Holding a sponsor licence puts a company in a special position of trust with the Home Office. By virtue of being a sponsor, a company is agreeing to monitor migrant activity and help the Home Office to ensure that the immigration system is not abused. When a company loses its sponsor licence or lets it expire, the consequences for employees whose status depends on the company’s compliance can be far-reaching.
Revocation – Impact on migrant workers’ visas
If a company has had its sponsor licence revoked, this should lead to the curtailment of permission of any migrant workers’ leave to remain. Essentially, without a valid licence, all migrant workers will no longer be lawfully employed by the company in question.
Starting from the date of the revocation, sponsored employees will typically be given 60 days (or however long is left on their visa if it’s less than 60 days) to leave the UK or to seek leave to remain via an alternative route. This could include applying under a different visa category or seeking a new employer who holds a valid sponsor licence. The 60-day leave period is unlikely to be given to a worker that knew their employer was in breach of the sponsor licence rules and duties.
For an employee who suddenly finds themselves without a valid sponsor, it will be crucial to act quickly, particularly once the 60-day grace period starts. For those wanting to remain in the Skilled Worker category, finding employment with a company who is listed as a sponsor licence holder could be a useful avenue to pursue; this would ensure that an applicant is approaching companies with the capacity to maintain their immigration status.
What happens if a sponsor licence expires and the company has not noticed?
In contrast to a situation where a sponsor’s licence has been revoked, it is possible for a company to let their sponsor licence expire without renewing it. Sponsor licences are valid for four years. Prior to its expiry, the Home Office will send standard emails to the sponsor to alert them to the fact that the licence will shortly expire and needs to be renewed. Information about renewing a sponsor licence is available on our website here.
If an organisation hasn’t ensured that their key personnel’s information is up to date or does not have robust HR practices in place to actively monitor their licence expiry dates, it is possible for a licence to lapse and for a company to continue employing migrant workers without realising that they do not have the authority to do so. In these circumstances, the sponsored workers’ visas will likely be curtailed (as above), but sometimes the Home Office are slow to issue their curtailment notices, and this may mean the worker might not become aware that their employer’s licence has expired until they apply for settlement or further leave to remain. This is because the worker will need to input the sponsor licence number into their online application – it will soon become clear that their sponsor’s licence is no longer valid.
Migrant workers will then most likely be in a situation where they have very little time to act; whether to pursue settlement, vary their leave to a different immigration category or seek a new sponsor. This is because the standard 60-day curtailment period will not apply to a migrant worker who was in the process of extending their leave or applying for indefinite leave to remain; in these circumstances, the Home Office can simply direct that a person’s leave is valid until the expiry of their visa.
For those hoping to extend their permission to remain as a Skilled Worker, a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) is required, so the sponsoring organisation would need to consider urgently applying for a sponsor licence and then assigning a new CoS to the worker for their application. This is, of course, assuming the worker cannot/does not want to secure a CoS from another organisation that holds a sponsor licence.
For those hoping to secure settlement, a CoS isn’t required, but the Immigration Rules confirm that the worker’s sponsor must still hold a sponsor licence, and they must still require the worker for the foreseeable future. Therefore, it would still be advisable for the organisation to submit a priority application for a sponsor licence, and provide robust evidence to the Home Office to prove they can meet their sponsorship duties going forward. Bear in mind that priority processing may not be permitted, and even a compliance visit arranged, by the Home Office where past breaches have occurred. This will have an impact on the employee’s ability to submit a timely and viable application under Appendix Skilled Worker.
Regardless of whether the worker is applying for an extension of their permission to remain or settlement, they have arguably been present in the UK in breach of their permission to remain from the date their sponsor’s licence lapsed. Therefore, extensive evidence will need to accompany their application explaining the reasons they weren’t aware of the licence expiry date, what their employer has done to rectify the issue, and information about what steps will now be taken to ensure the licence doesn’t expire again. We would recommend a sponsored employee takes note of their employer’s licence renewal date, especially where they may be the only sponsored worker. Legal advice in relation to your next application and the timing of the various steps is, we think, essential.
If the licence is not reinstated or the affected employee has not made a new Skilled Worker (or other) immigration application, they will have to leave the UK.
Clearly, the risks to migrant workers and any applicable dependants can be extensive when a company does not abide by its duties as a sponsor licence holder. If you find yourself in this situation, seek professional advice immediately to mitigate any long-term repercussions for your immigration status. Our team of experts is here to help; call us today on 0161 234 6800 or complete our online enquiry form.