The latest rounds of updates to the UK immigration rules and policy updates show a subtle – but significant – shift in UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) thinking. It is clear that compliance with the immigration rules as well as the myriad of Sponsorship Duties placed on employers will be scrutinised. Furthermore, the grounds for refusal of applications are also moving away from defined concepts to a more vague "persistent offender" category. This comes as the UK as a whole is slowly easing Covid-19 restrictions allowing UKVI staff to re-start compliance visits.
As things stand of course, a large number of workers are still working remotely – and UK government guidance is still that at least until 30 June 2021, this MUST happen where possible. That has not stopped the UKVI stating that from 21 June 2021, employers will have to conduct face-to-face Right to Work checks rather than rely on a video conference. UKVI has also re-started compliance audit visits. Furthermore, there is a new directive that Sponsors MUST state the PAYE number they will use for an employee as well as updated guidance as to what changes need to be reported on the sponsorship management system.
While none of these changes are by themselves particularly large or significant, they combine to create a very tight regime which then allows the UKVI to penalise employers as well as individual workers. There are two immediate consequences of this approach. First, the compliance obligations on employers and individual applicants are now so high, it is easily possible to innocently be non-compliant for minor issues. Second, by increasing the likelihood of non-compliance, the UKVI is storing up evidence to justify application refusals, compliance audits, licence revocations and the like.
Some would assert that these increased compliance obligations are necessary for UK government messaging regarding immigration such as "taking back control of our borders". When the amendments to the Immigration Rules in December 2020 are examined, it quickly becomes clear that the ability to secure a work permit that leads to staying in the UK permanently is quicker, cheaper and easier than at any time previously. That is at odds with any implied stance of restricting overseas workers.
By making compliance thresholds so high, the UKVI is allowing itself the ability to penalise employers and individuals so that they can be seen to take a hard line, even though they are mostly talking about companies that have not kept records up to date as opposed to serial and criminal evaders of the work permit process itself.
It should also be borne in mind that the UKVI very rarely turn up alone (aside from standard compliance audits). By making companies declare PAYE details for employees, it should be expected that HMRC will now also be involved.
The message is clear: compliance is key. It has never been more important for employers and employees to be diligent and vigilant in making sure the records held and information passed on to the UKVI remains accurate. We have numerous tools and guides to help you stay on top.
Please do get in touch to schedule a call to discuss the changes and how best to plan, or if you have any concerns.