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Will Employers Be Forced To Control the UK's Borders?

Employers are busy enough running a business, managing employees and keeping up with industry and regulatory changes. And now it looks like they may be asked to become de-facto immigration officers.

In an article entitled, 'Welcome to Britain in 2017, where everybody is expected to be a border ', the author writes that employers, along with landlords and NHS staff are now being expected to police UK borders because of cuts to the Home Office budget.

The Financial Times also highlighted the pressures being placed on, stating that post-Brexit, employers, universities, and landlords will be responsible in some part for ensuring migrants comply with their visa requirements.

Anand Menon, professor of European politics and foreign affairs at King's College London, told the FT, "Implementation of the new visa and work permit system will be left to landlords, companies and universities. Very little in this policy will be about control of our borders because that is not where [oversight of immigration] will happen. Much more will be inside universities, companies and so on."

Why is there so much pressure on the Home Office?

Not only are the Home Office and UK Visas and Immigration facing an unprecedented workload thanks to Brexit, but departmental budgets have also been slashed in recent years. Home Office staff numbers were cut by 9% between 2010 and 2016, and its day-to-day spending budget by 16% in the past five years. There is due to be a further 5% cut in 2020.

The strain is already starting to show. Applicants for EEA Permanent Resident Cards are experiencing severe delays in getting their applications processed. The Home Office has even placed a new recommendation to EU nationals on its web page to sign up to receive an email alert which will inform them of any changes to their circumstances, rather than apply for documentation to confirm their status.

Outsourcing immigration control

Outsourcing of immigration control began whilst Prime Minister, Theresa May was Home Secretary. For example, universities are expected to keep track of student attendance and risk losing their right to admit international students if they fail to comply. Also under the Right to Rent programme which came into force in February 2016, landlords now must retain evidence of a tenant's right to live legally in the UK before offering them a tenancy.

As for employers who recruit talent from outside the EEA, they are receiving more pressure than ever to comply with their Sponsor Licence duties.

Employer responsibilities and penalties

Employers who have a UK Sponsor Licence have many compliance responsibilities and obligations . The penalties for failing to meet Home Office expectations are harsh.

If the Home Office discover a business is employing an illegal worker, they can issue a Civil Penalty Notice. This can lead to a fine of up to £20,000 per illegal worker and/or up to five years' imprisonment.

In practice, the Home Office's approach to civil penalties is often to target local businesses owned by ethnic minorities. Frequently these are small businesses run by sole traders. To date, businesses targeted have included nail bars, small convenience stores, takeaway businesses, security firms and car washes. These businesses tend to have a general awareness of the right-to-work duties on employers, but get caught out as they are unaware of the specific checks that must be carried out to ensure a full excuse against a civil penalty.

Despite what is claimed in the media, most Civil Penalty Notices are served to ordinary businesses who are doing their best to comply with ever-expanding Home Office responsibilities. SMEs normally run with the minimum amount of staff they can get away with to keep their profit margins up; therefore, compliance can slip. A common example is an employee's visa expires, and they do not inform their HR department or employer. Suddenly, without any intention, a business is employing an illegal worker, and they are open to large fines and reputational damage.

The solution to keeping on top of Home Office regulatory compliance, which is only going to become more burdensome, is to invest in quality immigration law advice. Although it may be an expense, you feel you could do without, it is now an imperative part of having a Sponsorship Licence. Regular six-monthly audits and the ability to contact an immigration lawyer for advice on a particular matter could save your business thousands of pounds, help avoid reputational damage (the kind suffered by Byron Hamburgers) and give you peace of mind.

The team at Reiss Edwards consists of some of London's leading immigration lawyers. If you require expert legal advice on obtaining a UK Tier 2 and 5 Sponsor Licence and/or compliance matters, please call us on 020 3744 2797.

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