A skilled worker visa is a visa under the UK points-based immigration system. We are frequently asked by individuals whether their company can sponsor a family member under their UK employer sponsor licence.
The answer is that you may be able to sponsor a relative, however, you will probably need to follow another process, different from the one you may have used to sponsor a worker without familial ties to you. You should also be aware that this might invite increased scrutiny from the Home Office in relation to your sponsor activities.
Who can assign a certificate of sponsorship to a family member?
It is not prohibited to sponsor a family member of someone already involved with the running of your business. However, they have put a specific restriction on a Level 1 User or a Level 2 assigning a certificate of sponsorship to their own family member.
The Home Office has a wide definition of a family member. It covers:
- a spouse, civil partner or unmarried or same-sex partner
- a parent or step-parent
- a son or step-son
- a daughter or step-daughter
- a brother, step-brother or half-brother
- a sister, step-sister or half-sister
- a nephew, niece, cousin, aunt or uncle. father-in-law, mother-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, son-in-law or daughter-in-law
This prohibition on assigning a certificate of sponsorship is less likely to be a problem in larger businesses, where someone who is not a family member is more likely to be able to assume the role of the Level 1 User.
Bear in mind that there is no prohibition on having a Level 1 User who is related to the sponsored migrant per se. There is just a specific restriction on a family member undertaking the act of assigning the certificate of sponsorship (and there is a separate duty to disclose the family relationship to the Home Office, as explained below).
Ideally, keep the relative well away from the position of Level 1 or 2 User, but again, remember you will still need to disclose to the Home Office the family relationship, see below. Alternatively, you could appoint a second Level or 2 User to undertake the specific act of assigning the certificate.
In small businesses, however, there may not be any other employee who can undertake this role – especially once you allow for the various rules on who can and cannot act as a level 1 user. It may be possible to appoint an HR professional to undertake this role, provided they are also engaged by you to deliver all or part of your HR function.
If you want to go down the road of appointing an HR professional as a Level 1 or 2 User, then in doing so you must continue to adhere to the rule that states you must always have at least Level 1 that is either a director, partner or employee. You must also have at least one Level 1 User that is a ‘settled worker’.
How does the sponsor disclose this information?
Even if you get around the Level 1 user issue above, you will still always need to disclose to the Home Office if you sponsor a family member of anyone in the organisation by assigning a certificate of sponsorship to them. This is a clear-cut duty if you are a small or medium-sized business and ignorance of the familial relationship appears to be no excuse. If you are a large business, then this duty to disclose arises only if you are aware you are assigning a certificate to a family member.
The disclosure must be made by way of a sponsor note.
What may happen if I disclose to the Home Office the sponsorship of a family member?
If the Home Office know you are sponsoring a family member this appears to be something of a ‘red flag’ and increases the likelihood of a compliance visit. However, this is hugely favourable to not disclosing this to the Home Office and them finding out.
What happens if the Home Office find out that I have assigned a certificate of sponsorship to a family member?
If you already hold a sponsor licence and the Home Office discovers that a Level 1 or Level 2 User has assigned a certificate of sponsorship to a family member, then this is a mandatory ground to revoke your licence. This means your licence will be revoked. Again, if you lose your licence, then you also must stop sponsoring and employing any individuals working under the licence. You will be subject to a ‘cooling-off period, meaning you cannot apply for a licence for at least six months from the date of the decision.
Consequences of not disclosing a family relationship
The Home Office is likely to scrutinise an application for sponsoring a family member very closely. This may even prompt a visit from the Home Office to the employer in order to conduct a compliance audit. Regardless, the relationship should always be disclosed as the Home Office may suspend or revoke the sponsor licence as a result of non-disclosure. Revocation of licence would mean that all sponsored migrants would have to leave the UK or find a new sponsor within 60 days (or before the expiry of their visa, whichever is earlier). It would also mean that the employer would no longer be able to sponsor new migrants for a number of months.
Sponsor licence compliance is a complex matter, and innocent mistakes can easily be made. It is advisable to exercise extra caution when sponsoring or planning to sponsor a family member of someone who already works at your organisation.
Contact our Immigration Advisers
For expert advice and assistance in relation to applying for or managing a sponsor licence in either the UK Expansion Worker or Skilled Worker route, please contact our immigration advisers in London at 0208 536 5532 or via the enquiry form below.
The information in this blog is for general information purposes only and does not purport to be comprehensive or to provide legal advice. Whilst every effort is made to ensure the information and law is current as of the date of publication it should be stressed that, due to the passage of time, this does not necessarily reflect the present legal position. Nexus Visas and its authors accept no responsibility for loss that may arise from accessing or relying on information contained in this blog. For formal advice on the current law please don’t hesitate to contact Nexus Visas. Legal advice is only provided pursuant to a written agreement, identified as such, and signed by the client and by or on behalf of Nexus Visas.