Skills gap looms unless employers sign up as migrant sponsors

Earlier this month a budget airline announced it would cut all ties with the recruitment agency that supplied it an illegal worker from Singapore. City-based Flybe blamed CBSbutler for failing to spot that aircraft engineer Ganesh Rajoo, who has now been deported, had a fake passport.

The announcement came in the wake of a report commissioned by the Conservative Party, which warned that the UK could be vulnerable to terrorist attacks for another three decades, and suggested protection at some UK airports was “poor”.

Under the UK’s new points-based immigration system, which was launched on 29 February, organisations are responsible for tracking migrant workers they employ throughout their stay in the UK. This includes monitoring how long the worker’s visa is valid for, whether they turn up for work, and if they change address. Previously such tracking was carried out by the government.

While Rajoo was employed directly by CBSbutler, making it the agency’s responsibility to carry out appropriate background checks, legal experts have warned that both agencies and the organisations they supply should carry out checks and monitor employees to avoid any penalties.

Laura Mitchell, associate employment solicitor at Clarion Solicitors. told Personnel Today: “Depending on who’s controlling the employee, such as what uniform they wear or when they turn up to work, the employee could actually be employed by the firm rather than the agency.

“That’s why we’re advising the firm to also carry out checks and monitor migrant workers, so they don’t get caught out.”

To escape liability for a civil penalty – which could be as much as a £10,000 fine for each illegal worker caught – employers must check specific documents when hiring new staff, and make subsequent checks at 12-month intervals for workers who have limited leave to enter or remain in the UK. The severity of the fine depends on the nature of checks the employer has undertaken. Employers who knowingly employ illegal immigrants face jail terms and unlimited fines.

Since the new rules came in this year, 137 firms have been prosecuted for knowingly employing people without permission to work. This is 10 times the number prosecuted in the whole of 2007.

Perhaps it is no wonder then that employers have been slow to apply to become sponsors legally able to hire migrant workers under tiers two and five of the new system.

Under the new rules, which a due to come into force this autumn, employers will have to act as sponsors for workers under tiers two to five (which include skilled workers and temps), taking on the responsibility for ensuring workers comply with the rules. If sponsors do not act responsibly, they may be downgraded or removed from the publicly listed sponsorship register.

Some lawyers predict the rules will not come in until November, but despite this, Sarah Buttler, partner at law firm Sarah Buttler Associates, warned employers to start applying now or face huge bottlenecks and gaps in employment while waiting for their sponsorship status.

“Employers must be able to demonstrate to the UK Border Agency (UKBA) that they have control over their migrant workers, so it’s important for employers to prepare now for the new system,” she said. “They will have to apply at some point so they may as well do it now.”

Employer checklist: preparing to become a sponsor

  • Familiarise yourself with the new points-based system introduced in February 2008
  • Set up systems for managing/ tracking migrant workers during their stay
  • Ensure managers know what documents to check when employing a migrant worker, and that they need to review checks every 12 months
  • Set up a clear chain of command outlining who in your organisation is responsible for hiring migrant workers and the responsibilities placed on them
  • The UK Border Agency may wish to meet some staff on work permits so make sure they are where they say they will be
  • Check the UKBA website or call the employer helpline for more information

Source: Sarah Buttler Associates

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