· Features

Online checks look set to turn up the pressure on illegal workers

It will soon be much easier for employers to check whether foreign nationals have the right to work in the UK.

The UK Border Agency is committed to simplifying the documents it issues to foreign nationals.

From the end of February 2012 we intend to issue all migrants from outside the European Economic Area, successfully applying in the UK to stay for more than six months, with a biometric residence permit. It replaces the wide range of documents UK employers currently use to check an individual's right to work in the UK. Checking employee's details is easier, simpler and more secure.

These permits simplify the process by providing one standard, recognisable and secure document for employers to check. Also from spring 2012, employers will be able to verify that the details contained on an employee's permit are correct online. The new online checking service will provide quick and easy real time checks on the permit, the holder's identity and their right to work.

Illegal working has damaging social and economic consequences for the UK. It undercuts businesses that operate within the law, undermines British workers, and exploits migrant workers.

Employers are responsible for carrying out document checks. The UK Border Agency provides assistance to legitimate businesses that follow the rules and make checks on their workers. The new online checking service for Biometric Residence Permits, alongside simplified guidance for employers, will help ensure businesses are aware of the checks they need to make and can do so confidently and with ease.

There are harsh penalties, up to £10,000 per illegal worker, for employers who are found to be employing people illegally. The UK Border Agency regularly conducts visits to businesses that are suspected of ignoring the rules. The Agency also works to raise awareness in the recruitment sector so that failure to provide proof of a right to work in the UK precludes them access to lawful employment.

Biometric residence permits are credit card sized immigration documents that hold a person's fingerprints and photograph on a secure chip. The permits are issued to non-EEA nationals with permission to remain in the UK for more than six months.

Over 600,000 Biometric Residence Permits have been issued since November 2008, mostly to those working or studying here under the points-based system for migration.

Taking biometrics enables the UK Border Agency to perform reliable checks on foreign nationals against the immigration database and criminal and counter-terrorism records before deciding if someone should be permitted to stay in the UK.

In order to meet the increased demand, from spring 2012 around 100 Crown Post Offices across the UK will provide the facility for foreign nationals to submit their fingerprints and photographs. This follows a successful trial with 17 Post Offices last year.

The UK Border Agency wants employers to have the tools they need to meet their obligations. The new online checking service, based on photographic and biographical details, will provide an easy to use service for legitimate employers and turn up the pressure on those who wish to live and work here illegally. This will provide immediate benefits to employers without compromising security and fits with their obligations to check the identity and status of their employees and prospective employees. Automated checking is a business friendly way of authenticating documents.

Jeremy Oppenheim (pictured) is head of immigration at the UK Border Agency

Employers can download specific guidance for checking biometric residence permits from the UK Border Agency's website.

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