Or not, as the case may be. Embarrassed by the Abu Qatada affair and keen to regain the initiative over the UKIP bandwagon, Theresa May made a headline-grabbing statement to Parliament on 26 March: she is scrapping the UK Border Agency.

UKBA was set up by the Labour Government in 2008, one of a series of attempts by successive administrations to “sort out” immigration. The then Home Secretary had memorably described our system as “not fit for purpose”. Blaming the last Government’s de facto “mass immigration” policy, Mrs May said that UKBA’s performance was “not good enough” to cope with the numbers and that its arm’s-length Agency status had weakened ministerial control. She was bringing it all back under direct Home Office authority.

What is new?
From April 1st, the existing UKBA was split into two parts:

  • An immigration and visa service with a “culture of customer satisfaction” for business and visitors with money to spend
  • An immigration law enforcement organisation with a “get tough” agenda

A service culture might seem calibrated to counter Boris Johnson’s play to the business community on the difficulty and complexity of economic migration. Nigel Farage’s appeal to public opinion may be blunted by the promise of enforcement. So…

What does it mean in practice for employers?
Don’t panic! There is practicality, and there is politics. The UKBA label and logo is already starting to disappear from official correspondence and will be phased out in favour of “Home Office”. There has been some tidying up of the immigration rules and Codes of Practice have been overhauled. However, the immigration system is not about to undergo the massive root and branch upheaval of recent years all over again. These announcements just underline an established  pattern of consolidation. If you are already doing things properly, it is business as usual. If not, enforcement is coming your way.

What do I really need to know?
The coalition Government is serious about bringing down net migration and clamping down on those who do not play by the rules. It was relieved that the latest statistics (May 23) show a net migration decrease of a third in three years. But it also wants to attract investment and enable business growth.
If you are responsible for employing and sponsoring migrant employees, you will want to focus on these areas:

Stay on top of the Home Office guidance

  • Do you always refer to the most recent Tier 2 & 5 guidance and codes of practice when issuing Certificates of Sponsorship? Some thresholds and criteria, e.g. minimum salary levels in some jobs, have changed in recent weeks.
  • Are your migrant employees using the right forms and most efficient processes when applying for new and extended permission?

Keep your house in order

  • Are your key personnel (Authorising Officer, Key Contact, Level 1 & 2 Users) in place and up to speed with their duties and responsibilities?
  • Do you know what changes in migrant or sponsor circumstances you must report, and when and how to do it?
  • Are your prevention of illegal working practices robust and compliant? Do you have a full and accurate set of records to prove it, and are you on top of annual re-checks for migrans with time limited immigration permission?

Don’t forget employment law

  • Managing employee immigration issues is a delicate area. Do you refer to the Code of Practice for avoiding discrimination when dealing checking documents, and take legal advice in cases of difficulty?

26 March: Theresa May announces she is scrapping UKBA with its agency status and bringing immigration under direct Home Office control
1 April: Two new organisations deal with immigration applications and immigration law enforcement respectively
6 April:  New immigration application forms, fees, codes of practice and immigration rules come into force. These are consolidating measures, not root and branch reform
23 May: Net migration statistics show a fall of one third in 3 years
31 May: The Home Office announces long-awaited “enhancements” to address functional gaps in its sponsor management system

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