– Once a tactical solution to solving skills shortages, global mobility is now integral to successful organisations’ talent and overall business strategies.

And it’s not just larger organisations; mid-size companies are, for example, commissioning more and more overseas assignments each year, creating an increasingly fluid and highly competitive global landscape.

But with the growth of global mobility comes an increase in the risks associated with migration, among them, immigration compliance.

The penalties for UK employers (financial, operational, reputational) of non-compliance with their immigration duties are best avoided. There’s a balance to be achieved however, as employers will want to ensure, for obvious commercial reasons, that their mobility programmes are not hamstrung by compliance obligations.

What’s needed is a robust yet adaptable approach to global mobility that operates effectively under heightened scrutiny on compliance while also ensuring the fundamentals of immigration compliance are being met.

So how can employers maximise their global mobility programmes while ensuring they remain compliant with their immigration duties?

Your mobility processes need to be effective and efficient 

As more organisations turn to global mobility, and the competition for global talent intensifies, you will want to avoid losing out on personnel and opportunities due to issues, delays or errors with your migration capabilities, systems and procedures. Think scenarios such as personnel being stranded at border control, or, substantially worse, your licence to employ non-European workers being revoked – causing major repercussions for your organisation.

Organisations will need to develop an approach to immigration compliance based on their structure, culture, geographical profile and mobility needs. An audit of your internal immigration operations, including policies, systems and processes, will help you to focus on the basics of compliance and ensure your mobility programme is both efficient and proceeding on compliant ground, while meeting your commercial needs.

This could mean the introduction of an online immigration management solution, or automation of certain processes, or adoption of trusted traveller consular schemes where available, or educating personnel to improve internal capability (see next section).

An audit exercise will also help to identify which elements of your operations actually relate and contribute to immigration compliance, and as such ensure these are adequately covered and owned by relevant personnel (mobility, HR or otherwise).

Close internal compliance knowledge and skill gaps 

As an organisation expands globally, so the risk of non-compliance with immigration duties increases. Education of appropriate personnel of their role and responsibility in respect of compliance is an effective way to tackle this challenge and mitigate the growing risk.

It’s crucial to ensure sufficient skills, capability and knowledge of immigration compliance among HR and mobility professionals and other relevant personnel, such as local managers and migrant workers. And depending on your mobility programme, you may need to cast the net even wider, for example, to ensure that all migrant workers declare changes to their circumstances, and that all instances of international business travel are declared – however short the trip. All employees should be made aware that systematic recording of this type of activity is essential to ensure immigration and visa issues are managed and avoided.

It’s also worth remembering that allegations of non-compliance by the Home Office can best be defended where there is proof of systematic attempts to comply through, for example, professional training of relevant personnel across the organisation.

Enhancing strategic contribution of mobility to the organisation 

While the mobility function is now regarded by many organisations as a strategic contributor, the transactional and administrative duties associated with migration processes are however not going away. Far from it, the more mobile your organisation’s workforce becomes, the more administration will be generated.

It’s important to ensure that any steps to alleviate the burden on the central mobility function by decentralising elements of administration do not impact on immigration compliance. The objective has to be to ensure that immigration compliance is more efficiently achieved by becoming a shared concern and responsibility across the organisation, and not confined to a single, central function. Compliance must still be dealt with appropriately, and this may be best achieved with support from across the organisation, but this can only be achieved by developing appropriate and robust workflows, policies and systems to ensure compliance is not compromised, with adequate audit trails and reporting functions.

Keep informed of changes

Whether your organisation’s mobility programme is owned by a dedicated mobility function or is part of HR, legal expertise is essential (either inhouse or outsourced) to guide and give instruction in what is a complex, highly changeable and business-critical area. Staying on top of changes to immigration rules and policy in the UK and across the globe is extremely challenging, but essential.

And with organisations looking increasingly to operate in emerging markets, these can entail more complex and sensitive migration issues than your organisation is used to dealing with.

You will need a reliable solution or resource in place that enables you to stay abreast of the frequent changes to immigration rules. But more than this, you need to understand how these changes will specifically impact your organisation, and its policies and processes at home and overseas. Failure to have a handle on changes can easily result in non-compliance, and unsurprisingly, ignorance is not a defence.