Foreign nationals


Andrew Osborne, Lewis Silkin Last Modified  05 August 2016

It is a criminal offence for any officer, manager or senior employee in an organisation to employ someone whom they have ‘reasonable cause to believe’ is an illegal worker (see ‘Recent developments’ below).

Employers should make an offer of employment conditional on the job candidate's right to work in the UK. The employment contract should also make it a requirement that employees provide documentation of their right to work in the UK. The Home Office guide for employers on preventing illegal working includes lists of documents that are acceptable as evidence of this right.

An organisation may need to sponsor a migrant worker. If so, it must obtain a sponsor licence from the Home Office which allows it to issue certificates of sponsorship to overseas workers. Workers use the sponsorship certificate to apply for a visa to work in the UK.

When an organisation applies for its licence, it must demonstrate it has the necessary HR and management systems in place to meet record-keeping, reporting and compliance duties imposed by the Home Office. The most important of these is a document-checking system that ensures organisations do not and will not have any illegal workers. Employers must also have the means of keeping contact details for sponsored migrants up to date, as they must notify the Home Office if a sponsored migrant is absent from work for 10 working days without permission.

An organisation does not necessarily have to sponsor a migrant in order to employ them. Some migrants already have the right to work in the UK, including most dependants.

Future developments

New legislation
Four separate bills on the subject of immigration are progressing through Parliament. One of these, the Immigration Act 2016:
  • extends the existing criminal offence of an employer ‘knowingly’ employing an illegal migrant to having ‘reasonable cause to believe’ an employee is an illegal worker
  • raises the sentence for knowingly employing an illegal worker from two to five years’ in prison
  • creates a new offence of illegal working, so illegal workers assets can be seized
  • provide the power to introduce an ‘immigration skills charge’ on employers sponsoring workers from outside Europe
  • introduces a new requirement for public sector workers in customer-facing roles to speak fluent English
  • creates a new role of Director of Labour Market Enforcement.
Regulations introducing these provisions came into force on 12 July 2016. New guidance on carrying out ‘right to work’ checks was published on the same date.