Immigration status: Home Office recruiting staff to expedite online checks for employers
Minister also claims that new services and tech will reduce demands on digital platform
The Home Office is recruiting additional staff to expedite the online process through which employers can check the immigration status of current and potential workers who cannot provide documents or digital evidence of their right to work in the UK.
The department’s Employer Checking Service (ECS) allows firms to verify the status of individuals who do not have hard-copy documentation or a digital code proving their immigration status – for example because their application for the right to work in the UK is still being processed, because they arrived in this country before 1989, or because they lack the skills or access to technology required to do so.
According to online government guidance: “The ECS aims to provide a response within five working days of receiving a valid request. It is your responsibility to inform the person you intend to employ, or continue employing, that you are carrying out this check on them, to complete the verification request correctly and to make the request at least 14 days after the date of the application, appeal or administrative review was delivered or posted.”
But the system has been subject to criticism from, among others, the Work Rights Centre, which last year released a report outlining why the service was “not fit for purpose”.
Issues cited by the charity included a lack of a familiarity among employers, resulting in overseas job applicants being unfairly penalised.
A large backlog of applications for immigration status has also caused difficulties, according to the report; the number of applicants for asylum awaiting a decision from the Home Office has doubled since the start of 2020 to more than 85,000, while PublicTechnology recently reported on about 8,000 Turkish nationals in the UK who, in some cases, have been waiting more than a year for their right to remain here to be ratified or declined.
A recent parliamentary question, form Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Green, asked the Home Office to clarify how many requests made to the ECS were awaiting response, as of 25 May.
In response, policing minister Kit Malthouse said that such information “is not publicly available”. But he did say the department “is currently recruiting additional staff to reduce the time taken to respond to requests on the Employer Checking Service”.
He reiterated government’s ambition to eliminate all paper immigration documents, and move to an entirely digital system.
The first major move towards this objective was the EU Settled Status programme – which has been frequently criticised by parliamentary groups and organisations representing EU citizens in the UK.
Nevertheless, Malthouse asserted that “digital status has been an overwhelming success” so far. Ongoing enhancements to government’s online tools will further reduce the burden on the ECS platform, he claimed.
“Millions of customers have used the Home Office’s digital services which enable customers to prove their immigration status immediately,” the minister said. “As part of the continuing transformation of the border and immigration system, we will phase out physical and paper-based products and services and replace them with accessible, easy to use online and digital services. These new services, alongside new technologies, will remove certain scenarios where customers have to rely on the Employer Checking Service to prove their permission to work, helping reduce the need for employers to submit queries in future.”
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