Poor paperwork could worsen Brexit skills shortages

Sponsor licence research highlights that the state of many businesses’ paperwork risks licence revocation

Nationwide a range of sectors are reporting problems in recruitment. The Open University found that 90% of the 400 firms it surveyed had issues recruiting enough skilled workers in the previous 12 months, which it estimates is costing Britain £2 billion a year in higher costs across recruitment, temps and higher salaries.

A survey by Migrate UK of 1,000 businesses that currently hold a Tier 2 or Tier 5 licence to sponsor overseas workers found a host of key errors in ‘right to work’ checks being made in paperwork, from documents on file to auditing and job vacancy advertisements. Overall, 93% were at risk of sponsor licence revocation, with many at risk of instant Home Office closure.

Strikingly, less than a third of companies questioned were aware of the exact sanctions in place for non-compliance to strict ‘right to work’ rules for overseas workers, which include fines, prison sentences for directors and even instant closure.

Key errors

Only a third of businesses knew what documents should be kept on file for sponsored overseas workers, while 95% of company sponsors were not reporting all the required changes in circumstances. Just 7% of these companies were advertising job vacancies correctly when filling a job for a non-EEA citizen under sponsorship rules.

The research, which surveyed HR senior managers, directors and heads of talent, reveals that businesses are not carrying out sufficient internal compliance audits to ensure policies, procedures and guidelines follow the required ‘duties’ of sponsors to meet the Home Office’s tough ‘on the spot’ compliance checks.

British workers

Half of the companies were also unaware of the paperwork they should keep for British workers, including an up-to-date copy of a passport photo, or a British birth certificate including the name(s) of a least one parent or adoptive parent, and a National Insurance number. Meanwhile at least 38% of businesses were identified to need training on what official documents must be held for non-British/non-EEA workers.

Despite a growing skills shortage and with many sectors already relying heavily on skills from outside the UK, too many businesses appear to be unnecessarily risking their existing talent by failing to get their paperwork in order and ensuring all aspects of their sponsor compliance, audits, checks, and paperwork are correct.

As government policy continues to tighten visa routes, losing a licence before or after Brexit will be even worse news. Skills shortages and opportunities for migrant workers are likely to become harder to realise, especially as it’s likely that EEA citizens will need some kind of clearance to enter the UK to work when free movement of people between the EU and UK ends – sponsorship is one way to do this.

What this means for HR

Businesses wishing to retain both EU and non-EEA workers must get fully prepared ahead of Brexit to safeguard their skills base. Managers need to carry out regular training sessions across teams on all right to work checks, documents and requirements and carry out regular internal audits, by themselves or with specialist external expertise, to ensure all correct paperwork is in place should the Home Office visit.

HR files should be kept for all EU (including British) and non-EEA workers, endorsed and with passport copies. While EU nationals should be reassured that their status has not yet changed, they should be aware of their ability to apply for a Registration Certificate of Permanent Residence to fully safeguard their future in the UK.

Jonathan Beech is managing director of immigration law firm Migrate UK