Date updated:

Many charities are now registered sponsors for immigration purposes. This means that a charity is able to employ overseas nationals where they are unable to recruit in the UK. A number of charities will also choose to sponsor temporary workers who may want to undertake unpaid work for their charity. UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) are the department of the Home Office that deal with all visa issues.

In our experience, the three most common immigration issues that arise for charities are licenses, visas and compliance. Below we consider some of the key points.

If you have decided that you want to employ someone from overseas you may require a sponsorship licence. The sponsorship licence must be applied for online. The Home Office suggests that the application takes 20 to 30 minutes. In our experience, the ground work that needs to be done before this stage can take a number of hours.

The application process for obtaining a licence is relatively straightforward, however the evidence that needs to be submitted to support the application can be complex. You will need to ensure that all documentation is submitted promptly after making the online submission. Applications can take weeks, sometimes months depending on the current processing times, to be decided.

Organisations can often overlook their sponsorship licence if they merge with another organisation, are taken over or expand. If an organisation is a sponsor, and changes of this nature take place, the licence may be impacted. The sponsor will need to determine if the change can be reported through the Sponsor Management System or whether a new licence must be applied for.

Similarly if a charity becomes a CIO, a new organisation is being formed. Even if the purpose of both organisations is virtually identical, and all the activities of the trust will be taken over by the new CIO, a new licence will be required as it is not possible to transfer a sponsor licence to a new entity.

If you have tried to recruit unsuccessfully within the UK for a particular role, or you have overseas volunteers interested in volunteering for your charity, you may have come across the points based system in order to obtain a visa.

In order for a worker to apply for a visa, the sponsor must first issue a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) through their Sponsor Management System (SMS). A sponsor must assign a CoS to each overseas worker they wish to employ. The CoS is not a physical document, it is simply an electronic record. Each CoS has its own number which a worker can use to apply for a visa. There are two types of CoS, which are Defined CoS and Undefined CoS (referred to as Skilled Worker CoS).

Skilled Worker CoS are generally for workers already in the UK. Defined CoS are for workers who are outside of the UK. 

Once a sponsor has obtained their licence, they must ensure that they are fully compliant with UKVI requirements for the duration that they hold the licence. There are a number of duties placed on sponsors relating to record keeping, reporting, compliance and cooperating with UKVI. A sponsorship licence runs for a period of four years.

The Sponsor Management System (SMS) is the online tool which the sponsor uses to manage their licence. A sponsor is required to appoint a number of Key Personnel to ensure that they remain compliant with their sponsorship duties. The Authorising Officer (AO) is the person with overall responsibility for recruitment within the organisation and will have the overall responsibility for compliance. The Level 1 User is required to undertake the day to day management of the system. The Key Contact is the person who has the direct contact with the UKVI. Each of these roles must be filled by a named person, and the SMS must be accessed regularly by those permitted to do so.

A sponsor must ensure that they are compliant with record keeping duties. This means that they must keep copies of a number of the sponsored worker’s documents on file, including their passport, immigration status document and national insurance details. The sponsored worker’s details must be kept up to date, and any leave expiry dates diarised. There are also a number of reporting duties placed on sponsors. If a sponsored worker is absent from work for more than ten consecutive working days without permission, the sponsor must report this through the SMS.

It is essential that these duties are not overlooked as failure to comply could lead to the licence being suspended, downgraded or even revoked. If an overseas worker is employed unlawfully, a fine of up to £20,000 may be incurred.

As a sponsor you may receive a site visit at any time from UKVI. A site visit usually involves the consideration of records to ensure compliance. Stone King offer a mock audit service where a member of the team undertakes a site visit to check all systems are in place.

Should you need more advice or support in relation to any of the above, or any aspect of immigration law, please do not hesitate to contact our immigration team.