The work of the UK Border Agency (December 2011-March 2012) - Home Affairs Committee Contents

7  Enforcement

Key figures
  • 40% of post-licence visits to Tier 2 sponsors were unannounced between 1December 2011 and 31 March 2012
  • 37% of post-licence visits to Tier 4 sponsors were unannounced between 1 December 2011 and 31 March 2012
  • 25% of post-licence visits to Tier 5 sponsors were unannounced between 1 December 2011 and 31 March 2012
  • 160 sponsors had their licenses suspended between 1 December 2011 and 31 March 2012
  • 140 sponsors had their licenses revoked between 1st December 2011 and 31 March 2012
  • 31% of non-compliance notices from Tier 2 sponsors were acted on between 1 December 2011 and 31 March 2012
  • 69% of all Tier 4 sponsor notifications issued over the period 1December - 31 March had been investigated by June

Inspections of Sponsors

70. All migrants using the Points Based system (PBS) route, apart from Tier 1 migrants, require a sponsor in order to obtain their visa. The Agency carries out inspections or 'visits' of individual sponsors. Some of these are pre-registration visits made on application and others are follow up visits to check that sponsors remain compliant.


71. New sponsorship applications and pre-registration visits made are compared in table 7 below.
Total sponsor applications
Pre registration visits
Tier 2
Tier 4
Tier 5

Table 7: New sponsorship applications and pre-registration visits carried out over the period

In this table, pre-registration visits do not necessarily relate to sponsorship applications made in the same period. However, the data gives some indication of the ratio of pre-registration visits to new sponsor applications. During the period, pre-registration visits to Tier 2 (skilled worker) sponsors were 18% of new sponsor applications, while visits to Tier 5 (Youth Mobility Scheme) sponsors were 8% of new sponsor applications. The Agency visits all institutions that apply to become Tier 4 sponsors for the first time. The applications making up the figure for the latest period include renewed applications and applications for Highly Trusted Sponsorship status, which is why not all Tier 4 applicants received a pre-sponsorship visit.[51]

72. We acknowledge that the Agency carries out pre-registration visits for all Tier 4 sponsors but recommend that this should be extended to cover all sponsors in Tier 2 and Tier 5. The proportion currently receiving a pre-registration visit is insignificant. Proper pre-registration scrutiny of sponsors is the key starting point for preventing abuse of the immigration system. We are concerned that the Agency's approach may be more risky than risk-based. We will require additional information from the Agency as to how it assesses the risk posed by sponsors in this area.


73. The Agency carries out follow up visits based on an assessment of risk and on an intelligence-led basis.[52]

Figure 10 post licence inspections over the period

Of these visits:

  • 40% to Tier 2 sponsors were unannounced
  • 37% to Tier 4 sponsors were unannounced
  • 25% to Tier 5 sponsors were unannounced

74. The Agency says that it arranges the greater proportion of its visits in advance as it needs to be sure of access to key people and documents as part of the inspection. We understand the need for this but, as the visits are made in a response to perceived risks or intelligence leads, we recommend that all visits are unannounced. If the Agency is not able to access some of the people and documentation on the day then follow up interviews and document review could take place subsequent to the visit. Interviewees could be required to come to the Agency's premises to save the Agency time and money. This would considerably strengthen the enforcement system and help to restore public confidence that the government is clamping down on illegitimate immigration. If we are to eliminate bogus colleges from the education landscape and employers that abuse the immigration system then visits will have to be unannounced, robust and thorough.


75. The Agency does not have the power to fine Tier 2, 4 and 5 sponsors for misuse of their licence. It is able to suspend their licence pending further investigation for Tier 2 and Tier 5 sponsors, revoke licences for all sponsors and reduce the number of Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS) or Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) that they are able to issue. It is also able to prosecute sponsors who commit immigration offences.[53]

76. Over the previous period the Agency has taken the following enforcement action against sponsors:

  • Suspended the licence of 140 Tier 2 and 20 Tier 5 sponsors
  • Revoked the licences of 130 Tier 2 sponsors and 10 Tier 5 sponsors[54]

77. We are sceptical about the efficacy of reducing the number of Certificates of Sponsorship or Confirmations of Acceptance for Studies that a sponsor can issue. This is tantamount to endorsing fraud, provided that it is confined to a small scale. If a sponsor is failing to comply with their duties or is deceiving the Agency then their licence should be revoked. The Agency should take tough enforcement action against those who abuse the immigration system.

Action against individuals

78. Sponsors are obliged to notify the Agency if there are changes in the situation of any of the people they sponsor, known as Sponsor Management System (SMS) notifications. These could be administrative changes such as changes in work place or salary or non-compliance notifications, for example if a student was no longer attending their university course. It is the Agency's responsibility to investigate the latter and to curtail the leave to remain in the UK of any individuals found to be no longer complying with the conditions of their visa. If necessary, the Agency is also responsible for removing them from the country.


79. The Agency received 21,300 Sponsor Management System notifications from Tier 2 sponsors over the period. Of these, 4,500 were non-compliance notifications. The Agency had only investigated 1,400 or 31% of these notifications by the end of the period, the remaining 69% were outstanding.

80. The Agency says that the low number of cases investigated is due to increased concentration on curtailment activity in Tier 4 at the expense of Tier 2. The Agency appears to be constantly 'fire fighting' in a number of areas of its work, shifting resources to focus on one area whilst letting a backlog build in another and then re-adjusting to address the new backlog.


81. Some 35,300 SMS notifications were made by Tier 4 sponsors over the period, relating to visas for adult students. Unlike for Tier 2 notifications, however, the Agency tells us that it is not possible to specify how many of these notifications relate to non-compliance, as they are not electronically flagged by category. A new system has been introduced since 6 April that will allow sponsors to categorise their notifications. We are astonished to learn that, until April 2012, the Agency had no way of immediately separating urgent notifications regarding potentially fraudulent students from routine notifications of administrative changes. This is especially surprising as such a system seems to have been in place for Tier 2 notifications for some time.

82. As of 3 June, 24,400 of these notifications (69%) had been investigated. This is a much better rate of enforcement than seen in Tier 2—the Agency suggests that it is at least in part at the expense of Tier 2 enforcement —but it is still not as high as we would have hoped to see given the concentration on this Tier. Either the operational model within this section of the Agency is inefficient or it is under-resourced for the demands placed upon it. We recommend that the Agency urgently reviews its operations in this area to pinpoint the cause of the problem. If we are to maintain public confidence in our immigration system then it is vital that we have prompt and robust enforcement mechanisms. We will keep a close watch on this area of the Agency's work and investigate the causes of the continuing backlog. We regard enforcement action against individuals as a key indicator of the Agency's work and we will be monitoring it closely.

Migration Refusal Pool

83. On the 5th July the Chief Inspector of the Border Agency, John Vine, brought the existence of yet another backlog to our attention, the Migration Refusal Pool. This consists of individuals who have had their application to extend their visas refused but the Agency has no idea whether or not they have actually left the country. There are 150,000 of these cases nationally, and the Inspector says he could not see evidence of any clear strategy to deal with them.[55] We are extremely disturbed to hear that there is yet another large group of individuals who the Agency are unable to account for. We expect the Agency to set out, in its response to this report, its action plan and timeline for dealing with the problem.

51   Ev 46 Back

52   Ev 46 Back

53   Ev 48 Back

54   Ev 48 Back

55   John Vine, Chief Inspector of the UK Border Agency, Report: An inspection of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Local Immigration Team, p2 Back

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Prepared 23 July 2012