Our HRLaw survey of over 1900 employers and advisors confirms that immigration is an issue for most. The main findings of our survey were:

* Despite alarmist media reports anticipating a flood of workers from Eastern Europe when the EU expanded, only a quarter of respondents have any employees from the new member states

* There is a healthy awareness of the need to comply with legislation prohibiting illegal employment for foreign nationals

* Uptake of the working holidaymaker scheme, which was expanded and liberalised last year, is surprisingly low with only one in eight employers having working holidaymaker employees

Analysis of results:

Prevention of Illegal Working

An impressive 100% of respondents were aware of the changes to the documentary requirements under Section 8 of the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996, which came into force on 1 April 2004. Better still, they have also updated recruitment and induction procedures to take account of the changes. We wondered if the figure was the same for non-respondents! There has been a very significant rise in prosecutions under the Act, including instances where employers have been caught out by their own failure to implement a proper Section 8 policy rather than reckless or deliberate employment of individuals without permission to work. This is an area which no employer should leave to chance.

In relation to the compliance process itself, the majority (63%) of respondents felt that the standard of original documentation required by the new Regulations, and the requirements for recording it, were "about right". However, a quarter thought the requirements too onerous, with the remainder expressing no view. Interestingly, no-one reported having received an allegation that any employee was working illegally, although we have increasingly been asked to advise employers where such an allegation has been made.

Prevalence of Employees Subject to Immigration Control

Work Permits

Three quarters of our respondents use the work permit scheme to employ non-EEA nationals; a quarter noted an increase in the number of employees subject to immigration control, requiring work permits or some other form of immigration permission to work.

Working Holidaymakers

Only 13% reported employing Commonwealth national employees under the working holidaymaker scheme. This is perhaps a surprisingly low figure given the relaxation of the scheme in 2003 – it is now legally permissible for holders of the two-year working holidaymaker visa to work full-time, in a professional or career-enhancing capacity, for the full duration of their stay. However, that stay is still limited to two years, with no exceptions.

Elsewhere, there is evidence of a recent upsurge in the number of working holidaymakers coming to the UK, particularly from the less developed Commonwealth countries. Previously, the typical profile for the working holidaymaker was white, middle class, educated and from Australia, New Zealand, Canada or South Africa. So where are they? One of the arguments for relaxing the scheme was to encourage applications from a more diverse range of applicants. It may be that, ironically, more applicants are now in casual employment – formerly the only type allowed under the scheme – for example bar work, with employers who do not subscribe to HRLaw. At the same time, the new under –28 Highly Skilled Migrant Programme (HSMP) offers a more secure status in the UK for educated, professional employees of working holidaymaker age looking for a more permanent foothold in the UK.

EU Accession – Employees from the "New Europe"

On 1 May, ten new member states joined the EU – Poland, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Cyprus and Malta. Only a quarter of respondents reported currently employing nationals from the new European accession states – hardly evidence of the flood predicted by the media.

The Accession Immigration and Worker Registration Regulations 2004 require nationals from those countries (Cyprus and Malta excepted) to register via the Worker Registration Scheme (WRS) within one month for a registration certificate authorising employment; a £50 registration fee is required to "cover administrative costs". Employers who employ workers not authorised under the Scheme will commit a criminal offence where the employee has not applied for registration within one month of commencing employment. In our survey, almost half of employers will pay the £50 registration fee on employees’ behalf as a matter of policy when they register under the WRS.

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