Planned Rise in Fines for Employing Workers who do not have the Right to Work in the UK banner


Planned Rise in Fines for Employing Workers who do not have the Right to Work in the UK

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Many sponsor licence holders are already groaning under the red tape associated with managing a sponsor licence. As immigration solicitors, we read with trepidation that fines for businesses that employ an illegal worker will rise significantly. The fines are likely to go up in early 2024.

The increase in fines won't just affect UK business owners with a sponsor licence. It will impact any UK employer. People have little sympathy for firms that employ illegal workers. However, in our experience, whilst there are some very bad apples whose business plan seems to be based on employing people without the right to work in the UK so they can exploit the individuals and the system, there are many companies who make an honest mistake. That’s easily done when HR staff are overstretched because businesses are trying to cut down on overheads.

In this article, our immigration solicitors look at the planned changes to the fines regime for employing illegal workers and offer a potential immigration compliance solution for sponsor licence holders.

UK Online and London-Based Immigration Solicitors and Sponsorship Licence Lawyers

For sponsor licence and immigration advice call OTS Solicitors on 0203 959 9123 or contact us online.

The illegal worker fines rise

The government has said it is going to triple the maximum level of fine that a business can be fined for employing a worker who does not have the right to work in the UK.

At present the maximum fine is £20,000 for each illegal worker employed by a company. For a start-up or SME even one mistake, with a first offence fine of £15,000, can be crippling to the continuation of the business or its ability to grow and recruit more staff.

The government plan is to increase the fines to:

  • First offence - £45,000 per worker who does not have the right to work
  • Second or repeat offender - £60,000 per worker who does not have the right to work

In addition to the fines, all companies who deliberately or inadvertently employ a member of staff who does not have the right to work in the UK face adverse publicity. That’s because the government will continue its practice of ‘naming and shaming’ companies found to have employed an illegal worker.

Some companies see fines for employing illegal workers as part of the course as they have adopted the practice of employing those without a right to work in the UK almost as a business model. For those businesses, fines are often not much of a deterrent as the business folds only to rise like a phoenix with a slightly different name – it is an old story but still happening.

Fines for illegal working and sponsor licence holders

For companies with sponsor licences, or businesses hoping to apply for their first sponsor licence, the impact of a fine is even more profound. A sponsor licence holder could find that they have an announced or unannounced audit, followed by the suspension or revocation of their sponsor licence.

For the sponsored staff employed by the company and who have the right to work in the UK, they are truly innocent victims if their employer’s licence is revoked. That’s because every sponsored worker’s skilled worker visa or health and care worker visa will be curtailed if the licence is revoked. The curtailment of a visa normally gives a worker just 60 days to find a new sponsoring employer, switch to a non-sponsored visa route or leave the UK.

If a business is planning to apply for its first sponsor licence, then a fine for employing an illegal worker is likely to put an end to a successful application. A rethink will be required as to how they will be able to meet their recruitment needs. That’s why business immigration lawyers say it is never too early to take employment and sponsor licence law advice so companies have the robust systems they need to carry out right-to-work checks. That way they can relatively easily apply for their sponsor licence and manage their licence duties under the sponsor management system.

Some sponsor licence holders think that statistically the odds are low for the Home Office to fine them for employing an illegal worker because of the limited enforcement action. However, Sponsorship Licence lawyers warn that inspections and compliance visits are on the rise as the government focuses its efforts on immigration enforcement as part of its wider policy to ‘stop the small boats’.

Carrying out right-to-work checks

Sponsorship Licence lawyers sympathise with UK businesses as over the last few years there have been several changes in guidance on the conduct of right-to-work checks. Those changes were partially down to temporary measures during the pandemic and digital advances.

Right-to-work checks can now be carried out in 3 different ways but it can’t be stressed enough that all UK employers MUST carry out checks:

  • Before the worker starts employment. Any employment is covered by the right-to-work rules, including temporary employees
  • On all workers – even if the recruit says they are a British citizen or if they say that they have indefinite leave to remain status or settled status
  • On all employees whether they are going to be working on a part-time or full-time basis. If a company is employing an international student in the UK on a student visa it is essential to ensure that the student’s working hours are limited in accordance with their visa conditions
  • On more than one occasion if an employee has limited leave to remain. An employee can have limited leave to remain even if they are not sponsored by their employer. For example, if the employee is in the UK on a spouse visa

Conducting a right-to-work check

An employer can conduct a right-to-work check by:

  • Looking at the recruit’s original documents
  • Carrying out an online check
  • Using an Identity Service Provider (IDSP)

How OTS Solicitors can help your business with immigration compliance

With 4 months’ notice of the planned rises in fines Sponsorship Licence lawyers are encouraging all business owners to double-check that their right-to-work check processes are foolproof with simple policies and processes for HR staff to follow. If in doubt about past practices, firms have 4 months to check that right-to-work checks were completed properly on existing employees and repeated where workers only have limited leave to remain.

Our Sponsorship Licence lawyers can help your business with its staff training on right-to-work checks or on the wider issue of sponsor licence compliance with reporting and recording duties.

For those firms who recognise that they are so busy that they risk losing their sponsor licence through inadvertently missing something out on the sponsor management system, you have the option of using our specialist sponsor management service. Understanding the cost and time pressures on sponsor licence holders we offer a sponsor licence management service for a fixed monthly retainer and can adapt our package of immigration compliance support to meet the needs of your business.

If you are interested in finding out more about our sponsor licence management service led by the head of the business immigration team, Hans Sok Appadu, then give us a call.

UK Online and London-Based Immigration Solicitors and Sponsorship Licence Lawyers

For sponsor licence and immigration advice call OTS Solicitors on 0203 959 9123 or contact us online.

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