What is the A-Rating Sponsor Licence?
An A-rated licence is issued to UK employers sponsoring workers from foreign countries, including EEA and Swiss nationals. It shows that the sponsoring organisation has the necessary systems and processes in place to meet their sponsor duties.
If you are an employer intending to hire workers from overseas or within the UK (who have a work visa such as a Skilled Worker visa), you must apply to the Home Office for a sponsor licence.
You will automatically be awarded an A-rating once your sponsor licence application is approved.
When you receive your A-rated licence, your business will be listed in the register of licensed sponsors. You will then be able to assign Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS) to foreign employees you’ve hired to work for you in the UK.
An Overview of How the Rating System Works
Sponsor licence ratings are issued by UK Visas & Immigration (UKVI) to grade the compliance of sponsor companies and provide a way for them to get back on track when they fail in their duties.
Licence ratings apply whether a company is recruiting employees on a Skilled Worker visa or a Temporary Worker visa.
Sponsor licences have an A-rating when issued by the UKVI, and employers must maintain their systems and remain compliant in order to keep their A-rating. They are obligated to comply with the following:
- Ensure that the foreign employee has the necessary skills, experience, or professional qualification to do the job they are recruited for and keep copies of documents showing this.
- Only assign Certificates of Sponsorship to migrant workers when the job is suitable for sponsorship.
- Inform UKVI if the sponsored worker is not complying with the conditions of their visa.
Organisations must also adhere to the following sponsorship duties to maintain their A-rating:
- Report any change in circumstance of a sponsored employee to the Home Office through the Sponsor Management System (SMS) within a specific time frame. Change in circumstance may include if the employee doesn’t turn up to work for more than 10 days without permission.
- Maintain accurate records for all sponsored workers, including up-to-date contact details and evidence of their right to work in the UK
- Comply with UK immigration laws
- Report any significant change in circumstances to the business, such as a change of name or address, establishing or closing a branch, selling all or part of the organisation, and if the company ceases to trade.
- Refrain from behaviour or actions that are not conducive to the public good.
The Home Office has the authority to conduct a compliance visit to verify if a sponsor has the right systems and policies in place to ensure compliance. These visits can happen at any time, either before granting or renewing a sponsor licence or in response to specific complaints afterwards.
If the Home Office finds evidence that a company fails to comply with their sponsor duties, they can downgrade the licence to a B-rating or suspend or revoke the licence.
Appointing Key Personnel
In compliance with sponsor licence duties, the Home Office also require organisations to appoint key personnel to operate the Sponsor Management System (SMS).
This personnel include:
- Authorising officer: This person must be a senior employee within the organisation responsible for hiring foreign workers and ensuring compliance with sponsor duties.
- Key contact: This person is responsible for liaising with the Home Office when necessary.
- Level 1 user: This person is responsible for the day-to-day management of the sponsorship licence through the sponsorship management system and assigning CoS to workers.
- Level 2 user: This person is responsible for performing actions on the SMS but has fewer permissions than the level 1 user.
The authorising officer, key contact, and level 1 user roles can be carried out by the same person or a combination of different persons. This is great, especially for small businesses that cannot afford to spare 3 employees to manage the SMS.
It’s important to note that all individuals filling these roles must be based in the UK and not have any kind of criminal convictions.
Sponsor Rating for UK Expansion Worker
In cases where a business is awarded a sponsorship licence on the UK Expansion Worker route and the Authorising officer is not based in the UK, they will be awarded a Provisional rating instead of an A-rating.
The business will receive one Certificate of Sponsorship which the Authorising officer (who has to also be the Level 1 user) will assign to themself in order to apply for entry clearance into the UK.
Once in the UK, the Authorising officer can upgrade to an A-rating and request more Certificates of Sponsorship through the sponsorship management system.
Downgrading an A-Rating to a B-Rating
The Home Office may downgrade an A-rating to a B-rating in cases of minor breaches of the sponsorship system.
Sponsor businesses may be downgraded to a B-rating if more than one of these circumstances arises:
- A level 1 or Level 2 user discloses their SMS password to another person.
- A migrant worker didn’t follow the conditions of their permission to stay, and the sponsor didn’t follow the guidelines set by the Home Office or other relevant bodies.
- The sponsor gets issued with a civil penalty that impacts their ability to perform their duties.
- The sponsor gets issued a penalty for failure to pay VAT or duty within the last five years.
The Home Office may downgrade a sponsor licence rating if any of these arises:
- The company fails to comply with sponsor duties
- The Home Office is not satisfied that the sponsor is using a process that is necessary to fully comply with their sponsor duties.
- The sponsor fails to cooperate with a compliance check or delays compliance activity.
- The sponsor provided false information or withheld information from the Home Office.
- The organisation sponsored more than 20 foreign workers on the Intra-Company Graduate Trainee route or the Graduate Trainee sub-category of the Tier 2 (Intra-company Transfer) route with start dates in the same financial year.
