When employers take on new employees from abroad they should take care to ensure that the employee not only has the right to work in the UK but that any restrictions on that right are adhered to during the course of their employment. They need to put systems in place to ensure that compliance is monitored, and any breaches flagged up, and dealt with. If they do not, they can be fined, and have their status for dealing with immigration matters downgraded from A to B.

It has been reported by the Daily Telegraph that in July 2012 the Authorities found students, of over 10 nationalities were working significantly longer hours than their visas allowed at the warehouse operated by Tesco in the Tesco.com building in Croydon, south London. Tesco employs 300,000 people in the UK. It has an A status rating for Tier 2 migrants. Tier 2 migrants are highly skilled workers or intra group transfers so that licence is important to a company like Tesco.

UK Border Agency officials arrested 20 of the students for alleged breaches of visa terms that restricted the amount of hours they could work. It is understood that at least seven of the students, none of whom has been identified, have been deported. It follows Home Office operations to put a stop to “visa abuse”.

Officials discovered the students, who were predominantly of Bangladeshi and Indian origin, had been working up to three-and-a-half times longer than their visas allowed. The workers, believed to be university students aged over 18, all had the right to work in the UK.

Tesco was subsequently issued with a “notification of potential liability”. Authorities are now deciding whether to go further and issue the employer with a notification of liability, and a fine of up to £10,000 per illegal worker.

The Home Office said the company needed to provide “evidence that it was carrying out the legally required checks to avoid a fine”.

UKBA Officials approached Tesco executives shortly before the raids and asked them to keep giving the students illegal overtime “in order to catch them in the act”.

Investigations found they had been working between 50 and 70 hours a week during the school term, when their visas only allowed for 20 hours.

The retailer said it was “co-operating fully” with the UKBA, adding that it had tightened its procedures. It did not condone employing illegal workers.

In a statement, a Tesco spokesman said: “In cooperation with Tesco, the UK Border Agency visited our dot com store in Croydon in July.

“As a result of this visit, a small number of staff was found to have breached the terms of their working visas. We continue to cooperate fully with the UK Border Agency as they look into this issue.”

“We take our responsibilities as an employer very seriously and do not condone illegal working of any kind.”

He added: “We have a comprehensive system for ensuring all the correct procedures are followed in this area which has been externally audited and generally works well.

“We have now taken additional steps to ensure an incident of this nature does not happen again.”

A UKBA spokesman said: “We received information that some staff members were working in the UK illegally at Tesco.com on Factory Lane, Croydon.

“The operation was part of an ongoing campaign to tackle visa abuse which has seen over 2,000 offenders removed since the beginning of May.”

He added: “The employer now needs to provide evidence that it was carrying out the legally required checks to avoid a fine.”

Both the UKBA and Tesco declined to comment further or discuss what fines could be issued saying that investigations were “ongoing”.

The other risk for sponsors of students (Tier 4 migrants), which will be the educational institution, is that their sponsorship licence may be downgraded from A to B or it may be revoked in an extreme case.

The Sponsorship system works on trust. Tesco has Tier 2 (Highly Skilled) Sponsorship status which is graded A for both general and intra group transfers. If Tesco employed these students and allowed them to breach the limitations on their hours of work and/or  it transpires on investigation of Tesco’s systems that they were never in place or defective the licence could be downgraded to B or be revoked.

If Tesco was downgraded to B it would be given an action plan to improve over periods, usually of 3 months. B-rated sponsors will also be subject to more frequent and thorough visits by the UKBA to ensure compliance, and may have to meet additional duties in comparison to an A-rated sponsor. In addition if they become a B graded sponsor and have a Tier 2 migrant he would have to show £800 in funds for himself and £533 for each dependant they wish to bring to the UK. An undertaking from Tesco in that regard would not be acceptable as they would no longer be an A rated sponsor. An “A” rated sponsor can simply provide an undertaking in respect of maintenance for the migrant and their dependants.