We’d like to ask you three important questions:
1. Do you employ migrant workers?
2. Are you aware of your duties and obligations as the holder of a Sponsor Licence?
3. Have you had your HR systems checked lately?
If you’ve answered ‘yes ‘to the first question, you should be answering an assured ‘yes’ to the other two. If you’re at all unsure of the extent of your duties as a Sponsor of non-EEA migrant workers and you aren’t certain whether your existing HR systems are up-to-date, you need to think seriously about taking action to resolve these uncertainties.
In recent months we have found that increasing numbers of companies we act for have experienced unannounced, unexpected UKBA audits. Any business holding a sponsor licence is under an obligation to prevent illegal workers within the UK, otherwise they could face serious penalties if found to be non-compliant with UK legislation governing the employment of migrant workers. Under the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006, section 15, companies found to be employing illegal workers can be fined up to £10,000 for each illegal worker if they have not performed the necessary checks. Furthermore, if employers fail to pay such penalties their names can be published on the report the UK Border Agency releases quarterly detailing the number of illegal workers found per region in the UK.
The significant increase in surprise UKBA audits clearly comes as part of the Government’s drive to be seen as actively tackling illegal employment in the UK, in the face of criticism from elements of the UK media and the general public. Whilst we certainly do not wish to induce panic in the readers of this blog, it is of vital importance that you take steps to ensure full compliance with all your duties as a Sponsor Licence holder, since your company could be visited next.
What the UK Border Agency will do at your Audit
You must ensure that your Human Resources systems, including all records of the migrant workers you employ, are transparent, well organised and easily accessible. If the auditors find it difficult to review your information and locate the files they need, this will make the process considerably more drawn out and the UKBA will be more likely to declare you partially compliant or non-compliant.
The UKBA will rate your Human Resources systems across 5 key areas to determine whether they are compliant with immigration requirements. The areas are: monitoring immigration status and preventing illegal employment; maintaining migrant contact details; recordkeeping; migrant tracking and monitoring; and tracking professional accreditations and registrations. These ratings are initially carried out when you apply for a Sponsor Licence, but can be checked any time after your Licence is granted.
Each of these key areas requires you to perform duties which range from holding certain documents on file for every migrant worker to notifying the UKBA of employee absences within strict time periods. To be compliant with your obligation of monitoring immigration status and preventing illegal employment, for example, you must keep on file for each sponsored migrant photocopies of their passport, visa status documents and ID card.
So how best to prepare for a UKBA audit?
If anticipating a UKBA audit, you need complete understanding of your obligations as a Sponsor and clear, effective HR systems in place which allow you to hold accurate and full records.
One of the best ways of ensuring you won’t be caught out if the UKBA visit you unexpectedly, is to have your immigration provider carry out a comprehensive audit of all your systems. We carry out full audits on a regular basis for our clients who hold Sponsor Licences, conducting a thorough review of their HR systems and identifying any potential areas of non-compliance. This usually takes less than a day, and we’ll prepare memos and set filing formats which are easily incorporated into existing processes, ensuring that all the necessary information is being captured and recorded.
We’d advise that if the UKBA do announce they will be turning up with little or no notice, you should ask your immigration provider if they can also be present at the audit. In our experience having a legal representative there can make a big difference because they will be aware of all relevant immigration policies and the latest changes, should any legal issues be raised by the auditors. Your representative will be able to respond to complex or probing questions on your behalf and help ease the process so that it becomes much less stressful.
We cannot reiterate enough the importance of full compliance with your duties and obligations as a Sponsor Licence holder and the necessity of being properly prepared for a UKBA audit. Hopefully this blog has given you some useful guidance on the best ways of ensuring you pass any unannounced audit with flying colours!
If you would like to know more or have an upcoming UKBA audit please email us or or call +44 (0)207 001 2121 to discuss how you can prepare.