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Employing foreign workers in the UK

More than 10% of the current UK workforce consists of non-UK citizens. There’s a great deal of uncertainty concerning the post-Brexit future, and given that it seems that even the government is capable of getting it spectacularly wrong, there’s some value in taking a snapshot of the current situation…

Employing foreign workers in the UK

Citizens from the EEA and Switzerland have the right to live and work in the UK (subject to certain requirements) and although that will inevitably change after Brexit, it seems likely that for those already in that position, their current rights will be protected.

For citizens from elsewhere in the world, the UK operates a points-based system that categorises workers into five tiers:

  1. high value migrants
  2. skilled workers
  3. low-skilled workers
  4. students
  5. temporary workers

Businesses may either employ someone with the correct visa and work permit or they can obtain a licence and sponsor someone through the immigration process (often the route taken when employing Tier 2 workers).

For a more comprehensive picture, the Thomson Reuters’ legal site is a good place to start.

Risks

Businesses that employ illegal immigrants are subject to civil penalties, including a fine of up to £20,000 for each worker; not to mention suspension or cancellation of the sponsor licence. Furthermore, since 2016, if a business has ‘reasonable cause to believe’ an employee is not working legally, there may be a criminal penalty of up to five years in prison and an unlimited fine.

A ‘hostile environment’ for employers?

The Home Office’s so-called ‘hostile environment’ policy is well-known and that policy arguably extends to employers, given the degree to which recordkeeping, monitoring and enforcement responsibilities have been imposed on businesses. What’s more, even if you become aware of an employee with less-than-perfect documentation, dismissal may not be a simple solution – the Abellio case is an example of tribunals taking a somewhat nuanced (i.e. unpredictable) approach to such cases.

What can employers do?

Compliance is key and the following is a good starting point:

  • Review your recruitment and hiring procedures to ensure that you are checking the right paperwork at the right stage.
  • Ensure staff with HR and/or hiring responsibilities are fully trained in the current requirements.
  • Regularly check and monitor your employees’ visas and permits, including tracking expiry dates and renewals.

In a nutshell, the current state of immigrant labour legislation is that ignorance on the part of the employer is rarely an excuse, requiring businesses to tread carefully.

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