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If you’re an employer in the UK, you probably know that the process of hiring a foreign national isn’t as simple as hiring a British employee. One of the most important things that employers need to do to ensure compliance is to conduct right to work checks on all non-UK employees. Failing to do so can result in some serious fines and penalties.

Picture of persons CV

What is a right to work check?

As the name suggests, right to work checks entail checking that all staff who work for your company have the legal right to do so. This is one of the core duties of any employer in the UK, no matter the size or sector of your business. So how is it done? Well, first a thorough document check needs to be conducted with the applicant present.

When you check the documents, you need to ensure the following:

  • The documents are genuine, original and unchanged
  • The dates for the applicant’s right to work in the UK have not expired
  • Photos and dates of birth are the same across all documents
  • The applicant has permission to do the type of work you’re offering
  • If two documents give different names, the applicant has supporting documents such as a marriage certificate or divorce decree

Once the documents have been checked and you’re satisfied that they meet the above criteria, you must make copies of all the documents and record the date that you conducted the check. These copies must be kept throughout the applicant’s employment and for two years after they stop working for you.

The fines are steep, so don’t take a chance

The maximum fine for unknowingly hiring workers who don’t have the right to work in the UK is £20,000 per worker, so a few illegal workers could make a significant dent in company cash flow. However, if an employer knowingly hires someone who doesn’t have the right to work, the penalties are far more serious.

In instances where you as an employer knew you were hiring someone who doesn’t have the right to work you could face up to five years jail time as well as pay an unlimited fine. The illegal employee would face up to six months of jail time.

Aside from these harsh penalties, any instance of hiring an illegal worker in the UK will be recorded by the Home Office and will result in your company sponsorship licences being downgraded or revoked. This will also trigger more regular spot checks by HMRC. What’s more, your business’s details may be published by Immigration Enforcement as a warning to other businesses not to employ illegal workers – and no business wants that kind of publicity.

Have a question about the status of your non-EU workers?

How to ensure complete compliance

If you’re in any way unsure about the immigration status of your employees, the best course of action would be to undertake a full audit of your employee records to ensure that all of your non-British staff hold a valid visa and work status in the UK. This will not only ensure your compliance with the legislation on the prevention of illegal workers, but grant you enormous peace of mind knowing you are not at risk of fines, penalties and potential public humiliation. 


Our work permits team can conduct a full employee visa audit for you, as well as assist with any other enquiries you may have around employing non-EU nationals. Simply pop us an email on workpermits@sableinternational.com or give us a call on +44 (0) 20 7759 7584 to get in touch.

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