For employers and HR professionals sponsoring Tier 2 highly skilled workers from overseas, compliance with immigration laws is crucial.
Immigration compliance does not stop with the initial identity checks made when a candidate starts their employment with a company. Rather, it is a continuing duty. In fact, to test whether employers or sponsors are complying with their continuing duty to prevent illegal working in the UK, UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) may make announced and unannounced visits to the sponsor’s premises.
Most sponsors and HR professionals are conscientious and take their obligations very seriously as evidenced by the number of UKVI audits that take place without any significant issues.
Get things wrong, and sponsors can face a myriad of penalties including heavy fines of up to £20,000 per unlawful worker, damage to their reputation, the inability to employ their highly skilled overseas staff or hire new staff from overseas, possible closure of their premises for 48 hours and even worse, imprisonment.
What is an immigration compliance audit?
UKVI’s officers will visit a sponsor’s site or sites to confirm the following:
- The sponsor can offer employment to overseas workers;
- The information provided by the sponsor is accurate and up-to-date;
- The company is genuine and lawfully operating in the UK;
- The sponsor is able to comply with immigration laws and their sponsorship duties.
UKVI may do this by:
- Reviewing the information held by the sponsor and contrasting this with the information provided in the online application for a sponsor licence;
- Speaking with the overseas employees, their managers and recruitment managers;
- Speaking with members responsible for overall day-to-day UKVI online reporting duties;
- Reviewing the personnel files of overseas workers and sometimes spot-checking the files of resident workers to ensure that those workers have an entitlement to work in to the UK in the role recorded; and
- Making an overall assessment of the sponsor’s HR systems, data held and record-keeping to meet their ongoing legal obligations.
It should be noted that sponsors are required to cooperate with UKVI during immigration audits.
During an immigration compliance audit with Thomas Chase Immigration, sponsors or those looking to become sponsors can expect the following:
- Interviews to be conducted with key personnel identified in the online sponsor licence application;
- A review of the sponsor’s processes and procedures against UKVI’s requirements;
- A detailed review of sample files held for overseas workers to confirm best practices are being met;
- Feedback followed by a written report of findings with recommendations to help the sponsor develop good or better systems.
Where necessary, the sample review of files may need to be widened.
3 Ways that an immigration compliance audit can help
So let’s put this into context by highlighting 3 key ways in which an immigration compliance audit with an immigration provider can help businesses.
- Providing reassurance prior to an announced UKVI visit
An immigration compliance audit can a for an assist with the preparation of an announced UKVI audit by providing reassurance to sponsors and HR that their systems are appropriate and effective.
It is not uncommon for companies to request an audit to flesh out any internal issues and assess any training gaps.
When conducting an audit at one company, it became very clear that the imminent departure of one the senior members of the HR department would leave a huge gap in knowledge. However, to avert this, training sessions on areas such as right to work checks and the Resident Labour Market Test were arranged.
Training, coupled with ongoing support and advice helped the HR department continue to meet its ongoing obligations and demonstrates a clear example of how an audit can pinpoint things that have not yet surfaced.
Also, in few circumstances, I’ve found that sponsors have utilised the audit to review their working relationship with an immigration provider or get a feel for them before contracting their services again in future.
Applying for a sponsor licence
As stated above, UKVI may visit the sponsor at their site as part of the application consideration process for a sponsor licence. To ensure success, it is important to understand who will manage sponsorship of overseas workers within the company to enhance the success of an application.
An audit can reveal if the right roles, such as that of an authorising officer, have been assigned to the most suitable personnel. It can also highlight whether the company has effective HR systems for monitoring their future employees’ immigration status.
Not only that, but following an audit by an immigration provider and proving any recommendations are followed, the company should feel relatively confident ahead of any UKVI audit or queries.
Ensuring consistency across various UK branches
Managing various company branches can be difficult enough regardless if the company has grown organically or merged or acquired other sites.
An immigration compliance audit can identify any gaps in processes and assess whether key changes have been reported in the proper manner.
In one instance, I worked with a university that had joined forces with two other education establishments to form one entity. As you can imagine, this lead to significant restructuring and downsizing of the HR department, with one site taking most of the responsibility for the other sites due on their immigration experience.
This was seen as a good financial and strategic move by the university, but left the HR department at the main site overwhelmed by their additional personnel and immigration obligations.
An immigration compliance audit was secured and revealed that the main site’s processes and procedures were effective, probably because of the ongoing support and systems that we had developed. The other sites had decent systems but gaps were identified for various reasons as well as an incompatibility with the HR systems. It was reasonable straightforward to suggest a plan of action in the debriefing to address the issues identified; develop consistent systems for monitoring future employees’ immigration status across the 3 sites and schedule dates to meet and track progress.
There is another reason. Having proper HR systems and procedures in place, can provide protection by way of a statutory defence, should a sponsor unwittingly find that an unlawful worker has been hired.
Hopefully, the above points have shown the benefits of securing an immigration compliance audit for sponsors or businesses looking to become sponsors of overseas workers.
Immigration audits can be carried out by UKVI officers at any time in the sponsoring process, be in at the application stage or after a sponsor licence has been in place for a long time. By getting an audit, a sponsor can gain clarity of the extent to which their HR processes and systems is helping them meet their continuing obligation of preventing illegal working or identity areas to address. Be it, applying for a sponsor licence, checking compliance across various sites, seeking help before an announced visit or just seeking assurance, an immigration compliance audit has many benefits. By securing an immigration compliance audit, and following the recommendations, sponsors can focus on what they do best, providing their customers with great products and services.