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Checking your workforce is legal: How to avoid employing 'visa abusers'

As the UK Border Agency cracks down on 'visa abusers', it's more important than ever for employers to make sure they aren't unwittingly employing illegal workers. Read more.

The UK Border Agency (UKBA) has recently stepped up its campaign to stop foreign nationals abusing their visas by working illegally in Britain. Since May, the agency has deported more than 2,000 illegal workers. Employers have ultimate responsibility for ensuring that all their staff members have the right to work in the UK. As a result, it's crucial that they understand the law, make proper checks and protect themselves from unwittingly employing illegal workers.

Employers who deliberately take on illegal workers can face criminal charges, unlimited fines and a prison term. What's more common, however, is that a business inadvertently finds itself in hot water because its employee checking procedures weren't thorough enough. Such employers may be fined up to £10,000 for each illegal worker found in their employment.

The obvious starting point for employers is to make sure that all applicants provide adequate documentation that they are allowed to work in the UK before the job begins. This is good practice for all applicants, regardless of where they come from. Even British nationals should be asked to prove their identity before taking up employment. Supporting documentation should be checked, photocopied, signed and dated, and kept on file.

It's not easy to spot fakes, but common-sense scrutiny of the key facts on documents such as dates, names and photos will demonstrate to the authorities that a business has taken its responsibility seriously.

Workers from outside the European Economic Area on a student visa require special attention, because of restrictions on working hours per week during term time. The hours they work will need to be monitored closely.

It makes sense to get students to provide a letter from their education institution confirming enrolment, term dates and the status of the institution itself. Temporary permissions such as student visas should be checked regularly to make sure they are still valid. As there are many different permits and visas to deal with, employers can check with the UKBA that a document confers a right to work.

Bearing in mind the potential pitfalls, it's not surprising that some employers might be tempted to reject foreign applicants out of hand. But this would go against the Equality Act and expose them to claims of discrimination.

Acas can provide advice on employing migrant workers, keeping employers on the right side of both immigration regulations and employment law. Acas holds regular training events giving a practical introduction to employing people.

Visit the Acas Training Courses, Workshops and Projects area for more information.

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