrant’s contract of employment.
How is staff absence monitored?
Sponsors should be prepared to explain how they track and monitor staff attendance and absence records. UKVI compliance officers may want to see in practice how this is monitored. Sponsors are required to notify UKVI of any sponsored migrant’s absence without approval.
Where are workers based?
UKVI should have been informed of all the organisation’s premises where sponsored migrants may work. If a sponsored migrant’s place of work changes during their employment, UKVI should be notified of this within ten working days.
How does the organisation monitor staff working from home?
Where a sponsor allows sponsored migrants to work from home, it should be able to explain how it monitors them. This includes the hours they work, the work they perform and their attendance and absence record.
What is the organisation’s recruitment process?
Sponsors must be able to explain their approach to recruitment, including who is involved or responsible for recruitment. The sponsor may need to demonstrate that it is aware that migrant workers can only be offered genuine vacancies in the UK. The Authorising Officer should be the most senior person in the organisation responsible for the recruitment of all migrant workers. If not, the reason for this will need to be explained.
Does the organisation make attempts to recruit in the UK?
Sponsors must be able to explain their recruitment practices as the UKVI immigration officer will want to understand what attempts are made to recruit settled workers.
Have the sponsored workers or potential sponsored workers previously worked for the organisation prior to sponsorship?
If this applies, UKVI compliance officers will consider if a genuine vacancy applies.
What interview questions are asked? Does the organisation have a set list of questions when interviewing?
Sponsors should be able to detail their recruitment practices. UKVI compliance officer may check if standard questions are asked or, if different, the reasons why.
Common questions- Right to work checks
How does the organisation verify the eligibility to work of new staff?
It is unlawful to employ someone who does not have the right to reside and the appropriate right to work in the UK, or who is working in breach of their conditions of stay. The sponsor should explain the process it follows to verify the eligibility of new staff to work in the UK.
Has the organisation carried out right to work checks on all staff?
Sponsors should be able to show UKVI compliance officers evidence of the right to work checks that it has conducted on existing staff.
How does the organisation monitor entry clearance visa, or leave to remain, expiry dates?
Employers should conduct follow-up right to work checks on employees who have a time-limited permission to live and work in the UK, or require a document to evidence their right as in the case of non-EEA family members or an application pending. Sponsors should be able to demonstrate the system they have in place to monitor leave to enter or leave to remain expiry dates.
What information did you insert into your sponsor licence application?
Organisations are required to keep a copy of the information submitted to UKVI in support of their sponsor licence application. Compliance officers may request a complete copy of this information. This information will often be a useful point of reference once the licence has been approved to check which of the organisation’s premises in the UK and, if the organisation has an Intra Company Worker licence, which overseas linked companies UKVI has been made aware of.
Author: Charlotte Geesin, Legal Director at Howarths
If you are facing a visit from UKVI or if you wish to ensure that you are fully prepared to respond to any questions UKVI might ask should they visit on either an announced or, unannounced visit then please contact us on 01274 864999 and we would be happy to discuss your needs.