Wed 03 Feb 2016

Preparing for an immigration audit

Every licensed sponsor is anxious about the day the Home Office turns up at its offices to carry out an audit.. Such concern is understandable as the consequences of failing an audit can be severe. As the Home Office looks to cut down on net migration it is likely to increase the number of compliance audits to ensure that sponsors are meeting their obligations. As the digital technology sector is one of the biggest users of the Tier 2 systems, it is likely that this sector will face increased monitoring.

Here are my top tips on how to prepare for, and pass, an audit:

Preparation is key

This can be easier said than done as the Home Office does not always give notice of an audit and the number of unannounced visits has increased in recent years. However, if you work on the assumption that an audit can happen at any time and carry out your own internal checks there will be less concern if the Home Office arrives at your door.

Make sure everyone knows their role

This may sound simple, but I was once asked to help an organisation who had received a letter suspending its licence. When I spoke with one member of staff about why several key changes hadn't been reported to the Home Office I was told that they thought their colleague was dealing with it, but their colleague thought someone else was dealing with it!

If everyone is clear on their responsibilities there is less room for error, but it is just as important to make sure someone can act as a back up in case of absence or annual leave.

Policies and training

Linked to making sure everyone knows their role is the issue of policies. Technically, there is no need to have a formal policy in place but when you try to evidence something if it isn't written down it might as well not exist.

Having a set of policies relating to right to work and immigration matters will make life a lot easier. It is also worth asking sponsored workers to sign a copy of a policy confirming they are aware of who they need to update about reportable events.

Similarly, a policy is only useful if people are made aware of it and in the case of immigration it is essential to provide training to staff. Any training should not only be to the HR staff handling the immigration issues but should include the sponsored worker and any relevant managers.

You should always remember that a policy is a living document and needs to be updated regularly, particularly whenever the Home Office guidance changes.

Internal audits

Practice makes perfect, and immigration is no different. Since you're unlikely to know when the Home Office will carry out an audit it makes sense to carry out your own internal audits. The Home Office will review your records and interview key members of staff and there is nothing to stop you replicating this process.

An internal audit does not need to  be too time consuming. I regularly carry out ½ day audits for clients which involves me reviewing their paperwork and meeting with those who are likely to be interviewed by the Home Office. The longest interview I conduct is usually no more than 30 minutes and I use this as an opportunity to train the individual on how to answer the likely Home Office questions.  Carrying out an audit is a great way of making sure your policies are up to date and that everyone understands their role.

Save everything

Whenever you carry out an audit or training keep a record of it. A Home Office audit is a bit like a maths exam, you get points for showing your working even if the ultimate answer is wrong. If the Home Office finds an error while carrying out an audit but they see evidence that you are trying to comply with your obligations this may help protect you from enforcement action. I have seen cases where the Home Office has highlighted minor errors during an audit and recommended steps to improve compliance but this is much less likely to happen if it thinks a sponsor has taken no steps to comply.

If you follow the steps above, your chances of passing an immigration audit will be greatly improved. If you would like advice on how to ensure you are complying with your sponsor duties or carrying out an internal audit please get in touch.

Our immigration team is ranked as number 1 in Scotland by both the Legal 500 and Chambers and Partners. We are specialists in business immigration matters and were runners up in the Immigration Provider of the Year category at Expatriate Management and Mobility Awards 2015.  Stuart McWilliams is listed as Chambers and Partners' Star Associate for Immigration in Scotland and was shortlisted as the Global Mobility Rising Star 2015 at the Expatriate Management and Mobility Awards 2015.


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