Surviving A UKVI Compliance Visit: What You Need To Know

Binu Madhu
02/16/2024

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The purpose and importance of a UKVI compliance visit

The UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) does a compliance check on businesses when they want to keep track of the business’s day to day operation and HR system. Basically, it means that the UKVI will check if the business is meeting their obligations as a sponsor licence holder.

This visit holds significance for businesses as it will determine if the sponsor licence is going to be revoked or not.

The Sponsorship Management System (SMS) is essential for the Home Office as it records the data on sponsor licence holders and their employed foreign workers. It allows the Home Office to keep a track of sponsors and see if they are maintaining their record or not. For a Level 1 SMS user, it is vital to record the day-to-day activities of the migrant employees.

If the Home Office feels that the business is not complying with the obligations regularly then they can penalize by either downgrading the licence rating or straight away cancel the sponsor licence.

But a compliance visit doesn’t always mean that the Home Office is going to suspend or revoke the licence. If they are satisfied with the business operation, then the licence is retained.

Given how crucial this is for any business, it is essential for SMS users in an organisation to keep on top of their sponsor duties. Additionally, it will be wise to stay up to date with any change in rules by the UK government.

Understanding the UKVI Compliance Visit

Who might be visited and why.

UKVI compliance visit can either be on-site or done through a digital compliance inspection. A remote compliance visit is when the business has an interview with the licence officers through a video conference before or after the decision on their licence has been made.

The Home Office operates with a degree of flexibility when deciding to visit business premises. There’s no predetermined schedule or strict criteria, meaning that such visits could be entirely random. However, there are instances when the Home Office acts upon intelligence suggesting anomalies or suspicious activities associated with a particular business. Acting on such indications, the UK Home Office may choose to conduct an on-site investigation to ascertain the facts.

Moreover, for businesses holding a B-rated sponsor licence, visits from the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) can have an additional purpose. Such visits serve as a means for the UKVI to assess the business’s operations and determine whether they meet the criteria for an upgrade to A-rating in their sponsorship licence status. It is crucial for businesses to maintain a high standard of compliance, especially if they aim for an A-rated licence. The Home Office’s proactive approach ensures that only deserving businesses enjoy the benefits of an upgraded licence, thereby maintaining the integrity of the immigration system.

What UKVI is looking for during these visits.

When the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) department conducts visits to businesses, especially those sponsoring foreign workers, they are essentially ensuring that the company is adhering to the UK’s immigration rules and sponsorship duties.

Here are some key aspects they typically examine during these compliance visits:

1. Record Keeping: UKVI will check that the business is maintaining appropriate records for each sponsored migrant.

2. Genuine Vacancy: They want to ensure that the job roles filled by sponsored migrants genuinely exist and are not just a means to facilitate someone’s entry or stay in the UK.

3. Sponsorship Management System (SMS): The UKVI will review if the company is efficiently using the SMS. They’ll check for timely reporting of relevant changes or events (e.g., if a migrant doesn’t show up for work).

4. Accurate Salary and Employment Details: Ensuring that migrants are paid the salary stated on their Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) and that their job duties align with what was originally detailed.

5. Right to Work Checks: Ensuring the company has a consistent process for conducting right to work checks and retains copies of relevant documents.

6. Professional Accreditations: If the role requires professional accreditations or qualifications, UKVI will verify that these are genuine and up to date.

7. Operating Legally: Ensuring the business itself is operating within the bounds of the law, including adhering to employment and tax laws.

8. Cooperation with UKVI: The business’s willingness to cooperate and provide any requested documentation or clarification during the visit.

9. Training and Awareness: Checking if the company provides necessary training to its staff regarding compliance with sponsorship duties and if there’s a designated person (or team) responsible for immigration compliance.

10. Previous History: Any past breaches or non-compliance will be considered, and UKVI might scrutinise repeat offenders more closely.

11. Physical Infrastructure: Ensuring that the business has a genuine operating base and isn’t just a front for illicit activities. This could involve checking the business premises, infrastructure, and nature of operations.

In addition to the above, the UKVI officer will look for any discrepancies or signs that suggest the business might not be trustworthy or compliant.

The difference between announced and unannounced visits

The Home Office may opt for either announced or unannounced compliance checks at your establishment. If you’re faced with an unexpected audit and deny the Home Office’s entry for the check, they cannot break their way in. However, doing so might lead to your business being marked as non-compliant. Therefore, your sponsorship license could be at risk of rejection, suspension, or revocation.

It’s more probable for a compliance visit to be unexpected if it’s driven by specific intelligence (like potential discrepancies reported by HMRC) or if past concerns about sponsorship license compliance exist. Given how unpredictable these surprise audits, it’s imperative for your HR, recruitment, and managerial systems to be solid and always prepared for such assessments.

Preparing for the Visit

Adequate preparation for a sponsor compliance visit is an essential task. Taking the time to carry out a thorough review of all HR files and ensuring that key personnel and sponsored staff are prepped and ready for interviews are integral steps to help the business pass a compliance visit. It is easier to address any license breaches ahead of time than it is to try and throw together necessary information quickly after being notified of an announced visit.

Audits can be stressful, but not if you have prepared properly. Establishing a Compliance Management System or program prior to the audit is key, as it will help identify areas that need reviewing before the auditor arrives. Also, updating internal policies regularly will ensure they stay compliant with the Home Office requirements, reducing potential risks during any unannounced visits.

It is important for businesses that hold a sponsor licence to prepare for a sponsor compliance visit as part of their ongoing routine. Doing so helps to ensure licensor standards are maintained, risks of non-compliance are mitigated, and resources required in preparing for the visit can be allocated in advance. A thorough pre-visit review will cover key personnel’s compliance knowledge and understanding of sponsorship obligations, an audit of the business’ HR files, including documentation complete by workers and staff members on sponsored workers, mock interviews with key personnel and sponsored staff, as well as addressing any licence breaches that have been identified through the file reviews.

Preparation time is such an integral part of license requirements that leaving this task until notice of an announced visit can cause significant logistical challenges.

If your business needs assistance with preparation for compliance visits, contact our corporate immigration solicitors at 020 8175 4000 or drop an email at enquiries@citylegalsolicitors.co.uk

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