Corporate Governance Report interviews international migration expert Sophie Barrett-Brown on the value of immigrants to UK corporations
Changes to UK immigration rules are expected to give greater flexibility to business visitors and companies sponsoring international migrants. Corporate Governance Report interviews international migration expert Sophie Barrett-Brown from Laura Devine Solicitors about how immigration law changes could impact UK businesses.
Corporate Governance Report: Sophie, how is the UK developing its immigration rules?
Sophie Barrett-Brown: There’s been something of a negative trend really in immigration over the last couple of years, very much a tightening up and putting in place barriers, really, to UK businesses. However, following that there have been some very positive changes particularly in relation to Tier 2 of the points-based system, creating some practical changes that will assist employers.
Corporate Governance Report: Well in that context, how welcoming would you say the UK is to EU and in fact non-EU immigrants?
Sophie Barrett-Brown: The UK is certainly very welcoming to visitors per se, but it has presented itself somewhat negatively in relation to who is coming to the UK for longer periods. And really there’s been a very negative impression given to business over the last couple of years. So for example, if we go back a few years, companies who needed to bring in workers from their own business units overseas as intra-company transferees, those workers were able to come to the UK, they could be extended as many times as necessary, and ultimately if they were here for long enough they could potentially apply for indefinite leave to remain.
Restrictions were brought in to prevent them from being able to apply for indefinite leave to remain, and to prevent them from continuing to extend. So you could have a senior level executive who’s here for five years and is compelled to leave the UK. Positive developments that have occurred in relation to that are that, depending on the level of earnings of that worker, they can continue to extend for up to nine years, and the magic figure is £152,100.
Corporate Governance Report: So what are the major changes that are proposed for the UK business immigration laws?
The major changes relate to the new immigration act that has just been put before Parliament
Sophie Barrett-Brown: The major changes relate to the new immigration act that has just been put before Parliament, and that has far more concerning implications, in particular the removal of appeal rights for many groups in the UK. We certainly see a broad range of applications that are decided incorrectly and it’s very important that the appeal systems exist to correct those errors and provide a remedy for migrants and the businesses that employ them.
Corporate Governance Report: Well when it comes to immigration laws what are the biggest challenges that employers face?
Sophie Barrett-Brown: As lawyers we’re dealing with these issues day in, day out and even then it requires a great deal of time to keep on top of the constant changes in policy and the law, and one of the difficulties with immigration is so much can change simply through policy.
Whilst we have an immigration act that’s been laid before Parliament, many of the changes in immigration happen almost overnight with rule changes or policy documents being produced. So keeping up to date is a real challenge, and the nature of Tier 2 is one that in a sense captures them after the event. So under the old work permit scheme going back some years, if they wanted to employ migrant workers, they would be making an application to the Home Office and it would either be successful or not successful. But if unsuccessful, the employer hadn’t done anything wrong, whereas Tier 2 really requires the employer to be making their own assessment, it’s a little like a self-certification scheme.
They are checking that the job meets the requirements of the scheme, that the worker meets the requirements of the scheme, that they’ve carried out all of the actions that they’re required to, that they’ve retained all the documentation that they’re required to, and that once the worker is employed in the business that they continue to update their records as they must, to notify the Home Office of any changes. And so the opportunities for errors to have been made and to only be detected after the event, even with an employer who has the best of intentions, is quite high.
Corporate Governance Report: Well as you mentioned earlier, the UK immigration system is quite complicated, now what does this mean for the UK, does that mean a lot more investment is perhaps going to Europe?
Sophie Barrett-Brown: Anecdotally, that’s absolutely something that we have encountered. In terms of inward investment there are some businesses who take the view that it’s too cumbersome in the UK to be able to engage the migrant workers that they need, and there may be other European countries that are offering easier solutions. But of course, companies don’t tend to just look at immigration, they look at everything in the round, and there may be tax drivers, there may be employment law drivers.
So I think that the UK still does reasonably well, but we certainly do see companies who choose to set up elsewhere, and immigration is one of the factors that they have taken into account.
Corporate Governance Report: What industries in the UK are most reliant on immigrants?
Sophie Barrett-Brown: I’d say that immigration affects the full range of industries, but there certainly are some that recent reports have shown rely more heavily. Interestingly actually, the financial sector, many of the reports that have been produced in recent years, is shown to be a sector that relies enormously on migrant labour, and very much at the skilled end of that market.
Corporate Governance Report: How would you say curbing EU immigration could affect then the British economy?
If EU migration was restricted, that would clearly have a very significant impact on the many, many thousands of British businesses who employ EU and non-EU workers
Sophie Barrett-Brown: As a member state of the EU, free movement is an absolute fundamental principal of that. If, however, EU migration was restricted, that would clearly have a very significant impact on the many, many thousands of British businesses who employ EU and non-EU workers. And there are always obviously concerns around reciprocal responses, so if the UK pulls up the drawbridge, and other countries do the same, the UK’s ability to trade in other countries and to post its workers in other countries is also affected as well.
Corporate Governance Report: Finally, when it comes to companies employing migrants for the first time, are there any tips that you have, or a checklist they should go through when they’re approaching this?
Sophie Barrett-Brown: We employers must check all workers, whether they’re a foreign national or a British citizen national, that they’re engaging and carry out right-to-work checks, and there are specific documents that they need to check when they’re doing that. We do often see errors that employers make where they haven’t seen the correct documents, or they haven’t seen them at the right time, or often they haven’t taken the right type of copies of those documents. The most common example that we see is, there’s a need to take a copy of the passport, whatever nationality that person may be, and it’s logical to assume that that would be the page in the passport that shows the immigration status, but it’s actually also a requirement to copy the outside cover of the passport, and that’s one of the practical things that we see missing all the time.
Corporate Governance Report: Sophie, thank you so much.
Sophie Barrett-Brown: My pleasure.
Keeping up with UK immigration rules | Sophie Barrett Brown | Laura Devine Solicitors | Video