Digital arrangements for checking overseas nationals’ right to work in the UK will remain in place until 5 April 2022, a recruitment body has indicated.
Organisations had been preparing for the return of physical right-to-work checks from 1 September 2021, but the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) said it had been told by the Home Office that the temporary adjustments to allow digital checks to take place during the pandemic would remain until next year.
In a letter to immigration compliance and justice minister Chris Philp, the REC said reverting back to physical checks on 1 September would be a step backwards and “counterproductive”, particularly when many sectors are facing staff shortages.
It added that the temporary digital arrangements have been a “resounding success” and have allowed people to quickly and safely begin their roles.
A permanent digital solution is being worked on by the government, but it is not yet known when it will be introduced and its implementation may require legislative change.
A Home Office document shared by the REC says the decision to defer the return of physical right-to-work checks was made following positive feedback about the digital arrangements.
“We have made the decision to defer the date for the end of the adjusted checks to 5 April 2022. This enables the conclusions of the review to be finalised and ensures the Right to Work Scheme continues to operate in a manner which supports employers to implement long-term, post-pandemic working practices,” the document says.
“From 6 April 2022, you must check the prescribed documents as set out in Right to work checks: an employer’s guide, published on Gov.uk. This means that when carrying out a document check you must be in possession of the original documents. You can no longer accept a scanned copy or a photo of original documents, as this will not provide you with a defence against a civil penalty.”
REC chief executive Neil Carberry said: “This is great news for recruiters and hiring businesses all over the country. Digital right to work checks have been a resounding success during the pandemic, allowing companies to hire quickly and safely as well as improving compliance. It makes complete sense to extend their use, especially considering the unprecedented labour shortages we are experiencing now.
“This move comes on the back of extensive campaigning from the REC with our last letter to the Home Office yesterday – linking the need for a delay to helping with worker shortages. We look forward to working with them further on a more permanent digital solution.”
The REC’s letter said that retaining digital checks would be especially useful for employers in rural areas, where the additional time and effort it takes for a job candidate to attend an in-person check could be critical.
“In a world of online passport photo acceptance and Covid vaccination certification, it is obviously right that the RTW system moves the same way,” the letter said.
Tania Bowers, legal counsel and head of public policy at the Assocition of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo) said: “APSCo and its members are pleased that the Home Office has taken on board the feedback shared by ourselves and other representatives of UK employers and have delayed the return to in-person RTW requirements.
“While we look forward to seeing the results of its longer-term review, we hope that the success of the digital processes over the last 18 months leads to a more appropriate and modern method of managing right-to-work checks.”
APSCo said at least 40,000 workers were successfully hired during the pandemic via temporary adjusted checks.
Bowers said: “This highlights that the digital right-to-work checks have been working. And with the UK facing a skills shortage at a time when the Office for National Statistics has reported a record number of job vacancies, ensuring employment regulation is fit for purpose in the modern world of work and doesn’t put UK employers on the back foot, is crucial.”
Chetal Patel, a partner at law firm Bates Wells, said the U-turn in policy meant that the Home Office had listened to employers.
“Digital right to work checks are an effective method in the new era of working,” she said.
“It’s important that employers remember to use the specific certification wording given by the Home Office when carrying out the temporary adjusted checks, otherwise, checks may be deemed invalid.”