High Court Affirms Strict Compliance Requirements for UK Immigration Sponsors

Citation: [2023] EWHC 3193 (Admin)
Judgment on

Introduction

In the case of Prestwick Care Limited & Ors v Secretary of State for the Home Department, the High Court of Justice adjudicated on the legality of the Home Department’s decision to revoke a sponsorship licence essential for the claimant’s employment of foreign nationals. This decision scrutinised procedural fairness, the proper application of immigration rules, and the exercising of powers under the sponsorship licensing system. The legal principles derived from this case clarify the obligations of sponsors under UK immigration laws and the latitude afforded to decision-makers due to their specialised expertise.

Key Facts

Prestwick Care Limited, alongside associated entities, challenged the revocation of their sponsorship licence, which permits issuing Certificates of Sponsorship to recruit foreign nationals efficiently. The revocation followed a compliance visit revealing alleged discrepancies between job roles described in Certificates of Sponsorship and the actual tasks performed by employees.

The claimant contended that the revocation procedure was unfair and the decision-maker lacked an open mind. They argued for a heightened standard of fairness, given the significant impact on their business and the local provision of care. Additionally, the claimant maintained that the decision was irrational, partly based on an assumed finding of dishonesty.

The court invoked several key legal principles:

  1. Trust and Compliance: Sponsors granted licences assume significant responsibilities in maintaining effective immigration control and must function with precision and vigilance, akin to immigration authorities.

  2. Fairness in Procedure: The common law duty of fairness requires sponsors to be informed about allegations against them and have an opportunity to respond. Any additional concerns arising during the investigation must be communicated, allowing for further representation.

  3. Obligation of Sponsors: Licenced sponsors must demonstrate strict adherence to immigration rules and wider UK law reflecting the high degree of trust placed in them.

  4. Deference to Expertise: Courts generally defer to the experience and expertise of the decision-making body in immigration matters, limiting the judicial role to supervision.

  5. Rigor of the Sponsorship System: The sponsorship system emphasizes detail and certainty over discretion and broad guidance. Compliance is non-negotiable, adherence to specified duties is essential, and failure to do so attracts penal consequences, with possible revocations being mandatory for certain infractions.

  6. No Right to Sponsorship: Holding a sponsor licence is a privilege, contingent upon compliance with the rules, rather than a right.

The court specifically referred to the case of R (on the application of St Andrew’s College) v Secretary of State for the Home Department and related jurisprudence to underscore these principles.

Outcomes

The court determined:

  • The procedure followed by the Home Department was not unfair, and there was no evidence of bias or closed-mindedness on the part of the decision-maker.
  • The claimant did not furnish sufficient evidence to explain discrepancies in employee duties or to counter staff interviews that undermined the claimed job roles.
  • The argument for a higher standard of procedural fairness due to potential business impact was invalid, as sponsorship privilege is precarious and revocable upon reasonable suspicion of a breach.
  • The claimant’s intention to comply with the law, indicated by obtaining legal and trade union advice, was not a factor given the binary nature of compliance obligations.
  • The decision-maker was not required to assess commercial viability or the impact on local care services, as these considerations are outside the remit of immigration control expertise.

Furthermore, the court applied section 31(2A) of the Senior Courts Act 1981, stating that even if unfairness was found in part, it was “highly likely that the outcome for the applicant would not have been substantially different if the conduct complained of had not occurred.”

Conclusion

The Prestwick Care Limited & Ors v Secretary of State for the Home Department case reaffirms the rigorous nature of the UK’s immigration sponsorship system and the high expectations placed on sponsors in terms of compliance and the exercise of their functions. It upholds the principle that procedural fairness, while nuanced, does not extend to factors outside the primary responsibility of immigration control. This judgment asserts the discretionary powers of the Home Department within the bounds of law, emphasizing the requirement for sponsors to satisfy all conditions of their licence explicitly, as intention alone does not equate to compliance.

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