Has your Sponsor Licence expired?

If your organisation’s sponsor licence has expired, you will then need to take action quickly in order to regain status as a sponsor licence holder.

This is because without a valid sponsor licence, you are not allowed to lawfully employ sponsored migrant workers. Subsequently, this can lead to a number of immigration problems directly affecting the immigration status of your sponsored employees, which can result in unwanted disruption to your operations.

How would you know if your licence has expired?

Sponsor licences are issued by the Home Office to employers for a four year period. If the employer does not successfully apply to renew their licence in advance of the expiry date, the licence will then automatically expire.

The licence expiry date can be found on the company’s Sponsor Management System (SMS).

In most cases, sponsor licences are left to expire without the sponsor’s knowledge. For smaller businesses in particular without an HR function, there may not be adequate processes in place to help monitor the status of the licence.

The Home Office will automatically issue notifications prior to licence expiry by email to the organisation’s Authoring Officer (AO) and Level 1 user(s), as specified in the SMS.

This is a standard communication which usually reads the following:

Your sponsor licence was granted for an initial period of four years. We wish to inform you that this period will shortly come to an end and, unless you apply to renew your licence, it will expire on XX/XX/XXXX. 

In 30 days, the function to renew your licence will become available in SMS. If you want to continue to sponsor migrants, we strongly advise that you apply to renew your licence as soon as you are able and in any event at least one month before your licence expires.

No action is required by you at this time. You will receive another email in 30 days, notifying you that you are able to apply to renew your licence and providing further details of the licence renewal process. 

For more information, please refer to the sponsorship policy guidance and SMS user guides, which are available at:

UK Visas and Immigration

A key assumption with this notification is that it will be both received and read by the relevant key personnel at the organisation.

While it is a requirement on sponsors to keep organisation contact details up to date on the SMS, the reality is that it does not actually always happen. For instance, the SMS may hold contact details for a previous legal adviser, or the AO may have moved on. The result from this is that the sponsor does not receive the notification and is not reminded of the impending deadline and licence expiry date.

In practice, it is usually common that the employer only learns that they no longer hold a valid sponsor licence when a sponsored employee makes an application to the Home Office for further leave to remain. It is at this point that when they are conducting their checks as part of the employee’s application that UKVI sees the expired status of the licence and then takes the subsequent enforcement action.

There have also been many panicked calls from HR teams needing to secure the release of a Tier 2 employee, who have been detained for attempting to re-enter the UK, without knowing that their employer’s licence has expired. This would automatically compromise their immigration status.

Another concern is that the notification omits to specify the full consequences of failing to renew the licence. For example, for smaller employers with no inhouse HR expertise or with only one Tier 2 employee, they may not fully understand the urgency and implications of an expired licence.

Reinstating the licence & permission to sponsor workers

If an employer no longer has a valid sponsor licence, then their Tier 2, Skilled worker, ICT and T5 visa employees will no longer be lawfully employed by the organisation. As a result, the sponsored employees can expect their leave to be curtailed.

This means the employees will have 60 days (or up to their visa expiry date if earlier) to leave the organisation and either apply for a new visa to remain in the UK, by finding a new sponsor for example, or leave the UK.

If you are made aware that your company’s sponsor licence has expired, the steps required to resolve the licence and related immigration problems can be complex, stressful and costly.

You would need to act immediately. It may be a case of making an urgent application to the Home Office to renew your licence, or instead you may in the circumstances be better advised to apply for a new licence.

The course of action you would take will be largely determined by the wider context and fact pattern, how you have previously managed your licence and any other immigration-related issues. As soon as you become aware of any problem with your licence you should seek advice in order to decide on the most appropriate strategy to mitigate damage.

Your visa holder employee(s) also would have to decide what to do next. This could be whether they should wait while their employer attempts to address the expiry issue with the Home Office, or whether to find alternative, permitted employment with a new sponsor and make a new application for leave to remain before their curtailed leave expires. Having failed that, they could then face having to leave the UK.

Tips for effective licence management

Sponsor licence expiry is clearly an issue that all sponsor licence holders must be aware of and take action to prevent, as part of the wider demands of sponsor licence holders’ compliance duties to support immigration control.

One thing that everyone involved in the licence management can do is to diarise the date of licence expiry, this extends to people such as the AO, SMS users, HR director. The date can be found on the summary page of the SMS. Home Office reminders should not be solely relied upon.

You should also start to prepare your renewal application 6 months before expiry. You will not be able to actually apply before this 6 month point, but having everything prepared and ready to go will take the pressure off and also allows any issues to be picked up ahead of the deadline.

Most importantly, licence compliance is an ongoing business concern. Employers should therefore treat the PBS licence in the same way they treat self certifying their accounts every year. This will require ongoing management.

Where employers only come to look at their sponsor licence when a recruitment need arises, this creates an inevitable risk of non-compliance and Home Office scrutiny and penalty. Therefore, you should schedule regular checks of all details on the SMS and update your records.

You should also check the information that was originally submitted to UKVI to see if there are any changes that need to be reported. Look across all areas including the organisational details, information on key personnel and migrant workers. Make sure that all of the sponsored employees are on there and that all of their details are correct and up to date.

There is also recent case law relating to employers’ failure to keep their contact details up to date in the SMS and issuing CoS with incorrect details (such as an incorrect company address), and it has emphasised that the courts are supporting the Home Office in their enforcement action. Therefore, you should not expect sympathy or concession.  Breaching this duty is deemed sufficiently serious to justify the revocation of a licence by the Home Office.

How we can help

At NA Law Solicitors we provide thorough guidance and advice for businesses who want to avoid issues with the validity of their licence and the visas that depend on it.

We have sufficient experience helping businesses resolve issues relating to an expired sponsor licence. 

For further help and assistance regarding a sponsor licence please get in touch for an initial assessment.

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