As the Home Office prepares to dish out massive fines to businesses employing illegal migrants, many care sector employers are still totally confused by the myriad of immigration rules, visa stamps and ‘Australian points based’ systems.
With the introduction of the points based system for Tier 2 just months away, employers need to prepare for the biggest immigration shake-up in the last 50 years.
Last week I spoke at the Hertfordshire Care Providers Association (HCPA), chaired by Martin Wigg, on the pitfalls of “Employing Overseas Nationals”.
I started my talk by explaining that the Border and Immigration Agency (BIA) has been running a national advertising campaign warning employers who take on foreign workers without ‘permission to work’ that they face civil penalties of up to £10000 per employee. On a show of hands among the hundred plus audience, only two or three people had heard or seen the advertisements.
To see how well prepared HCPA members were for the new regime, I conducted a short “immigration test” based on three questions. Just for fun, why not take the test yourself?
Indicate which of the following statements are either true or false?
Any member of the European Union, EEA and Switzerland can work in the UK without a Work Permit. True or False?
A dependant of an overseas student cannot work more than 20 hours per week? True or False?
An employer can reduce the £10000 penalty for employing an illegal worker by reporting them to the BIA. True or False?
Based on a show of hands, around 80% of the audience answered all three questions incorrectly and only one, a Lawyer, answered question 3 correctly, admitting that she had checked the BIA website (www.bia.homeofiice.gov.uk) that morning.
The answers are:
Unlike previous new members of the European Union, Bulgarians and Romanians need permission to work in the UK. They can register as self employed or as students. For example, a Romanian citizen can freely enter the UK, without a visa, and then enrol on a NVQ course in Health and Social Care, apply for a Yellow Card and once granted work full time.
A dependant of an overseas student can work full time in any occupation, in many cases helping to support their partner during their studies. The ‘20 hour’ rule does not apply to all students. Students on sandwich or vocational courses can work full time.
Unbelievable as it may seem, employers can reduce their penalty by reporting their illegal worker to the BIA. See the BIA website for full details on the penalty and ‘bounty’ system of rewards.
The purpose of the quiz is not show how clever we are (after all we had the answers!), but to illustrate just how ill-equipped small to medium sized employers are to take on the responsibility of monitoring illegal employment.
During another talk this week to the managers of a small group of residential care homes, it quickly became clear that they had not realised that Work Permits are not transferrable from one employer to another, or that they had to apply for a new permit when recruiting an overseas ‘Work Permit holding’ carer.
One of the care managers asked me how on earth she was supposed to know whether or not a “Limited Leave to Remain” and “Authorised to work” passport stamp, coupled with a National Insurance number entitled them to work.
We have just arranged an extension of a Senior Carer Work Permit and ‘Leave to Remain’ for Evelyn, a Filipina, and her Husband. Her passport stamp reads: “Limited Leave to Remain in the UK – Able to work as authorised by the Secretary of State”.
What would this mean to a busy care home manager? She has a National Insurance number, a CRB and POVA check, so she must be ‘authorised’ to work, right? Wrong, authorised by the Secretary of State (in effect the Home Office) actually refers to her Work Permit, which in this case is perfectly valid.
The Leave to Remain or visa stamp is linked to her Work Permit. If she leaves that employment or the Work Permit (which tied to a single employer) is cancelled, her visa is no longer valid.
The passport stamp for Evelyn’s ‘dependant’ husband, who is allowed to work, is even more ambiguous and simply says: “Limited Leave to Remain in the UK. No Recourse to public funds”.
I have come across countless situations where an Overseas National, having previous held a Work Permit for another company, has been taken on based solely on their passport stamp, with both parties not realising they are breaking the law.
The Inland Revenue also accepts the tax collected on behalf of illegal workers, and I have yet to see any rebate cheques from the taxman attached to a deportation notice!
The general consensus at the meetings was that these law abiding employers, who have no desire to break the rules, are extremely worried about the new fines, which could cost their businesses tens of thousands of pounds.
Many also felt that the tough measures imposed on employers would not be necessary had the Government had not allowed a situation to arise where an estimated half a million people are illegally in the UK.
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, fresh from defending her Government’s own ‘illegal Immigrant Jobs Fiasco’ scandal was uncompromising:
“By stamping out illegal working we are making the UK a less attractive destination for illegal migration.”
Let’s hope this does not also mean “stamping” on employers who unwittingly fall foul of the rules.