All divisions, departments, faculties and colleges within the University of Oxford have a responsibility to ensure that every employee, worker, and visitor (however brief the visit) is properly entitled to work in, and/or participate in the activities of, the University.

It is essential that the University complies with the legislation of the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006, and with the policies and regulations of the Home Office. The University’s compliance with the law will be checked, probably in unannounced visits direct to the employing institutions, by the Home Office.

The Immigration Act 2016 has made illegal working a new criminal offence in its own right and widened the nature of the criminal offence of employing an illegal worker. The changes mean that:

  • An illegal worker can receive 51 weeks imprisonment and fines
  • An employer may be prosecuted not only if they knowingly employ an illegal worker, but also if they had a reasonable cause to believe that the person did not have the right to work

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The consequences of non-compliance are very serious, and the penalties that can be imposed are potentially severe, as follows:

  • On-the-spot fines of up to £60,000 for each illegal worker
  • A maximum 5-year prison sentence and/or an unlimited fine if illegal workers are employed knowingly, or when there was a reasonable cause to believe that they did not have the right to work
  • Downgrading of the University’s sponsor licence to a B rating (partially compliant) with subsequent timed action plan to regain A status, and further regular compliance visits to the same, and other, departments
  • Withdrawal of the University's sponsor licence, as a result of which the University would no longer be able to employ workers from overseas and all sponsored visa holders would have to leave the University and the UK

In the first five weeks following the introduction of the new points-based system, fines totalling £10 million were issued to employers. This is a clear indication of the Home Office’s readiness to check compliance and act accordingly.

Other consequences of non-compliance

Apart from the fines and risk of imprisonment, failure of any one department or college to comply with the regulations potentially risks the expulsion of all sponsored visa holders (staff and students) in the whole University. 

In addition, the Home Office has a specific policy on the publication of non-compliant employer details. They have a ‘name and shame’ policy and publish a list of all non-compliant employers on their website. This list is readily accessible to the national and international press. This represents a potentially serious threat to the reputation of any non-compliant department or college, as well as the reputation of the University as a whole.

The need to ensure compliance cannot be over-emphasised.

Prior to the introduction of the points-based system, employers would not have expected a visit from the Home Office unless a particular problem had been identified. The current situation is very different. The Home Office now employs teams of Compliance Officers whose role is to visit employers to check compliance. The University of Oxford is a high profile employer, and there is absolutely no doubt that it will receive visits from Home Office Compliance Officers.

During a compliance visit to a department/college, which is likely to be unannounced, Home Office Compliance Officers can speak to workers, colleagues, academic staff and managers. They have the right to inspect personnel files and any other records, such as recruitment and payroll details. They will carry out a detailed and thorough audit.

It is therefore imperative that departments and colleges keep up-to-date, accurate and compliant records about all visa holders (staff and students) at any one time.

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