Sponsors will be aware that the prevention of illegal working legislation exists to ensure that only those with the appropriate immigration permission are able to work in the UK. As the Home Office continues to ramp up its activity against illegal working in line with the current political agenda, we have seen an increase in the number of civil penalty notices being served on employers who may have inadvertently ended up employing an illegal worker. Tier 4 sponsors are one of the current focus areas of UKVI and the civil penalty team.

Sponsors should also be aware that the civil penalty for employing an illegal worker is currently up to £20,000 per illegal worker. If an organisation receives its first civil penalty and pays it in full, the organisation’s name will not be published on the civil penalty list (which is accessible to the public).

However, UKVI regards any failure to comply with illegal working requirements as a serious breach of sponsorship duties. It should also be noted that the media could still get hold of this information. Where a second civil penalty is issued, the organisation’s name will be published on the civil penalty list and the UKVI could take action against the Tier 4 licence. Senior members within the organisation may also, in extreme cases, be liable for criminal sanctions.

Under the Tier 4 guidance, if a Tier 4 sponsor receives a civil penalty, this must be reported to UKVI via the SMS under ‘sponsor change of circumstances’ as this could trigger a visit from UKVI and/or further investigation.

Common issues for Tier 4 sponsors include:

  • Status of employees/self-employed individuals for example defining ‘workers’, invigilators and other academic staff
  • Zero hour contracts
  • Tier 4 students working in excess of permitted hours at the institution
  • Volunteers and those volunteering
  • Individuals undertaking pro bono work
  • Right to work checks and repeat checks.

Those who work within Tier 4 compliance or who are responsible for maintaining the Tier 4 licence should also be working with their HR teams to make sure that:

  • all relevant systems are up to date;
  • Tier 4 students are not working in excess of their permitted hours at your institution
  • the status of ‘workers’ has been correctly defined
  • the relevant right to work checks are carried out before employment commences.