All UK employers must carry out right to work checks before employing someone, to ensure that the individual is legally permitted, by reason of their immigration status, to carry out the work in question. Correctly conducting a right to work check prior to employment will provide the employer with a statutory excuse against illegal working.

The UK Government has announced that the maximum fines that may be imposed for employing an illegal worker in the UK are to be significantly increased, starting in 2024. The civil penalty for employers will be increased from £15,000 to up to £45,000 per illegal worker for a first breach. The penalty for repeated breaches will be increased from £20,000 up to £60,000. The fines will also be increased significantly for landlords allowing illegal migrants to rent their properties.

UK employers must therefore ensure they are comfortable with, and fully compliant with, conducting right to work checks. The Home Office has also announced that a consultation will be launched with regards to stricter compliance action against sponsor licence holders who are found to have employed illegal workers.  Therefore, it is of particular importance that sponsor licence holders understand their obligations and have clear HR processes in place to adhere to these duties (including right to work checks for all employees, in addition to particular monitoring and reporting duties in respect of sponsored workers, which can be demonstrated during a compliance visit from the Home Office). Employers who have any concerns in this regard should promptly seek further advice.

Increase in visa fees

Separately, the UK Government has also announced a significant increase across a number of visa fees, and, while the intended date of implementation remains unconfirmed, this could be within the next few months. Work and visit visa fees will increase by around 15%, while other applications such as student visas, citizenship, and certificates of sponsorship, for example, will increase by at least 20%. In addition, the immigration health surcharge is set to increase significantly from £624 per year to £1,035 per year. This must be paid by workers entering the UK for a period of six months or more and must also be paid by any family members accompanying the migrant to the UK as their dependants.

This means that a typical Skilled Worker visa application (for up to 3 years), with the increased visa fee of at least £719 plus the increased immigration health surcharge of £1,035 per year, would lead to a new total cost of at least £3,824 per person. This does not include the increased Certificate of Sponsorship fee of at least around £239 and payment of the immigration skills charge (it has not been announced whether this will change). The cost of priority services (to receive a faster application outcome) are also due to increase by around 20%.

Employers should therefore consider the impact of these increased costs with regards to their workforce and recruitment planning and may need to make adjustments accordingly (for example, bringing forward upcoming applications before the changes if appropriate or reviewing budgets as necessary). Where an employer will not be paying for (or reimbursing) the visa and health surcharge costs, employers should also be mindful of the significant costs involved, which for a family of four coming to the UK will result in costs over £15,000. This is likely to create difficulty for many applicants and could ultimately prevent them from making an application to work in the UK as a result.