Authorising Officer SMS & Compliance Duties

    Authorising officer sms


    Among the many compliance duties placed on sponsor licence holders is the requirement to nominate an ‘Authorising Officer’ as one of the key personnel roles.

    It will be critical for the individual holding this role to fully understand the extent and importance of their duties as the AO, since the Home Office can impose significant penalties on the organisation where it alleges rules have been breached.

    We take a closer look at the responsibilities of the Authorising Officer and key considerations for employers when deciding who to appoint.


    Sponsor licence key personnel & SMS

    Sponsor licence holders are required to nominate key personnel in specific roles to be responsible for using the Sponsor Management System (SMS) and for overall immigration compliance:

    • An Authorising Officer – responsible for ensuring that compliance duties placed on the organisation under the sponsor licence are met.
    • A Key Contact – the main point of contact between the organisation and UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI).
    • Level 1 User(s) – responsible for carrying out the day-to-day SMS activities, from assigning certificates of sponsorship and reporting migrant worker activities, to updating the SMS and renewing the sponsor licence. At least one Level 1 user must be appointed, including at least one employee.
    • Level 2 User(s) – are not mandatory, but can be appointed to perform day-to-day SMS functions with fewer permissions than Level 1 users.


    It possible for the same person to hold all three mandatory roles.

    When taken together, the three key personnel roles should ensure effective management and use of the organisation’s SMS and sponsor licence, including:

    • Managing key personnel and licence details
    • Creating, assigning and viewing Certificates of Sponsorship
    • Applying for and assigning restricted CoS
    • Reporting activities relating to sponsored workers
    • Renewing CoS allocations and applying for additional CoS
    • Applying for premium customer service, where sought
    • Tracking premium and licence renewal applications
    • Paying for and tracking the progress of action plans


    The role of the Authorising Officer

    The Authorising Officer has ultimate responsibility for the activities of any staff, or third party representative(s), authorised to use the sponsor management system.

    It is also their responsibility to decide how many staff need to have access to the SMS and what level of permission they can have.

    The Authorising Officer however will not have automatic access to the SMS to carry out any of the practical functions relating to sponsoring migrant workers, unless they are also named as a Level 1 user. This can be put in place either at the initial application stage or following the grant of the sponsor licence.

    They will often be the first and primary point of contact for your organisation with UKVI. They will receive emails concerning changes to sponsors’ duties, the need to renew Certificates of Sponsorship or the licence itself.

    They are also required to authorise most of the changes or updates to your licence e.g notifying UKVI of a new branch.


    Who can be nominated as an Authorising Officer?

    The Authorising Officer should be the most senior person within the organisation responsible for the recruitment of PBS workers. Unlike other key personnel roles, employers cannot assign the AO role to a legal representative. It is also not permitted for an external party engaged for a specific project (eg contractor) to act as Authorising Officer.

    Key personnel have to be permanently based in the UK for the duration of the period that they fill the role.

    When assessing an application for a sponsor licence, UKVI will perform a suitability check on nominated key personnel including the AO.

    Issues with the licence can arise if any of the key personnel are identified as having unspent criminal convictions, being subject of debt or bankruptcy restrictions, previous immigration violations or past non-compliance with sponsor requirements and immigration rules.


    What are the AO’s duties?

    The Authorising Officer is responsible for ensuring that the duties placed on the employer under the sponsor licence are met. It is essential that the Authorising Officer regularly reviews activity relating to the SMS and that key personnel are performing their duties and kept updated any changes in the rules governing licence compliance.

    These include:

    • Record-keeping duties – to retain any documents submitted as part of the application for a sponsor licence, including documents relating to each migrant worker, together with their up-to-date contact details.
    • Reporting duties – to report certain activities relating to migrant workers within a specified timeframe, in particular non-attendance, non-compliance or disappearance, as well as any significant changes in the size or structure of the organisation.
    • Monitoring duties – to monitor the immigration status of sponsored migrant workers so as to prevent illegal working. In particular, they must only assign certificates of sponsorship to migrants who are appropriately qualified, registered and/or experienced to do the job on offer, and no longer employ migrants who are no longer permitted to do the job in question, for example, their leave to remain has expired.


    What are the consequences of non-compliance?

    Failure to comply the UKVI requirements for using the system, or to ensure compliance on the part of any other SMS users, will result in action being taken against the employer as the sponsor licence holder.

    Penalties can include the following:

    • Downgrading the sponsor licence rating from “A” to “B” – this can involve a time-limited action plan, at your employer’s expense, to restore the rating to a grade “A”.
    • Suspension or revocation of the sponsor licence – typically this is where there has been a significant or systematic failing, and the sponsor licence holder is deemed to pose a serious threat to immigration control.
    • Where the Home Office alleges right to work duties have been breached, the organisation could face a civil penalty.

    Fundamentally, organisations with a sonsor licence must ensure they have appropriate individuals appointed as key personnel, and trained to carry out their duties effectively. In addition, there should be effective systems in place to monitor and check the activities of all system users, to maintain continued compliance. For example, as a minimum, CoS’ assigned to migrant employees should be checked on a monthly basis.


    Authorising officer role FAQs

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    Legal disclaimer

    The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.


    Gill Laing is a qualified Legal Researcher & Analyst with niche specialisms in Law, Tax, Human Resources, Immigration & Employment Law.

    Gill is a Multiple Business Owner and the Managing Director of Prof Services - a Marketing & Content Agency for the Professional Services Sector.

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