Tier 2 Minister of Religion: Sponsor Licence Compliance
When you apply for a Tier 2 Minister of Religion Sponsor Licence you soon appreciate there are many hurdles to overcome. However, the Sponsor Licence Application itself is just one aspect of the work involved with running a Sponsor Licence.
When submitting your Tier 2 Licence Application you confirm that you will comply with all sponsor duties.
However this isn’t a ‘tick-box agreement’, as you will be held to account by the Home Office (HO) in the quite likely event that you are inspected.
Why is compliance so important?
Religious organisations that fail to comply with their duties will routinely face the following consequences:
- Their Licence will be revoked
- Any sponsored migrant, usually the minister of religion, will have their employment terminated
- The migrant will usually have their Visa curtailed to 60 days – in practice leaving insufficient time to find an alternative visa route, which means they will have to leave the UK, and/or
- The employer can’t sponsor any more migrants and a ‘cooling-off’ period will apply before they can sponsor again
What are a Sponsor’s duties and responsibilities?
The underlying purpose behind the sponsor duties are to:
- Prevent the abuse of assessment procedures
- Capture any early patterns of migrant behaviour that may cause concern
- Address possible weaknesses in the process which might cause those patterns, and
- Monitor compliance with the Immigration Rules
In practice there are a number of key duties which Licence Holders must adhere to.
Record keeping duties
You are expected to retain certain documents and make them available on request. The required documents are set out in Appendix D and will be a key focus of any inspection.
For example, the migrant’s contact details must be kept up-to-date and you should have a record of previous addresses on file.
The HO is also very interested in checking that you conducted an appropriate Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT), where applicable, and there are highly prescribed documents you must retain to satisfactorily evidence the Test (again, see Appendix D).
Right to Work checks should be undertaken regardless of whether or not you are sponsoring migrants, in order to provide your organisation with a statutory defence against prosecution.
However, whilst this remains an advisable but not mandatory position for most employers, a Licence Holder must undertake these checks and keep appropriate records to comply with its sponsor duties. Failure to do so is itself a breach of sponsor duties.
You must report certain information in relation to the business and sponsored migrant within a certain timeframe. For example, if a sponsored migrant doesn’t turn up for their first day of work, or is absent from work for more than 10 working days without permission then you must report this within 10 working days of the 10th day of absence.
Complying with the law
There are various specific ways that you must show you are complying with the law. For example, you must only employ migrants who are appropriately qualified, registered, or experienced.
A further requirement which can catch out religious organisations, particularly those who provide accommodation or other payment in kind in-lieu of salary, is that you comply with all employment law including National Living Wage and holiday pay entitlement.
The jobholder must undertake the work contained in the job description of the advert used in the recruitment process and the advert must accord with the relevant job code as contained in the list of SOC codes at Appendix J.
The HO will scrutinise the job advert and is particularly concerned about positions which have been tailored to exclude resident workers from being recruited.
Expect the HO to be meticulous in using the duties as described in the job description as an effective checklist when interviewing the migrant about their work.
The visit and sanctions
The HO can carry out a compliance inspection of your organisation either before or after your Licence is granted. You will either be given advance notice of the visit or the HO will turn up unannounced.
The HO carries out random as well as intelligence-led checks. You should assume that you will be inspected at some point during your Licence. If applying for a Licence, prepare to be inspected before it’s granted.
The HO will usually interview the person responsible for sponsorship as well as the sponsored migrant(s). Expect individual interviews to last upwards of two hours.
Following the inspection you will either pass or have your Licence suspended, downgraded, or revoked.
If your Licence is downgraded from an ‘A’ to ‘B’ rating, then you can’t sponsor any new migrants and you are given an action plan and up to three months to become compliant (the action plan will currently set you back £1,476).
However, in our experience the most common outcome is for a Licence to be revoked. If the HO decide there are grounds to revoke one Licence then it will go on to revoke any other Licences you hold in other sub-tier categories.
The HO also has the power to suspend your Licence pending further enquiries. During the suspension you are not permitted to sponsor any new migrants.
How to stay compliant: systems and policies
The key to staying compliant is to have adequate systems and procedures in place, both to avoid committing any breaches and to be able to clearly show the HO that you are on top of things.
It’s not possible to go through all of the policies in this blog, but here are some key pointers.
Unfortunately, even if you get on top of the 208 page guidance document for sponsors then you are still not home and dry as HO policies change regularly.
So how do you stay up-to-date with the changes? This is an issue which sponsors are almost always quizzed on when inspected.
There is a clue in the HO instruction that sponsors must log into their Sponsor Management System (SMS) at least every month. Therefore one solution might be to diarise a monthly reminder to log in and check for updates.
Have a policy to report absences
The HO want to know how you will comply with your reporting requirements in respect of any sponsored migrant. It’s therefore essential to have an effective policy and reporting lines in place to monitor attendance.
Diarising visa dates
It’s also essential that you carry out any follow-up Right to Work checks. You should have a policy in place to ensure that follow-up checks take place a couple of months prior to the expiry of the Visa. Again, diarising can be an effective way of setting reminders.
Aside from diarising, according to the expiry of any Visa, it’s also good practice to set periodic reminders to check the immigration status of all employees who haven’t already provided you with a Right to Work document giving you a permanent statutory excuse (e.g. British and EU passport holders, those with Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) or Permanent Residence Documents).
Changes in a migrant’s circumstances
In order to comply with your duties to inform the HO of a change in circumstances in respect of sponsored employees, you will again need adequate systems in place (again you can set a periodic reminder to check whether there have been any relevant changes).
You can also build into the migrant’s contract of employment requirements to inform you of any relevant changes in circumstances (e.g. if they move address). Note, however, such clauses will not alone be sufficient to prove compliance as you are essentially discharging your duties onto the migrant.