The UK’s Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration has recently released a report which examined the Home Office’s current approach to preventing illegal working. For HR professionals tasked with the prevention of illegal working within their business, this report didn’t inspire much confidence in the Home Office’s ability to effectively reduce illegal working. Indeed, having estimated that in the region of 240,000 business in the UK currently employ illegal workers, the Home Office advised the Inspectors that, “the size of the illegal working problem is greater than our capacity to enforce it through traditional arrest activity”. It, therefore, seems that HR professionals will continue to find themselves on the front line of illegal working prevention and that they will continue to have the greatest impact on whether illegal working in the UK can be reduced.
"The only sensible option to tackle the problem of false identity documents is to invest in an online identity document checking system which is linked to a global identity document library"
The problems facing HR professionals carrying out this role are huge and set to increase post-Brexit. It has been reported that the number of people entering the UK without government authorization is increasing, due in part to the activities of organized crime involved in people-smuggling and trafficking. Brexit further complicates border security, within the Common Travel Area and there continues to be a number of unresolved questions regarding the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland border area controls. When the UK leaves the Dublin Agreement as a result of Brexit, the forcible return of unauthorized migrants to the European mainland will no longer be a possibility. The number of unauthorized people seeking work will therefore likely increase, increasing the risk and challenge for HR professionals who must ensure that workplace right to work checks are sufficiently robust and are carried out consistently and effectively.
For those employers carrying out right to work checks, the checking of an identity document has traditionally been a gateway process very much relied on to prove or disprove a right to take up work. Much of that document checking process relied on a visual check followed by the storing of a copy of that document in a personnel file. Over the years though, it has become apparent that visual inspections of a document aren’t sufficient for a mostly untrained person to determine that a document is genuine or not and so more and more employers moved to either a manual or electronic checking of a document’s Machine Readable Zone, (MRZ). The MRZ is a security algorithm of a document’s base data and over the years this extra level of checking provided employers with an added level of assurance and safeguarding.
The days of an MRZ check being sufficient proof of a document’s validity are now however far behind us with a whole host of false documentation from countries such as Italy, Spain, and Portugal carrying correct MRZ coding despite being false documents. Accurate inspection of these documents is very difficult and almost impossible by the naked eye and so employers need to now consider equipping themselves with more advanced document inspection systems that can not only check an MRZ but also check other security features currently found within identity documents. It’s not only the need to avoid receiving a Civil Penalty from the Home Office, although a fine of £20,000 would dent most budgets, but also the false information about workers leaves employers without a true understanding of the person they have employed. There is also a significant risk posed to a company’s reputation, and any business holding a public license such as an alcohol or entertainments license who has been found to be employing unauthorized (or, to use Home Office terminology, illegal workers) faces losing those licenses and for those applying for public service contracts, there is a risk that they will be barred from doing so in the future.
It is time therefore to dust off your right to work practices and ensure that they remain fit for purpose and that any document checking equipment can detect the high-quality false documents currently in circulation. There is no longer any ‘safe’ identity document – a survey carried out by NSL Checking of customers using the Keesing Authentiscan system last year showed that the UK passport was amongst the top four false documents encountered by businesses and with a high-quality false UK passport available on the dark web for around £750, this finding should come as no surprise. For every security feature introduced into an identity document, there will be someone somewhere working hard to defeat that feature and so the only sensible option to tackle the problem of false identity documents is to invest in an online identity document checking system which is linked to a global identity document library as without this, it is now and will be in the future, almost impossible to effectively protect your business and your customers from the effects of illegal working.