When hiring citizens from countries outside of the European Economic Area (EEA), UK employers must carry out biometric residence permit checks to confirm work entitlements of each applicant and avoid the possibility of a civil penalty for illegal employment.

All other documents, such as the vignette printed in the job applicant’s passport, are considered insufficient proof of working status.

What is a biometric residence permit?

In November 2008, the Home Office began providing biometric residence permits to visa holders when they applied for or extended their UK visas.

Now, all non-EEA nationals with leave to stay in the UK for longer than six months will have been issued with a biometric residence permit from the UK Government.

The document contains information relating to a person’s immigration status and any restrictions or entitlements that apply to the visa holder.

This permit must be presented to immigration officers, along with the visa holder’s passport, whenever the person enters or departs the UK.

It is also a recognised form of identification in the UK.

Since July 2015, a biometric residence permit is the only acceptable proof of a visa holder’s lawful right to stay, work or study in the UK.

For UK businesses employing non-EEA nationals, in almost all cases, carrying out biometric residence permit checks, including copying the documentation, is the only certain method of avoiding the possibility of a civil penalty.

How a visa holder obtains a biometric residence permit

When a visa applicant is first granted their UK visa, an entry clearance vignette (sticker) is affixed to a page in the visa holder’s passport.

This vignette is valid for 30 days, during which the visa holder must travel to the UK.

If the visa holder is unable to enter the UK within this period, they will be required to make a further application to the UK for a replacement vignette.

On arrival to the UK, the visa holder has ten days to collect their biometric resident permit from a designated UK post office. The address will be provided in the applicant’s visa decision letter.

There are penalties for those who do not collect their permit within this time frame.

Employers’ duty to confirm the Right to Work

Because visa holders are required to collect their biometric residence permit within ten days of arrival, there will rarely be a case where a new employee cannot produce their permit as proof of their working status.

The Home Office recommends that employers wait for the job applicant to collect their permit before hiring a recent arrival.

In rare situations, where a person is required to commence work before collecting their permit, an employer will be required to conduct an initial right to work check, citing the vignette displayed in the person’s passport.

Then, when the vignette expires less than 30 days later, a further employee check must be conducted in order to maintain the ‘statutory excuse’ and avoid a civil penalty.

Biometric resident permit checks – what you need to look for

If an employee provides a false document to an employer, and it should have been obvious to the employer that the document was false, he or she may still be liable for a civil penalty.

Biometric resident permits are pink, credit card-sized documents with an embedded chip and a number of sophisticated security features resistant to counterfeiting.

When carrying out biometric residence card checks, employers should carefully compare the physical appearance of the person presenting the permit with the display photo and biographical information (name, date of birth, etc) displayed on the permit.

The visa holder’s working entitlements and any restrictions will appear on the face of the document. These should be examined to ensure that the person has permission to fulfil the role they are to be hired in.

To confirm that the biometric residence permit is authentic, employers should conduct a general inspection of the document, ensuring that it is in good condition and has not been tampered with.

The BRP number appearing in the top right hand corner of the card will consist of two letters, followed by seven numbers.

There is a raised, tactile design on the back of the card, featuring the four national flowers of the UK. The authenticity of the document can be confirmed by feeling the back of the card or shining a light across it.

Any employer or sponsor seeking further confirmation that a biometric residence permit is authentic can use GOV.UK’s online BRP checking service.

The embedded chips featured on the cards are exclusively for the use of government officers. They contain the permit holder’s unique biometric information. All visa applicants over the age of 16 are required to provide fingerprint scans and a digital photograph when applying for their UK visa.

Over time, all new UK entrants with work entitlements will also be issued with a national insurance number when they receive their permit.

This information will also be displayed on the face of the permit to enable employers to meet the ‘statutory excuse’ against civil penalties and satisfy their requirements for administering PAYE and national insurance, by checking a single document.

For now though, only tier 2 (skilled worker) visa holders will have been issued with a combined biometric residence permit and national insurance number.

Employers must be aware of and comply with their obligations when hiring non-EEA workers.