Immigration penalties leave a bitter taste
20 February, 2013
Fall foul of the law on migrant workers and you could be looking at fines of up to £10,000 per employee, and jail terms for company managers, Damian Mohammed warns
Events last summer, such as Tesco being fined £115,000 for employing illegal workers, has, not surprisingly led to a general increase in anxiety among UK employers with regards to immigration compliance.
The UK Border Agency (UKBA) is putting more resources into compliance, with a visible rise in the number of announced and unannounced visits to UK businesses. With six published raids on restaurants and takeaways in January alone you might be starting to feel a little uneasy: even more so when you hear that it is not just local high street takeaways that are on the receiving end of these raids, but some of the bigger names in the industry.
Never has there been a more pressing time for immigration compliance to be high on the boardroom agenda, including the upkeep of your company’s sponsor licence if you have one (and if you don’t you should by now be asking yourself, do you need one?). It is no overstatement to say that failure to understand your duties both at a senior level, and also across the organisation as a whole could lead to major implications for the company financially and for its reputation.
So what are the key issues that should be at the top of the menu?
Compliance no longer simply equals visas
Compliance no longer simply means getting the right visas to enable your migrant employees to work legally in the UK. The introduction of the points-based system back in 2008 has meant that the onus to track and report on migrant activity now falls squarely on the employer. There are numerous requirements for employers to obtain and maintain detailed and accurate records relating to their sponsored migrants. Failure to do so can result in civil penalties of up to £10,000 per illegal worker and criminal penalties which include up to two years’ imprisonment in the worst cases. If you or a member of your senior management team are listed as the authorising officer on the company’s sponsor licence, or indeed for others involved in the recruitment of migrant workers for the company, there is also the potential for these penalties to be levied against you personally rather than just the corporate entity.
Recruitment and on-boarding
Even if you feel that the issues of compliance are understood at senior management level, are you confident that this level of understanding is being filtered down to your managers and staff on the ground? The high
profile revocation of London Metropolitan University’s licence last year is a case in point, where it has been reported that appropriate systems and processes were insufficient to meet the university’s duties as a sponsor of students to the UK.
For example, for employers, not only is it necessary to check the right to work of every prospective employee before they start working for you, regardless of their nationality or what role they are filling, for non-EEA (European Economic Area) nationals there may be additional requirements including helping them to obtain the appropriate work permission. This in turn can lead to having to meet certain requirements with respect to methods of recruitment, the skills levels of individuals and meeting minimum salary levels (which are quite distinct and separate from the minimum wage). Failure to meet these requirements similarly puts your business at risk.
The question of Europe
Many in the catering and hospitality industry rely on workers from Europe to fill their ground-level positions, but with Europe it isn’t quite as straight forward as it seems. Admittedly most European nationals, including the majority of those from the accession states who joined the EU in 2004 (the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia) are able to live and work here without restriction. But are you aware that transitional arrangements are still in place for nationals of Bulgaria and Romania? These nationals still require work permission in order to work legally here in the UK and will do so until the end of 2013, when the restrictions are lifted. Similarly, when Croatia joins the EU on 1st July this year, its nationals will require work permission in most instances in order to take up work.
Missing these nuances in the law could leave you in hot water with the UKBA, and it is vital that your senior staff and hiring managers are made fully aware of them in order to protect your business. The view, therefore, that immigration compliance is a simple HR issue is a long-gone fallacy, and it is undoubtedly time that the matter is taken seriously at the highest corporate levels and enforced from the top down.
If you are interested in understanding more about implementing a UK immigration strategy, register for Newland Chase’s free seminar on 7 March in London. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 7001 2134 for further details.