UK employers are increasingly turning to corporate immigration to meet their talent needs.

When the domestic labour market fails to offer suitable skills, employers are tapping into the global talent market to build competitive advantage, maintain business operations and meet commercial objectives.

But what are the main challenges of corporate immigration that UK employers need to be aware of?

1: Competition for global talent 

In the coming years, we’re expecting to see shortages of highly skilled workers. Which means competition among businesses will intensify – on a global scale – to attract this cohort.

Competition will also come in the form of governments looking at ways to retain homegrown talent and avoid ‘brain drains’.

To ensure success in the global market for talent, businesses need to be strategic when addressing their corporate immigration needs.

How is mobility supporting and contributing to organisational goals? Do you have an employer brand within local markets to help you stand out from the competition? How efficient and compliant are your processes to facilitate movement and reduce the risk of missing out on talent? These questions are fundamental to developing an approach that stays aligned to your organisation’s needs.

2: Know the rules 

It perhaps goes without saying that employers need to keep up-to-date with current law and policy surrounding business immigration, applications for work permits and visas etc, both in the UK and any other countries you are dealing with.

Immigration rules differ significantly from country to country. You need to be aware of and understand the specific requirements of different countries to ensure compliance. And this knowledge needs to be reflected in your internal policies and procedures.

Emerging markets in particular present more challenging business immigration requirements, which need to be overcome to minimise cost, delay and the potential for lost opportunities.

One potential, cataclysmic change on the horizon for UK employers is of course Brexit. Employers are strongly encouraged to consider and plan for the impact of Britain leaving Europe, looking for example at recruitment and immigration initiatives.

Being prepared to react to any changes in immigration rules governing European citizens’ right to work in the UK will put you in a strong, competitive position should Britain vote to leave.

3: Reason for visit

A minor, tactical point maybe, but it will make all the difference to an application. The nature of the activities being undertaken as part of an assignment or role is a key application criteria for work permits and visas in the UK and most other countries.

When applying for work permits or visas, ensure you have collated and presented all relevant facts relating to the role and the specific type of activity to be undertaken. It’s important to get the facts right at an early stage to avoid processing issues or delays that could impact the assignment or role in question.

4: Corporate immigration policy

Despite the shortage of highly skilled workers, governments are implementing increasingly protectionist immigration policies to preserve and favour domestic labour markets. This makes corporate immigration compliance tougher and more stringent than ever for businesses looking to mobilise talent.

In the UK, this stance is being pursued mainly due to the Government’s pledge to reduce net migration, which is taking precedence over enabling businesses to plug skills gaps.

At a policy level, we can see this most clearly with the Tier 2 route – the primary route for economic migration to the UK. The Government has commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to investigate tightening applications under Tier 2. Watch this space for further announcements of MAC recommendations.

5: Internal order

We’ve touched on a number of compliance-related themes external to organisations, but arguably the main area of focus for effective corporate immigration has to be internal practices.

The Home Office regime for the Prevention of Illegal Working applies to all UK employers. The expectation is that businesses must play a part in combatting illegal working in the UK. Failure to comply can result in civil penalty notices, criminal penalties and restrictions on sponsoring non-EEA nationals to work in the UK. The financial, operational and reputational implications are best avoided.

Since the Points-Based System (PBS) was introduced, it has imposed greater immigration responsibilities on employers than ever before. The process of securing and retaining a sponsor licence is onerous but critical for businesses to be able to employ workers from outside Europe. Staying up to date with changes to the rules is also challenging; there have been more than 50 revisions since PBS was introduced.

The Home Office is also taking a very keen interest in employers’ compliance. We are currently seeing more and more Home Office visits, both pre-arranged and unannounced, to audit and inspect business immigration practices, policies and systems.

Ensuring compliance of your immigration practices is business critical. Regular internal audits can help to identify areas of weakness or non-compliance to be resolved, and are the best form of preparation for a Home Office visit. Immigration training for relevant personnel is also an effective measure to enable and maintain operational compliance.

Finally, immigration compliance shouldn’t just be the concern of a single business unit. Effective compliance requires the input and support of various functions, from legal, compliance, HR, finance and global mobility, as well as the workforce at large. Internal communications programmes will be crucial in educating and informing workers of their responsibilities in mitigating risk and ensuring compliance across the board.