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More migrant workers will have to carry biometric permits

Employers are getting a helping hand in ensuring the eligibility of their staff, following a recent change in immigration law. From 1 December, all nationals from outside the European Economic Area or Switzerland who have been granted permission to stay in the UK for more than six months must apply for a biometric residence permit (BRP) if they have not already done so. The permit, which stores fingerprints and a facial image on a secure chip, must be shown to an employer before starting work.

One aim is to reduce immigration abuse by proving people's right to work and to ensure only those with a right to take a job legally can do so, according to a Government spokesman.

The change is thought to raise the number of individuals required to get a BRP to around 400,000 a year. The BRP was introduced in 2008 and since then more than 650,000 have been issued.

Employers have ultimate responsibility for ensuring that all their employees are entitled to work in the UK. Those who knowingly take on illegal workers can face criminal charges, unlimited fines and a prison term. Inadvertent mistakes can still land employers with a £10,000 fine for each illegal worker found in their employment.

However, if an employer correctly carries out the required document checks, then they will have a 'statutory excuse' against paying the penalty in the event of illegal workers being discovered. They will need to have seen original documents, satisfied themselves that they are genuine, have properly checked names, dates, addresses, photos, and expiry, and have kept non-alterable dated copies of the documentation.

Some employers might be tempted to eschew the extra risks and administration of employing migrant workers and reject foreign applicants out of hand. But this would be a breach of the Equality Act and expose them to tribunal claims.

Acas can provide advice on employing migrant workers, particularly in relation to Equality, diversity and the Equality Act 2010, helping to keep employers on the right side of employment law. Acas also holds regular training events entitled Human resources management for beginners.

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

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