A visit from the Home Office can be a daunting prospect, but doesn’t have to be a doomsday scenario. Every business in the UK is obliged to ensure it operates in complete compliance with all applicable immigration law and legislation. To employ migrants who do not have the legal right to work in the UK is to contravene Section 8 of the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996. Where businesses are found to have breached the terms of the immigration act – knowingly or otherwise – heavy fines and criminal prosecution may apply.
It is therefore essential to ensure your hiring and general HR structures function in absolute compliance with immigration law at all times. Should you have any concerns regarding immigration audits or general immigration compliance, contact the team at Aristone Solicitors for an obligation-free consultation.
The Home Office regularly visits organisations that hire overseas workers, particularly where migrants form a large part of their respective workforce. Civil penalties and/or criminal prosecution may be enforced in any instance where a business is found to have contravened any aspect of UK immigration law. Even if the offense is accidental or attributed to a genuine misunderstanding, the employer still remains liable. Fines of up to £10,000 per employee are payable where migrant workers are hired illegally. In addition, to break the rules even once is to risk being banned from hiring overseas workers indefinitely.
Over recent years in particular, responsible businesses across the UK have been paying closer attention to their immigration compliance than ever before. Along with tax law compliance, immigration compliance has become a priority for hiring organisations across the UK. However, evidence also suggests that many businesses (if not most) are not adequately up to speed on UK immigration policy, or their obligations/rights as an employer.
We strongly recommend the implementation of regular internal audit and periodic consultations with immigration experts. As immigration legislation is constantly changing, it’s important to know where you and your employees stand at any given time.
Working with small and large businesses across the UK, Aristone Solicitors provides elite legal support for companies who prioritise immigration compliance. For more information or to discuss your case in more detail, book an obligation-free consultation with one of our advisors today.
Why Might the Home Office Pay You a Visit?
Some Home Office visits are completely random, as it’s not always the most obvious employers that could be breaking UK immigration rules. As such, there’s a chance you may be visited by the Home Office at any time for no specific reason whatsoever. However, you’re far more likely to be visited by the Home Office if you hire non-EEA migrants on a regular basis, or have numerous non-EEA migrants already working for your organisation.
The Consequences of Non-Compliance
If the Home Office finds no grounds for dispute regarding your compliance, your business will retain its sponsorship license and no further action will be taken. You will also be unlikely to undergo another Home Office inspection for some time.
In the event that evidence of non-compliance is discovered by the Home Office, action may be taken by way of one or more of the following:
- Suspended or revoked licences
- A downgrade to a B-Rating
- Business reputational damage
- A reduction in a company’s Certificates of Sponsorship
- Penalties of up to £10,000 per illegal migrant worker
Should the Home Office suspect that a business has knowingly hired migrants who do not have the legal right to work in the UK, they may be sentenced to up to two years in prison with an unlimited fine payable.
About the Audit
It’s important to note that a Home Office immigration audit can be carried out at any time and you will not always be provided with any notice. You must therefore ensure you are fully prepared to answer questions and provide complete evidence of workers’ legal status, 365 days a year.
The randomness of Home Office immigration audits ensures the business is not able to plan and implement measures to achieve a ‘false pass’. There are no specific rules as to how immigration checks are carried out, the questions that may be asked during the audit and the nature of the evidence required to demonstrate your compliance. From one company to the next, two audits may be completely different from start to finish.
Your HR framework will be intensively scrutinised to ensure it is sufficiently robust, with particular focus on your approach to recruiting non-EEA migrants. The specifics of the examination will vary in accordance with the size of the business and how many overseas workers have been recruited. If there’s just a single non-EEA worker, their case may be investigated at the deepest level. If there are 250 migrant workers, dozens may be examined less intensively and a select handful scrutinised aggressively.
Key Elements of the Assessment
Several key aspects of your company’s HR framework and migrant recruitment processes will be examined, including but not limited to:
- Monitoring immigration status and preventing illegal work
- Maintaining migrant contact information
- Record keeping
- Tracking daily attendance of migrants
Timeline of an Immigration Audit
A typical Home Office immigration audit plays out as follows:
1. Immigration Audit Notification
You may or may not be issued with an official immigration audit notice, which will inform you of the date and time you can expect officers to visit your business. The contact person assigned at the time you applied for your sponsorship license will receive the notification, which will usually take place within days of the notice being issued. In some instances, the Home Office may demonstrate flexibility and organise a convenient time and date to suit the business being audited.
However, it is becoming increasingly common for the Home Office to visit businesses and carry out intensive audits completely unannounced. There is no guarantee you will be provided with notice of any kind, so you have to assume that compliance officers could arrive at your premises at any time. Even if there is no evidence of the respective business having broken any UK migrant worker rules, they may still be visited unannounced and expected to demonstrate their compliance.
We therefore strongly recommend the implementation of regular internal audits, along with periodic consultations with legal advisors to ensure your on-going compliance.
2. Preparation for the Audit (Where Applicable)
In the days (or weeks) leading up to the audit, it’s essential to ensure you make the evidence the Home Office is likely to request accessible and available. Compliance officers focus heavily on the transparency of the organisation they visit – the easier it is to access the information they need, the more credible and responsible the business appears. As there are no fixed rules regarding the checks carried out during the audit, you need to ensure you are prepared for every eventuality.
Please note that if the officers evaluating your business encounter excessive difficulties in accessing the information they need, your company may be formally declared “partially compliant” or “non-compliant” as a result. It’s your responsibility to ensure all required information and documentation is present, correct and legible.
3. The Day of the Audit
When the day of the audit arrives, one or more compliance officers will visit your premises and request a series of documents and records. They’ll expect to see evidence of your approach to non-EEA migrant immigration, the strength and efficiency of your HR framework, information collected during migrant working hiring processes and so on. They’ll also ask a variety of questions, which may be directed at you, your colleagues, your migrant workers – anyone of interest to the compliance officers.
Please note that you will not be given any indication whatsoever as to the outcome of the audit on the day itself. Instead, you can expect a relatively neutral demeanour and will be advised as to when you’ll be hearing from the Home Office.
4. After the Audit
A summary of the findings during the audit will be sent to the business in due course, which will detail the Home Office’s decision and any action to be taken or improvements to be implemented where applicable.
Immigration audits are awarded scores of 1 to 3 – 3 being the highest possible score the audited business can achieve. Points are awarded or subtracted across three key compliance areas, which are as follows:
- HR Systems: – This takes into account the extent to which the company has a strong and effective HR system in place to monitor both the initial hiring and the status of non-EEA migrants during the course of the stay in the UK.
- Convictions and Civil Penalties: – Thorough checks to ensure that the non-EEA migrants working for the business do not have any unspent convictions or are liable for civil penalties of any kind.
- Migrant Compliance: – Verification that the organisation complies with all applicable rules as outlined in official UK immigration policy. Examples of which include working hours limitations, the nature of the work carried out, salaries paid and so on.
Experienced Immigration Audit Lawyers in Luton
Whether preparing for an upcoming audit or dealing with the aftermath of an imperfect inspection, we can help. Our business immigration lawyers have unrivalled experience and expertise in all aspects of non-EEA worker immigration law for small and large companies alike. We can help ensure your business remains 100% compliant with applicable immigration rules at all times, in order to successfully pass any future Home Office inspections.
By implementing a mock audit, we’ll be able to pinpoint potential weaknesses in your HR framework and general areas for improvement. Always remember that not all immigration audits are announced – you may be selected for a random inspection at any time. Don’t take chances on something as important as immigration law. Contact the team at Aristone Solicitors today to discuss our corporate immigration services in more detail.