We are nearing the end of the calendar year and 2023 has already lived up to the previous trend of introducing some quite significant immigration changes, in particular around Home Office enforcement action. In this article we focus on two key points – (a) the proposed increase to the civil penalties issued to those who employ illegal workers, and (b) the noticeable increase in the number of Home Office compliance visits being undertaken recently.
UK Immigration – How compliant are you?
Increases to the civil penalty regime
What are the changes?
All UK employers will be aware that there is an obligation on them to help with the prevention of illegal working. The guidance on this is updated regularly, with the most recent version of the guidance note being accessible here. There are civil and criminal penalties for those found to be in breach.
The civil penalty for employers was last increased in 2014 but – in a surprise but significant shake up to the penalty regime – the fine will now be tripled for employers who allow illegal migrants to work for them. This means that the civil penalty will be raised from £15,000 to up to £45,000 per illegal worker for a first breach, and from £20,000 to up to £60,000 for repeat breaches. The proposed increases are due to come into force early in 2024 but no specific date has yet been announced.
How can you prepare?
These considerable increases are a clear indication that the Home Office is strengthening its already robust approach in relation to the prevention of illegal working in the UK.
We would encourage employers to start reviewing their immigration/right to work processes to ensure full compliance. Conducting a fully compliant right to work check prior to an employee starting work provides the employer with a statutory excuse against a civil penalty in the event that an employee is found to be illegally working in the UK.
Home Office Sponsor Compliance Visits
What do you need to know?
Our recent experiences show that the Home Office is slowly beginning to increase the number of compliance visits being undertaken - both from an announced and unannounced perspective – and they are now nearing pre-Covid levels. Key points to note about compliance visits are that:
- A Home Office sponsor compliance visit is an audit visit conducted by the Home Office of a UK business that is sponsoring migrant workers.
- The purpose of the visit is for the Home Office to ensure that the UK business is fully complying with its sponsorship and prevention of illegal working obligations.
- It can take place at any point after the business has applied for a sponsor licence, either before or after the licence has been granted.
A visit before a licence is approved is more likely to take place in industries where the Home Office perceives there to be a higher risk of illegal working – for example, hospitality and construction.
What are the potential outcomes?
The Home Office has a number of enforcement actions available to it with civil penalties being one. Other penalties include downgrading an employer's sponsor licence, suspension of the licence, or – in the worst-case scenario – revocation of the licence. This can have significant ramifications for the business especially if a substantial part of its work force is made up of migrant workers. It can also have a personal impact on the migrant workers sponsored by the business. If the business's sponsor licence is revoked, then it will mean that the migrant workers' leave (which is linked to the sponsor licence) is curtailed and they will have a 60 day period from any curtailment notice issued by the Home Office to find alternative employment in the UK or to leave the country.
How can you prepare?
- Carry out a mock audit of right to work files and HR systems/processes – this can help to reveal areas of concern and to ensure that all issues are addressed in a timely manner.
- Prepare your key personnel for a potential interview by the Home Office during a compliance visit.
- Deliver refresher training to all key personnel if needed.
That said, there is only one question which remains – are you ready?
The Addleshaw Goddard Immigration team is a nationally recognised team which is regularly asked to support clients with the full spectrum of their immigration needs. We can provide refresher training, help with the prevention of illegal working and support with right to work queries, undertake mock audits, and assist clients with getting ready for any anticipated Home Office compliance visits.
If you would like to discuss anything raised in this article, feel free to contact one of the authors:
To the Point
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