How to Avoid Immigration Pitfalls: What Should Professional Bodies and Their Members Do?

BW logo_smallUK immigration has been a hot topic in the press for some months now and is still in the headlines due to the looming Halloween deadline for Brexit. It’s important that professional bodies and their members take stock of their workforce and HR practices to ensure that everything is in shape in advance of a potential overhaul of our UK immigration system.

Our top tips to avoid immigration pitfalls are:

  • Brexit – Are you Brexit ready? Do you know which of your staff may be affected by Brexit? It’s important to consider not only EU nationals but also your staff who may be family members of EU nationals. After all, if a staff member cannot secure status for their family member who is an EU national that may affect their continuing employment with you. Is Priti Patel’s latest announcement that a sign that the curtain is closing? Deal or no deal, EU nationals and their family members who are resident in the UK prior to the exit day (currently set at 11pm on 31 October 2019) will have until at least 31 December 2020 to apply for status under the EU Settlement Scheme.
  • Right to work checks – Is your house in order? As an employer you should conduct right to work checks on your employees prior to their employment commencing. Have you got the correct evidence of your employee’s right to work in the UK? If not, you may be in for an unpleasant surprise in the form of a Home Office civil penalty, in the event that you are found to be employing an illegal worker.
  • Getting into trouble with the Home Office – If you or your members are slapped on the wrist with a fine for employing an individual who does not have the right to work for you or your members, this could have a knock on effect on your or your members registration with a regulatory body or even your members’ registration with a you as their professional body. This could also disrupt your day to day business and could lead to unwanted reputational damage.
  • Sponsor licence holders – Due to the specialist expertise required for many of the roles offered by professional bodies and their members, they may hold sponsor licences. It’s important that sponsor licence holders are continually aware of the changes to the sponsor guidance as otherwise this could affect them due to non-compliance issues. Have you conducted a mock immigration audit to check you’re compliant? If not, now might be the time to conduct one – preparation, preparation preparation is the key!
  • Is the UK open for business? – It’s clear that the UK wants to be seen as welcoming the brightest and the best talent from across the world. An example of this is Boris Johnson’s recent announcement that there will be fast track visas for researchers and specialists in science, engineering and technology. This could be welcomed news for some of you. Another example is a recommendation by the Migration Advisory Committee that the Home Office increases the jobs in the Shortage Occupation List to include vets, architects, psychologists, biochemists and web designers. One of the benefits of this is that a prospective employer wouldn’t need to advertise the position to the resident labour market which could speed up the process of onboarding new hires. Watch this space as this could open up different avenues for employing workers.
  • Immigration v Employment – These two areas of law do not always align so its important to seek legal advice before taking any action against an employee (for instance, where you are considering dismissing an employee because they appear not to have the correct documentation to confirm their status to work in the UK) as otherwise you could find yourself in murky waters.

So what does the future hold in terms of immigration? It’s still not clear at the time of writing this blog, if the UK will leave the EU with or without a deal. We could face a new radical immigration system in the coming months. What is clear is that professional bodies and their members should take action now to ensure that they are in the best shape possible.

Author: Chetal Patel is a partner in Bates Wells’ Immigration team.

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