When can the Home Office visit you?
The short answer is that the Home Office can visit at any time! Their visits can be announced or unannounced!
A visit could be undertaken as part of the Home Office's pre-licence checks on an applicant organisation (including where a sponsor is seeking to add a new tier to its licence), or following an application to renew a licence or a report/notification has been provided to the Home Office. It may also occur where the Home Office has concerns that a sponsor is complying with its duties and responsibilities, e.g. where it has received intelligence/allegations on a particular issue.
In our experience there are a few types of business which are very likely to be visited prior to the application being approved, specifically:
- start-up businesses, particularly when applying for a Tier 2 (General) licence
- a business which has a history or alleged history of previous immigration or related non-compliance
- a business which operates almost entirely without a permanent office
- any business which does not look like a ‘typical’ business to UKVI
- businesses in the hospitality sector
Where can the Home Office visit you?
The Home Office can of course visit your main office and they can also visit any site that you control. It may however also want to visit addresses where sponsored employees will be or are working (which could include the premises of a third party).
Where an employee is working at the site of a third party, they will want to see evidence of arrangements between the sponsor and the third party that would ensure full co-operation by the third party. It is your responsibility to ensure that the third party is aware of the possibility of unplanned and unannounced visits and checks being conducted at their premises, and to ensure their full co-operation.
As a result of resourcing constraints, some Tier 2 and 5 sponsors have yet to be visited by the Home Office. The Home Office does intend to visit all licensed sponsors at some stage and sponsors should ensure that they are fully aware at all times of their duties and responsibilities, and that they are able to demonstrate that they are compliant, or for new applicants, capable of being compliant. To this end you should ensure that you are familiar with the up-to-date guidance issued by the Home Office. This can be found at the Sponsor Guidance Tiers 2 and 5 and the Modernised Guidance on the Points based System sponsor compliance visits.
How to Prepare for a Visit
If you are lucky enough to receive notice of a compliance visit, you should immediately carry out an HR audit. Drummond Miller can also assist and carry out an external audit if this has not been done recently to double check that your relevant HR systems and record keeping remains compliant and, if necessary, to action any changes or reports that need to be made prior to the visit.
All relevant migrant files must be available and accessible to the Home Office visiting officer and if any information is stored elsewhere, e.g. on a HR database or IT system this must be available and accessible for the visiting officer to view, even if it has to be on a laptop.
Even if you don’t have any migrant workers at present, it is helpful to provide some example files of settled workers to show which records are kept for them and how they are kept. The Home Office may also interview migrant workers as part of the visit, and your migrant employees should be aware that this may happen.
An up-to-date employer's liability certificate and any health and safety certificates or other legally required registration documents must be on display at the premises.
We can also advise on the specific documents that you should have available in addition to your migrant specific documents, which can make the visit go a little more smoothly.
If there are any allegations or suspicions of misconduct, non-compliance or deception, relevant evidence to refute this should be available. Similarly, if the organisation is aware that the visit is being made to verify any documents sent with a sponsor licence application, additional supporting evidence should be provided. Drummond Miller can advise regarding any specifics.
It is important to note that many, Sponsors do not receive notice of an intention to visit and you should regularly audit your HR systems and maintain up-to-date records.
What Happens at The Visit?
The Modernised Guidance on the PBS sponsor compliance visits contains detailed guidance for Home Office compliance officers on how they should conduct visits and makes essential reading for your Authorising Officer. The document can be found here: MG - PBS sponsor guidance
The Authorising Officer should be available for interview by the visiting officer. The visiting officer may also wish to interview your existing sponsored migrant employees, this would be to verify their current salaries and duties and responsibilities. Non-sponsored migrants are not under an obligation to answer any questions, you should note however, that immigration officers do have certain powers under the Immigration Act 1971 to conduct examinations of persons. This is a whole other aspect of law which cannot be readily covered here.
The Home Office Visiting Officer can carry out any investigations that they deem appropriate. The most common include requesting and reviewing sample work of sponsored migrants, so as to check whether or not their actual roles accord with the job description and the skill level stated on their CoS and carrying out detailed checks of salary payments, e.g. to see if a sponsored migrant's salary level was artificially inflated so as to ensure that a restricted CoS was obtained.
What Happens after The Visit?
After the visit, the visiting officer will prepare a report which is submitted to the case working team within the Home Office. Their contact details including email should be requested in case any follow-up communications need to be made. If it is a pre-licence visit and there is a need for the application to be decided urgently, this should be impressed upon the officer. They will never confirm at the pre-licence visit what their recommendation to the case working team will be.
How Can Drummond Miller help?
We can have one of our trained staff attend the visit in order to support your Authorising Officer. We will ordinarily:
- take full notes of all questions and responses – this is important should there be any subsequent disagreements about what was said by whom and in case any interview notes are not accepted by the sponsor as being a true record
- provide correction or clarification if your authorising officer makes any inadvertent factual errors or omissions in their responses
- challenge any incorrect assertions made by the visiting officer this is particularly important when it concerns sponsor duties and responsibilities
- where the visit is in more contentious circumstances, for example where a previous licence application was refused, we can provide oral representations in relation to the application
Drummond Miller’s role is a supportive one. We cannot answer questions on your behalf, the Home Office want to ensure that you or your authorising officer understands the duties and responsibilities involved in sponsoring migrants. We cannot be seen to be coaching you or your staff. Our staff are there to ensure that incorrect assertions or allegations are robustly challenged. If any inadvertent errors or clarifications are subsequently realised that these are be followed up by email to the visiting officer and the relevant Home Office case working team as soon as possible. It is important that the Home Office receive complete and accurate responses to all of their questions.
If this is something that you want Drummond miller to assist then please do not hesitate to contact Blair Melville