Home Office immigration inspections ‘up and running’ again

Out-Law Legal Update | 15 Dec 2020 | 12:17 pm |

Jo Hennessy tells HRNews that the suspension of Home Office inspections during the pandemic is over 
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  • Transcript

    If the Home Office came calling to conduct one of their infamous compliance audits how would you fare? Are you on top of the endless stream of updates and guidance? If not you wouldn't be alone – many of our clients are finding this a very challenging time especially as January approaches and, with it, the end of free movement. It's is complicated all the more by Covid-19, of course, and so to address that, throughout the pandemic, the Home Office has been issuing temporary guidance on a regular basis – reams of it – and, obviously, they are expecting employers to keep on top of it, and follow it. We have seen two problems with it. First, a lot of it is not especially clear - so how new guidance differs from what's gone before can be a challenge in itself. Secondly, whilst most of it contains relatively minor changes to day-to-day working practices, many of them do trigger important reporting obligations, record keeping duties and right to work checks. We are flagging this now because whilst the Home Office did suspend all of their audits back in the spring those inspections have started up again, some in-person and some virtual. Faced with that prospect our immigration team is currently offering a type of mock audit for clients, to help them prepare for a potential Home Office audit. With the background to that, and details of that service, on the line from Glasgow, immigration specialist Jo Hennessy:

    Jo Hennessy: “We know from the queries that we're getting from employers that some of them are quite confused about what do some of these relatively day to day changes and developments trigger. What are our duties here? The key issue is that they could be audited by the Home Office. So the Home Office had suspended all of their audits during the pandemic and we now know that they are starting that process again, some of them will be in person audits, and some of them will be virtual audits. There's no real guarantee of whether a sponsor would be audited or not. It can be undertaken as part of a licence renewal process, it can be undertaken as part of a licence application. So they could come in and look at previous right to work records, etc. or if they have a concern, or any kind of intelligence that there might be something not quite right, and that sponsorship duties been missed, then they could come in and conduct an audit. So there are various kind of key touch points which we've identified, and we're coming across quite regularly, where they tend to trigger duties for the employer to report things to the Home Office, or to keep records and they are things that are quite easily missed. So we are working with him clients to almost conduct a mini mock audit just to for this window during the COVID pandemic to check that everything is in order, their records are up to date, if something needs reported they've reported it, if there's a more significant change, so for example if they've been going through a redundancy exercise and a sponsored migrant has been redeployed to another role, that will also require some pause and to think well are they actually permitted to undertake that role, or do need to go through a greater process of potentially sponsoring them again, and getting them a fresh visa? So there are a variety of touch points we have identified and an audit tool we have prepared to really work with clients to assess all of these areas, and give them a bit of a health check to ensure everything is in order, if things have been missed, can they know be tidied up and fixed and what did they need to be aware of going forward while we are still dealing with this pandemic and while a lot of these provisions are still in place, just to make sure that the they keep their paper trail and everything up to date and they are on top of their duties. So that would then result in us providing a report with our findings and our recommendations for them. The audit can be as extensive as clients like so we can also conduct interviews, for example, with migrants or with key staff involved in recruitment and we can go further and do things like file checks or random spot checks as well. So it can really be as in-depth or as light touch as clients need, but it's quite a helpful tool before they enter that window of probably needing their licence on a much increased basis, and just having peace of mind that okay, we've gone through a period of change, we've got many plates spinning, but we're on top of this and we know that we've tidied everything up and we haven't missed anything and, crucially, we know what we have to do going forward while this situation persists and we might have to make amendments within the business.”

    And there's no real guarantee where they're supposed to be audited or not. And it can be undertaken as part of a licence renewal process, it can be undertaken as part of a licence application. So they could come in and look at previous right to work records, etc. and or if they have a concern, or any kind of intelligence, that there might be something not quite right, and that our sponsorship duties been missed and messed and he could come in and conduct an audit. So there are various kind of key touch points, which we've identified, and we're coming across quite regularly. We're the team to trigger duties for the employer to report things to the home office, or to keep records. And there are things that are quite easily missed. So we are working with him clients to almost conduct I can have many more audit just to for this window during the Covid pandemic, to check that everything is in order their records are up to date, if something needs reported, they've reported it if there's a more significant change. So for example, if they've been going through a redundancy exercise, and a sponsored migrant has been redeployed to another rule that will also require some pause and to think well, are they actually permitted to undertake that rule, or do need to go through a greater process of potentially sponsoring them again, and getting them a fresh visa. And these are a variety of touch points identified, and, and an audit tool that we've prepared to really work with clients to assess all of these areas, and give them a bit of a health check to ensure well as everything in order, if things have been messed, can they know be tidied up and fixed? And what did they need to be aware of going for, for retro still dealing with this pandemic? And well, a lot of these provisions are still in place, just to make sure that the they keep their paper trail and everything up to the top of their, their duties. And so that would then result in US providing a report with our findings and our recommendations for them. And the audit can be as extensive as clients like so we can also conduct interviews, for example, with migrants or with key staff involved in recruitment. And we can go further and do things like file checks or random spot checks as well. So it can really be as in depth or as light touch as clients need. But it's quite a helpful tool before they enter that window of probably needing their licence and a much increased basis. And just having peace of mind that okay, we've gone through a period of change. We've got many plates spinning, but we're on top of this and we know that we've traded everything up. We haven't missed anything and crucially we know what we have to do going forward well their situation, process and we may have to make amendments within the business.”

    As well as this issue Jo and her colleagues in the immigration team have written a number of guides to help you plan for the year ahead. You can find all of them, plus news of the latest developments, on the Outlaw website.