The Impact of a B-rating
Sponsoring companies who have been downgraded to a B-rating will not be able to issue Certificate of Sponsorship to new employees until they upgrade their sponsor licence rating.
Although, they will still be able to issue Certificates of Sponsorship to existing workers who want to extend their permission to stay.
Ratings are usually the same for all the tiers a sponsor is registered for, but sometimes if they perform poorly in just one tier, the Home Office might apply a B-rating to that tier only.
The B-rating is a transitional rating; as such, affected sponsors are not expected to remain there indefinitely. They must follow an action plan to reinstate their A-rating within a time period or face the possibility of revocation.
The Action Plan
A sponsor action plan provides B-rated businesses with steps to be taken to regain an A-rating within a time-limited period of not more than three months.
Some of the steps to be taken may include:
- Improving record keeping
- Improving control over the staff who assigns the CoS
- Improving communication between different branches to know when a sponsored worker hasn’t turned up for work.
Action Plan Fee
The action plan costs £1,476, and B-rated companies must pay this fee within 10 working days of the date the UKVI informs them of the downgrade. Sponsors who decline to make this payment will have their sponsorship licence revoked.
Upgrading to an A-rating
Sponsoring companies must complete all steps set out in the action plan within the time-limited period, or their licence will be revoked.
At the end of the three-month period, the Home Office will conduct a compliance check to determine if the sponsor has satisfied all the steps in the action plan. If so, the sponsor will be upgraded to an A-rating.
Getting a Second B-rating
However, if the Home Office finds other areas of non-compliance, they will issue another B-rated licence and require a new action plan. With the new action plan, the sponsor will have to pay another £1,476 fee.
Sponsors are only allowed two B-ratings during the validity period of the licence, which is usually four years. If they still don’t meet up with the requirements of the action plan after their second B-rating, their sponsor licence will be revoked.
Renewal During an Action Plan
In cases where the sponsoring organisation renews their expired licence while being subject to an action plan, the B-rating will apply to the new licence year.
As such, it will count towards the number of times the sponsor can be B-rated during the new validity period of their licence.
The Home Office has the authority to revoke a licence altogether, even without prior suspension or downgrade.
Some circumstances that may lead to the revocation of a sponsor licence include if:
The business ceases to trade for any reason or never had a trading presence in the UK
- The business ceases to meet the requirements of the route or routes in which they are licenced.
- They pose a threat to immigration control
- There is a systematic breach of sponsor duties
- The sponsor has been convicted of a criminal offence or issued a specified civil penalty that affects their ability to conduct their sponsor duties.
- They engage in behaviour or actions that are not conducive to the public good.
- The role assigned to one or more sponsored workers does not match the job description or occupation code on the CoS.
The Implications of a Revoked Licence
Licence revocation is the most severe penalty for sponsors, and it carries a number of implications.
Under a revoked licence, the sponsoring company will not be able to sponsor new migrant workers, and all permissions for workers currently being sponsored on the Worker and Temporary Worker route will be cancelled.
If the sponsored worker was knowingly involved in the breach, such as if they agreed to a non-existent job to enter the UK, they would be asked to leave the country immediately.
However, if the worker is not complicit with the breach, their remaining permission will be shortened to 60 days or the remaining period on their permission if it is less than 60 days.
In both cases, sponsored migrants will need to apply for permission to stay for a visa route for which they qualify before their permission expires or be asked to leave the UK.
Furthermore, the licence will be revoked in all its routes, and the sponsoring organisation’s details will be removed from the public register of Worker and Temporary Worker sponsors.
Reapplying After a Revoked Licence
When a licence is revoked, the Home Office will inform the affected sponsor in writing. However, unlike with licence suspension, a revoked licence decision cannot be appealed until after 12 months.
This is called the cooling-off period, which is usually longer than one month in some cases. For instance, if the revocation was a result of a criminal conviction.
After the cooling-off period, employers can begin new sponsored licence applications. It will be treated the same way as a new application, requiring sponsors to pay the appropriate fees and send the relevant documents for the route they are applying.
Sponsoring organisations will need to address all the breaches that led to the initial licence revocation if they intend to regain their A-rating.
How Can IAS Help You?
An A-rated licence demonstrates that you have the right system to access the global talent market and recruit skilled foreign nationals. However, obtaining and maintaining an A-rated status may require you to follow certain stringent rules.
As challenging as this may sound, IAS can help you. Our lawyers are versed in UK immigration laws and have the right experience and professional background to help you navigate the system successfully.
We can help you with your sponsor licence application to ensure you receive an A-rating. We will also provide you with legal advice and guidance along the way to help you maintain a compliant system.
When you choose IAS, you will be assigned a lawyer to work with you on your case and answer any questions you have.
Last modified on January 6th, 2023 at 2:18 pm
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