Immigration Compliance Audit for HR and businesses: 3 ways an audit can help your business

“Immigration Compliance Audit for HR and businesses: 3 ways an audit can help your business” is locked Immigration Compliance Audit for HR and businesses: 3 ways an audit can help your business

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.

And…

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.

Conclusion

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.

Avoid getting caught out by Canada’s strict new travel requirements

Canada strict travel requirements

If you are planning on travelling to Canada on business, you need to avoid getting caught out by Canada’s new mandatory requirements.

Visa-exempt nationals will require an Electronic Travel Authorisation (eTA) to travel to or transit though Canada. That includes British nationals flying to Canada on business. It also includes, business travellers to the US who visit Canada, by air, as part of their trip. An eTA is not required if entering Canada by sea or road.

An eTA allows the Canada authorities to screen travellers before they arrive at the Canadian border. For those familiar with the United States’ Visa Waiver Programme, ESTA, the eTA largely mirrors it. Similar to ESTA, applicants complete an online form with their personal details, pay a nominal fee (currently $7 CAD) and wait a few minutes for a decision. Click here to apply for an eTA 

Unlike ESTA, an eTA is valid for 5 years rather than 2 years. Normally, travellers are allowed to stay in Canada for up to six months, though the Canadian authorities at the border will authorize the period stay in Canada and relay this by way of the stamp in the passport.

Leniency Period

At present, a leniency period exists, aimed at facilitating travel of visa-exempt nationals whilst the authorities addressed some of the technical issues experienced by travellers in the past. Canadian border officials may, as a result, allow you to enter Canada without an eTA, subject to meeting other immigration requirements. That means, you can board your flight without an eTA and enter Canada as long as you have appropriate documents such as a valid passport.

Where an application for an eTA has been submitted, but no decision reached or communicated by the Canadian authorities, it is still possible to travel to and enter Canada during the leniency period.

However, if you have already applied for an eTA and been refused, you will not be able to enter Canada merely because the leniency period is in place.

Should you decide to travel to Canada with a refused eTA you may experience delays or be prevented from entering the country. It’s worth highlighting that refusals of entry into a country are required to be reported on future applications for an eTA, ESTA or visa.

Leniency Period come to an end on 29 September 2016

Crucially, the leniency period ends on 29 September 2016. From 29 September, British travellers and other visa-exempt nationals must be in possession of an eTA in order to enter Canada.

The Canadian authorities may experience some additional teething problems and disruption as visa-exempt nationals apply for their compulsory eTAs from this date, and I’ll certainly be watching and reporting on how things develop. For instance, during the early implementation of eTA it was not unusual to come across reports of decisions taking days, rather than minutes to be reached or of individuals with no adverse immigration history having their initial eTA refused.

It’s sensible, therefore, to apply for an eTA well in advance of your planned travel so as to allow time to address any issues or to submit any additional requested documentation. Without an eTA, you cannot even board the airplane to travel to Canada.

Should the eTA be refused, you are encouraged to address the reasons for the refusal or correct any mistakes make by way of a new application for an eTA.

Where ‘grounds for inadmissibility’ exist, such as prior criminal convictions, a serious medical condition, past immigration refusals, or other potential security concerns, it is advisable to apply for a Temporary Resident Permit and seek advice in order to enter Canada.

UK Residence Card Applications and Processing Times

UK Residence Card processing times

With UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) finding themselves inundated with applications for a UK residence card and certificate from EEA nationals and EEA family permit holders, it could be easy to assume that the application has fallen into a bottomless pit, only to be seen at some point in the distant future.

After all, we have all heard of the ongoing immigration cases sitting with UKVI for years and years.

However, UK residence card applications, and applications to certify permanent residence status,  are different. This is because UKVI’s service standards, as governed by EU regulations, dictate that UKVI must issue the actual UK residence card within 6 months.

The 6 months’ time frame begins from the date that UKVI receives the application, and the required supporting documents that prove that a right of residence exists.

This means that it is crucial for the applicant to submit the correct information and documentation to UKVI as part of the application.

In some instances, the applicant may legitimately require the application to be fast tracked. If so, the UKVI guidance, as of 30 August 2016, states that a request to expedite the UK residence card application should be made via email to:

The following information must be provided with the request to expedite the matter:

  • Full name
  • Date of birth
  • Date of application
  • Royal Mail Recorded Delivery number, if applicable
  • Method of payment used when making the application (card, cheque etc.)
  • Case ID or Home Office (HO) reference, if known
  • Date of planned removal, if applicable

UKVI will review the request and decide whether to fast track the matter.

Extenuating or exceptional circumstances which may warrant an application to expedite the application for residence, and even permanent residence, can include:

  • A family emergency such as bereavement or serious illness
  • The need to travel for essential medical treatment overseas

In all cases, documentary evidence of the exceptional, compelling circumstances must be provided together with the information outlined above.

The request should be sent to UKVI via email. From experience, it is often helpful to write to the caseworker directly – the details of which can be found in any previous correspondence from UKVI.

Where there is no correspondence, it may help to write to UKVI at:

UK Visas and Immigration
Permanent Migration
PO Box 306
Liverpool
L2 0QN

It is worth adding that UKVI do not consider family celebrations such as weddings and holidays to be exceptional or compelling ‘family emergencies’ to merit expediting an application.

Further, UKVI does not consider day-to-day difficulties as compelling enough to warrant the application being fast tracked. This includes any reasonable difficulties that non-European family members may experience.

That said, it is still worth making the request to UKVI, explaining the circumstances (difficulties in securing a particular job) and documenting any difficulties experienced as a result of the delay.

Hopefully, there will be little need to take such action.

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Written by Carla Thomas – Managing Director at Thomas Chase immigration.

Thomas Chase Immigration offer immigration assistance to individuals, families and organisations.

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