Data sharing between the Home Office, DWP, HMRC and other government departments will revolutionise processes around migrant worker sponsorship. HR must ensure that the data given to these bodies is accurate, writes Jonathan Beech.
Having worked with UK Visas & Immigration (UKVI), under all its different guises, as an employee and customer since 1994, it has been quite refreshing to see this government department shed its antiquated image around data collection and usage as part of the Home Office.
Prior to 1997 there were no application forms, checklists of documents and only very basic information was held in paper-based files, often kept in off-site storage units. Immigration officers sporadically stamped passports on exit from the country so it was difficult to know who was in, or outside the UK. Embarkation stamps were stopped entirely in 1998 and only replaced in 2015 via Advance Passenger Information (API) collection including an Exit Checks Fact Sheet. The problem with this was that passports were not endorsed and unless you strictly kept a spreadsheet of your travels or boarding passes, you may not remember when you travelled.
But now not remembering or providing incorrect information could be getting a whole lot more serious as UKVI progresses through its three-year digital revolution and the way it stores and shares data.
This has been recently highlighted in the high-profile case of Novak Djokovic’s visa cancellation by Australia. Providing incorrect answers or ticking the wrong box regarding travel should not solely be seen as protecting a population from an unvaccinated traveller. Border officers can see this as deception. It is very easy to do and happens regularly.
What’s in store
Throughout the next two years, UKVI will be more efficient with the way it obtains data and how it shares it through implementing the new Immigration Plan. This digital revolution will include automation of data whereby information provided at the pre-entry stage can be stored and re-used for future immigration applications.
The UKVI is also now working much more closely with HMRC, DWP, the NHS and is looking to work with other public service providers. Ultimately, this sharing of data will revolutionise the way someone can access benefits, work (with a digital status rather than a BRP card), rent a property and access healthcare.
The sharing of data is already being seen between UKVI and HMRC with employee sponsorship. Employers have an obligation to alert the Home Office within 10 working days when a sponsored employee’s salary drops, or they leave the organisation. HMRC can alert UKVI to any salary change and will contact the employer if it has not been reported in time. This can lead to a compliance audit.
Currently, UK visa application forms are onerous to complete and request a lot of information, especially family applications. For example, overseas workers will be asked whether they have any friends in their country of birth, or any other country where they have lived or more than five years. They will also be asked whether they are part of any social groups or have any cultural ties in their country of birth, nationality or any other country where they have lived.
Immigration and right to work
These questions are also shared between many different application forms and include the requirement to list countries the worker has visited along with dates and reasons, their level of savings and earnings plus any convictions or penalties. The latter is especially important as penalties including speeding fines should be disclosed – even if they view them as minor. UKVI can cross check all information provided against the shared data to ensure nothing is being hidden or falsified. In the future, UKVI will be pre-populating applications forms with previous data but in order to remain consistent and to ensure accuracy, it is advisable to keep records of all information provided. If application forms were not retained at the time, it is possible to make a subject access request.
It is not only an overseas worker’s own data that is checked for accuracy. All immigration applications require supporting documentation and this is frequently provided by a third party. HR should know they will also be checking whether the organisation providing an invitation to enter the UK for a business meeting or a financial organisation providing evidence of accounts or tax returns is legitimate.
One such request for assistance we received recently was from an overseas business person who had a UK visit visa application refused. By obtaining a detailed verification report from other government departments, UKVI concluded that the invitation letters from UK organisations contained false information and the tax return provided as evidence of funds to support the trip was not genuine. The application was refused for false representations and a 10 year re-entry travel ban imposed. There is no right of appeal and any chance of entering the UK from now on will likely mean looking at family life and human rights claims.
This may seem an extreme example, however, deception imposes the maximum penalty. Unless an overseas worker is asked to explain their actions or documents, future travel is bleak, and not only to the UK. Other countries ask for details of overseas refusals and serious non-compliance will be quickly disfavoured.
With the web of data sharing cast wide, getting it right first time is therefore essential for both HR and overseas workers.