What are the trends employers and HR teams can expect in global mobility and business immigration in 2017?

HR compliance

The Home Office is taking an increasingly tough stance with employers for failing to comply with their immigration duties. Civil and criminal penalties are being issued to larger, household-name employers for non-compliance with their duties and failure to prevent illegal working – generally for administrative or process errors.

We also understand the Home Office is actively recruiting for compliance staff. This investment suggests there will be a push in this area over 2017, with the Home Office placing the onus squarely on employers to reduce illegal employment figures, while generating income from the substantial fines involved in the process.

Employers can avoid falling foul by reviewing their immigration processes to ensure their workforce files are properly audited and that you can tick ‘met’ on HR processes and systems as a sponsor.

Taking a proactive approach to compliance will help to avoid the reputational fall-out of being found to be employing workers illegally, and the financial hit of a fine (£20,000 per illegal worker).

EEA workers securing UK status

Undoubtedly the biggest shake up in UK immigration in 2016 came as a result of the Brexit vote.

Home Office figures from last year show a surge in the numbers of EEA citizens seeking to secure their status in the UK via applications for permanent residency and British citizenship.

UK employers seemed equally concerned, and we have worked with many to help safeguard their workforce and provide support to their EEA workers.

With Theresa May having made clear her intention to fully withdraw Britain from the European single market and build “A Global Britain”, the future immigration status of EEA citizens in the UK remains even more uncertain. As a result, we expect application numbers to remain at their higher levels while Brexit negotiations are ongoing and as more European citizens become eligible for naturalisation, ILR and British citizenship.

Clarification of Good Character requirement

The most recent ‘Good Character’ guidance was issued by the Home Office rather quietly in December 2014.

The changes largely had the effect of creating confusion among applicants. The latest statistics show failure to meet the Good Character requirement was the main reason for refusal of naturalisation applications in 2015.

In response, the Home Office has looked at providing more clarity. We expect this to be formally addressed in 2017, which would certainly be a welcome development for applicants.

Overseas criminal record checks

UK sponsor licence holders in the education and healthcare sectors are now under a duty to inform prospective Tier 2 Skilled Worker employees of the extended requirement to provide overseas criminal record certificates as part of their application for entry clearance.

From April 2017, all Tier 2 applicants for occupations listed in the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) code must provide a criminal record certificate from any country they have lived in for 12 months or more in the past 10 years. The requirement also extends to applicants’ adult dependants.

Employers are responsible for communicating the extended requirement to all prospective employees assigned a certificate of sponsorship from January 2017 and who will be applying for entry clearance from April 2017.

Failure to comply may result in the visa application being refused.

The extended requirement does not affect visa applications made before April 2017.

While the change in April applies to health and education sectors only, the Home Office has stated the requirement remains best practice. It remains to be seen how broadly the Tier 2 requirement could be extended in the future to cover further market sectors.

Enhanced UKVI services

Expect any new UKVI services or service developments to come with a charge for usage!

One process improvement we would like to see in 2017 is for entry clearance online application forms to include the facility to include dependant applicants.

Moving away from the current requirement for separate applications should reduce the cost and administrative burden on applicants, and reduce the potential for process errors in handling multiple applications simultaneously.