All visa holders who wish to stay in the UK for more than six months must now obtain a Biometric Residence Permit (BRP). This is an important document which provides proof of the migrant's permission to stay, work or study in the UK, how long they are permitted to remain in the UK and any conditions attached to their stay.

Employers have a responsibility to check the entitlement of prospective employees to work in the UK. An employer of an illegal worker who has not carried out the correct checks faces a penalty of up to £20,000. Furthermore, it is a criminal offence for an employer to knowingly employ an illegal worker. If convicted, such employers can face an unlimited fine and up to two years in prison. Checking the entitlement to work of every single one of your employees is, therefore, crucial in order to establish a statutory defence against the imposition of any such financial or even criminal penalties.

So here's what you need to know about the Biometric Residency Permit:

Once a migrant's visa application is successful, they will receive a 30-day travel visa in their passport. They then must travel to the UK within this period or the travel visa will expire, in which case they will need to apply for another and pay another fee. Within 10 days of arrival in the UK, the migrant will then have to collect the BRP from the Post Office which they designated in their application.

The holder is not required to carry their permit with them at all times but must show it at the border, along with their passport, when travelling outside of and returning to the UK.

If an employee needs to start work prior to picking up their BRP from the Post Office, they will be able to temporarily evidence their right to work by showing their employer the short-validity visa in their passport. However, after the expiration of the 30-day visa, the migrant must collect their BRP. Once the migrant has collected their BRP, the employer must once again check this to confirm that the employee does, in fact, have the right to work in the UK.

The BRP's design is set by European Union regulation. It contains a chip which, in turn, contains the biometric information, which includes scans of all fingerprints and a digital photograph. It also contains information such as the migrant's name, date of birth, expiry date (the last date of the period for which the migrant is allowed to stay in the UK or five or 10 years if the holder has been given indefinite leave to remain) and the type of permit (the holder's immigration category, such as student).

The BRP has various security features. For example, the back has a raised design incorporating the four national flowers of the UK, visible by shining a light across the permit. It also contains the International Civil Aviation Organisation's "chip inside" symbol, which is printed using optically-variable ink. These safety features can seem quite advanced but there are also quite simple physical checks that an employer can carry out. For example:

  • as it is made entirely from polycarbonate, it will have a distinctive sound when flicked. It should not be bent or folded, as this is likely to cause it to break;
  • check that your employee looks like the photograph on the card;
  • check that the expiry date has not passed;
  • check that the date of birth is consistent with the appearance of the employee (this can be tricky!);
  • check any UK endorsements to see if the migrant is actually permitted to do the type of work that you are offering for the period of time and hours that you expect;
  • check the permit number, which is on the front of the permit in the top right-hand corner – it should start with two letters followed by seven numbers. The permit number should not be raised.

If you still have concerns having checked the BRP, you can check the migrant's right to work by requesting a right to work check through the Home Office website. This Employer Checking Service also allows employers to check the status of an individual who cannot supply the mandatory documents to prove a right to work because that individual has an outstanding application or appeal with the Home Office. Undertaking right to work checks may not be as tricky as you might think and the BRP is, in the long run, aimed at simplifying the process for migrants and employers alike.