Paperless immigration system requires employers to ‘embrace new way of working’

MPs warn post-Brexit settled status proposals could deter businesses from hiring EU citizens

A paperless post-Brexit migration system could prove problematic for employers who have become accustomed to working with hard copy documents, a report released yesterday warned.

The report – The progress of the UK’s negotiations on EU withdrawal: the rights of UK and EU citizens – by parliament’s exiting the European Union committee noted that documents traditionally requested as part of citizenship checks, such as passports and biometric cards, were “understood” by employers and the proposed digital-only settled status system’s success depended on businesses “embracing a new way of working”. 

Last month, the government announced further details on how EU citizens who had lived in the UK for at least five years could apply for settled status. The Home Office has proposed making the settled status process as paperless as possible, issuing successful applicants with digital codes. Employers can then enter these codes into the Home Office website to confirm the applicant’s immigration status.

“This might work well for many, but for some the risk of a civil penalty for employing...someone without the correct immigration status, and a lack of understanding of the new system, may deter them from employing...EU citizens,” the report read. 

Karen Kaur, immigration analyst at Migrate UK, told People Management that, although most employers were confident handling digital records, “you do get some places where it is mainly paper based” and that issue could be made worse if the Home Office opted for an predominately app-based system. 

Although the government has already started rolling out digital checking facilities for right-to-work status, the MPs raised concerns the settled status system was a “task of unprecedented scale for the Home Office and it is being done within a very tight time frame”. It added the recent Windrush scandal should serve as a warning of the “devastating” consequences people could face if the system went wrong.

The MPs also said more guidance was needed on how employers were expected to keep records of these digital codes. 

Kaur added that if the codes allowed employers to view sensitive information about employees, such as details of any criminal convictions, they would need to keep any record of these codes “under lock and key so that it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands”.

The pilot for the settled status application scheme was announced late last week. Up to 4,000 employees and students of 12 NHS trusts and three universities in the north west of England will be invited to apply from 28 August. 

However, certain features intended to be in the final version of the application process will not be live for the pilot and applicants will need to attend an appointment with a Home Office representative to walk them through the online procedure. 

Meanwhile, the Home Office accounts for the year ended 31 March 2018, which were published last week, revealed the number of staff employed by UK Visas and Immigration had risen to 7,680 full-time equivalent workers, up roughly a fifth (18.8 per cent) compared with 6,467 the year before. 

However, Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures, released last week, showed the number of EU citizens immigrating to the UK had dropped in the last year, while the number leaving the country had shot up. In particular, the number of people moving to the UK from the bloc to look for work fell by 18,000 compared with the previous year to 37,000.

The Home Office declined to comment further on the concerns raised by the committee. However, immigration minister Caroline Nokes is quoted in the report as saying: “Government services are digital by default. We would prefer that to be the default route and think that it provides a much quicker and seamless service.”