It’s time to talk immigration

Here, Rachel Harvey, associate and business immigration specialist at law firm Shakespeare Martineau, talks to us about immigration in business.

Many employers have struggled to employ staff from within the UK for a number of years. This has largely been in lower skilled jobs such as care, agriculture, food production, construction and retail. However, since member states from Eastern Europe gained access to the UK labour market, businesses have found themselves able to fill such gaps in their workforce through European workers.

Despite this, with Article 50 negotiations now in progress and indications that free movement of labour will be stopped, the reality of Brexit’s impact on access to talent is dawning upon businesses.

Since the referendum result many sectors have experienced a severe drop in European nationals applying for work either directly or via agencies, and are worried about not only the immediate need to fill the skills gap but also the future success of their businesses.

Loss of skilled workers

According to independent research conducted by the firm, almost two thirds (63 per cent) of UK business leaders expect the flow of skilled workers into the country to decrease when the UK formally leaves the EU. More than half say that migration restrictions will make the UK labour market less flexible to demand, leaving businesses faced with a talent conundrum.

Furthermore, employers are already beginning to see some of their European nationals resigning following the decision to leave the EU. This is largely due to a lack of clarity from the government on the rights that EU nationals will be entitled to after the UK withdraws from the European Union.

Such sentiments were also echoed in the Queen’s speech. It is no surprise that certain EU nationals are moving to other member states in order to secure their employment futures.

Make a move

Businesses must take action now to safeguard their EU workforce going forward. Employers and also agencies who source workers will remain concerned about filling the skills gaps in the future workforce and this may result in them being tempted to employ workers without conducting the proper checks.

Cutting corners can be costly for employers, who run the risk of fines and reputational damage if they fail to ensure that increasingly-important employment and immigration checks are carried out when employing workers. As immigration fines for illegal workers have been on the increase, in both number and in value, employers must not act too hastily in their bid to broaden their talent pools.

Right to work checks on all potential employees are a legal requirement. All proper checks must be carried out regardless of the size of the employer prior to the commencement of employment. The documents should be copied, signed and retained for future reference.

If an illegal worker is found in employment and thorough right to work checks have not been carried out, employers can face civil and now even criminal charges. Civil penalties are now set at £20,000 per illegal worker, making the financial risks for failing to comply with employment procedure even more severe.

These penalties are not only damaging financially to a business but can result in reputational damage to a business. Businesses who fall foul of the law and receive a civil penalty are named and shamed and could lose lucrative contracts as a result.

For businesses with wide-scale operations that function across multiple geographies, keeping abreast of employment checks, particularly at the end of the supply chain, can be challenging. Ensuring that personnel records are regularly audited is crucial and conducting mock raids at random can ensure that the seriousness of the checks and the use of illegal workers are felt across the entire business.

Rachel Harvey is an associate and business immigration specialist at law firm Shakespeare Martineau.

Further reading on immigration

Owen Gough, SmallBusiness UK

Freddie Halvorson

Owen was a reporter for Bonhill Group plc writing across the and titles before moving on to be a Digital Technology reporter for the

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