Sponsor licences are initially granted to employers for a period of four years. If you wish to continue employing non-EEA workers beyond this four-year point, you will need to apply to the Home Office to renew your sponsor licence ahead of its expiry.
Sponsor licences do not automatically renew. An expired sponsor licence will mean that you no longer have the required permission to sponsor workers on pints-based visas, such as the Tier 2 visa. Your sponsored employees will no longer be lawfully employed by your organisation, rendering them in breach of their visa conditions and potentially subject to curtailment of leave.
This means for most sponsor licence holders, ensuring their licence is successfully renewed will be business-critical.
What is the sponsor licence renewal process?
The sponsor licence renewal process is in many ways more demanding on employers than the initial licence application.
Through the renewal process, the Home Office will need to see evidence that your organisation has been compliant with its licence during the four years, and that it will continue to be compliant for a further four years if granted.
To apply to renew your licence, you must submit an application through the Sponsor Management System (SMS), and pay the requisite fee.
However, before submitting the sponsor licence renewal application it will be important to carry out a thorough check that all details held in the SMS about your organisation and its sponsored works are correct and up to date.
This includes for example checking the details of your key personnel – the Authorising Officer, your key contact for the UKVI and the Level 1 user; organisation contact details; and details relating to your sponsored workers’ salaries and duties.
If, upon receipt your renewal request, the Home Office identifies incorrect or out of date information held on the SMS, this is likely to result in issues with your licence renewal, and in severe cases can be deemed grounds for a downgrade or refusal to renew your licence.
It is also important to note the Home Office continually update the requirements sponsors must meet and the duties they must comply with. It is your responsibility as a sponsor to ensure you continue to comply with these requirements and that your renewal application meets current compliance duties.
When should you apply to renew?
You can apply to renew up to three months before your current licence expires.
Your sponsorship licence renewal is not automatic, You will be prompted by email to renew by the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) 120 days before the licence expires and then at 30 day intervals until the final reminder two weeks before the expiry date.
If your licence is left to expire – perhaps unintentionally due to reminders being sent to old contact details on the SMS – you will no longer be permitted to lawfully sponsor non-EEA workers under the Points based system.
Diarising the licence expiry date and ensuring the renewal application is submitted in advance of the expiry date will help to avoid any issues that could impact your PBS workers’ visa permissions. Also ensure that the contact details on the SMS are up to date to receive the expiry reminders.
Home Office site inspections
To assess if you are still compliant as a sponsor licence holder, UKVI will review your application and all related documentation including previously issued Certificates of Sponsorship. They may also request further information from you.
It is common during the renewal application process for UKVI to attend the sponsor’s premises to carry out an onsite inspection and investigate any concerns or risks with renewing the licence.
In many cases, these inspections are unannounced so it is important your records are up to date and compliance procedures are in place in anticipation of a visit during renewal.
During the visit, the Home Office may ask to see documents, check your HR and personnel systems and request further information on your reporting duties. Sponsored staff may be interviewed to ascertain whether the duties they are performing in the role, working hours, location of work and salary level are all consistent with those permitted under their visa. Recruitment procedures and documents may be analysed to ensure compliance with the Resident Labour Mark Test. Where the Home Office finds breaches in any of these areas, your renewal will be refused.
As this visit may be unannounced it is recommended that prior to completing your application for renewal a rigorous check on all documentation, systems and processes is performed, and that you are in a position to deal effectively with a compliance visit from the Home Office officials.
To ensure you are fully prepared for the renewal process you may wish to seek legal advice and ask an immigration professional to conduct a mock audit of your records and processes. Legal professionals can also remain in contact with the Home Office through the renewal process and assist with requests for additional documentation.
Common reasons why sponsor licence renewal applications fail
There are a number of reasons why the Home Office may refuse renewal of your sponsorship licence. The most common being:
- The employer has not complied with sponsor duties and responsibilities
- Adequate records have not been kept
- Changes to the company and workforce have not been promptly reported
- Enquiries from the UKVI have not been promptly responded to
- The employer has not confirmed genuine vacancies prior to offering a migrant worker employment
- Residential Labour Market Tests have been incorrectly carried out or accurate records of these tests have not been kept
In addition, sponsor guidance states that if you have received a civil penalty for employing illegal workers for failure to carry out correct Right to Work document checks on employees, your sponsor licence may be affected. If you are applying for a sponsor licence renewal and have received a civil penalty it is likely you will receive a UKVI compliance visit. If you are not able to show you are meeting your sponsor duties sufficiently, particularly in relation to the breach, it’s highly likely your renewal request will be refused.
UKVI show little tolerance for sponsor non-compliance. Sponsor licence holders are expected to have a comprehensive understanding of their immigration compliance duties.
But given the volume and complexity of duties, it is all too common for sponsors to fall foul of their obligations resulting in Home Office enforcement action – such as a refused licence renewal.
If your sponsorship licence is due to be renewed and you have concerns over completing the form, readying your systems and procedures for a possible compliance visit or aren’t sure if you’re up to date with the latest immigration rules and compliance duties, it is recommended that you seek legal advice. An immigration law specialist can ensure your organisation is prepared for renewal and equipped with the knowledge and experience needed to address any compliance issues and avoid Home Office penalties and resulting cost and disruption to your organisation.
I have written a more comprehensive guide on Tier 2 sponsorship here.