Prepare for a Home Office Immigration Compliance Audit

Prepare for a home office immigration compliance audit | immtell

Understanding and Preparing for a Home Office Immigration Compliance Audit

Understanding and preparing for a Home Office immigration compliance audit is crucial for companies holding a Home Office Sponsor Licence. The audit process ensures that sponsors are meeting their obligations and maintaining the integrity of the UK’s immigration system.

Over recent months, the Home Office has been recruiting additional compliance officers. This, combined with the scrapping of sponsor licence expiries and a significant increase in fines for employers failing to meet illegal working requirements, indicates that compliance activity will be a major priority for the remainder of 2024 and 2025.

This article is designed to help your organisation prepare for this process, from understanding the background and structure of the audit to preparing your records and handling potential issues.

What is an Immigration Compliance Audit?

The Home Office grants sponsor licences to businesses that wish to employ skilled workers who are not British or Irish or have the right to work in a personal capacity.

Holding a sponsor licence is a significant responsibility, requiring companies to adhere to strict regulations and guidelines, commonly called Sponsor Duties. The Home Office uses compliance audits to ensure sponsors fulfil their duties, maintain accurate records, and prevent illegal working.

A Home Office compliance audit can be scheduled or unannounced, in-person or increasingly online. Scheduled visits allow some preparation time, while unannounced visits test the robustness of your ongoing compliance practices. Regardless of the type, it’s essential to be perpetually prepared.

Structure of the Immigration Audit

A Home Office immigration compliance audit typically follows a structured process:

  1. Notification: For scheduled audits, you will receive an advance notice detailing the date and scope of the audit. Unannounced audits, as the name suggests, will occur without prior notification.
  2. Arrival and Introduction: On the audit day, compliance officers will introduce themselves and outline the purpose and procedure of the audit.
  3. Document Review: Officers will review your documentation and records to ensure compliance with sponsorship duties.
  4. Interviews: Compliance officers may interview key personnel, such as HR managers, level 1 users of the Sponsor Management System (SMS), the Authorising Officer, and sponsored employees.
  5. Site Visit: Officers might tour your premises to verify the working conditions of sponsored employees and ensure that they match the details provided in your sponsor licence application and any subsequent updates reported via the SMS.
  6. Feedback and Reporting: After the audit, you will receive feedback, and a detailed report will be generated outlining any areas of non-compliance and required actions.

Areas Tested During the Home Office Compliance Audit

During a compliance visit, several key areas are scrutinised to ensure adherence to Home Office sponsorship responsibilities:

  1. Record-Keeping and Reporting: Your ability to maintain accurate and up-to-date records of your sponsored employees is critical. This includes keeping copies of passports, right-to-work documents, and records of visa expiry dates.
  2. Right to Work Checks: Ensuring all employees have the legal right to work in the UK is fundamental. You must perform and document these checks appropriately.
  3. Sponsored Workers’ Duties: Compliance officers will verify that sponsored employees work in the roles specified in their Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS) and that their job descriptions, salaries, and working conditions match those reported to the Home Office.
  4. Monitoring and Reporting Changes: You must report significant organisational changes and the circumstances of your sponsored employees to the Home Office. This includes changes in job roles, salaries, and employee departures.
  5. Genuine Vacancy: Auditors will check that the roles you have sponsored are genuine vacancies that could not be filled by a resident worker.
  6. Salary and Conditions: It is essential to ensure that sponsored workers are paid appropriately and that their working conditions comply with the terms of their sponsorship.

Sample Compliance Officer Questions

Compliance officers may ask questions during an audit to better understand your practices and procedures. Sample questions include:

  • How do you conduct right-to-work checks for new employees?
  • Can you demonstrate your process for monitoring visa expiry dates?
  • How do you ensure that sponsored employees work in their designated roles?
  • What steps do you take to report changes in circumstances to the Home Office?
  • Can you provide evidence of the recruitment process for sponsored roles?

Documents and Records Checked

Home Office immigration compliance officers will review various documents and records, including:

  • Employee Records: Copies of passports, visas, and right-to-work documents for all or a sample of sponsored employees, depending on the scale of your immigration programme.
  • Payroll Records: Evidence of salary payments to ensure compliance with the minimum salary requirements. They will most likely validate this later against HMRC records.  
  • Attendance Records: Timesheets or other attendance records to verify working hours and conditions.
  • Recruitment Documentation: Evidence of the recruitment process, including job advertisements and interview records.
  • Communication Records: Documentation of communications with the Home Office regarding changes in circumstances or other relevant matters.

Post-Audit: What Happens Next?

After the audit, the Home Office will provide feedback, highlighting any areas of non-compliance and necessary corrective actions. There are typically three potential outcomes:

  1. Satisfactory Outcome: If you are found to be compliant, you will receive confirmation, and no further action will be required.
  2. Minor Issues Identified: If minor issues are identified, you may receive an action plan outlining required improvements and a deadline for implementation.
  3. Serious Non-Compliance: Significant non-compliance could result in your sponsor licence being downgraded, suspended, or revoked. You may also face penalties or other enforcement actions.

Preparing for a Home Office Immigration Audit

Preparation is key to ensuring a smooth audit process. Here are some steps to help you get ready:

  1. Regular Internal Audits: Conduct regular internal audits to review your compliance with sponsorship duties and identify any areas for improvement.
  2. Training: Ensure that key personnel, such as HR managers and immigration officers, are adequately trained on sponsor licence requirements and right-to-work checks.
  3. Record-Keeping: Maintain accurate and up-to-date records of all sponsored employees, including copies of relevant documents and records of right-to-work checks.
  4. Monitoring Changes: Implement robust procedures for monitoring and reporting changes in your organisation and the circumstances of your sponsored employees.
  5. Documentation: Ensure all required documentation is readily accessible and well-organised.
  6. Mock Audits: Consider conducting external mock immigration audits to simulate the Home Office audit process and identify any potential issues.

Dealing with Issues

If you encounter any issues or need assistance in preparing for an audit, seeking professional advice can be invaluable. At Immtell, a UK immigration consultancy led by Gavin Webster, a former Home Office compliance officer, we specialise in helping companies navigate the complexities of sponsor licence compliance.

We offer a range of immigration consulting services, including:

  • Compliance Audits: Conducting thorough mock immigration compliance audits to identify and address non-compliance areas.
  • Training: Providing comprehensive training for you and your staff on sponsor licence requirements and right-to-work checks.
  • Record-Keeping Assistance: Helping you maintain accurate and up-to-date records of your sponsored employees.
  • Audit Preparation: Offering guidance and support to help you prepare for Home Office audits, including mock audits and documentation reviews. We can also be present during a Home Office compliance audit in an advisory capacity.

How Immtell can Help

By partnering with Immtell, you can ensure that your organisation remains compliant with Home Office requirements and minimise the risk of penalties or licence revocation.

Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you maintain your sponsor licence and prepare for compliance audits.

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