Arun Bajaj: Immigrant work permits are a minefield of bureaucracy
Aug 29 2008 By Arun Bajaj
The report that the UK will have Europe’s largest population by 2060, 77 million putting it ahead of France and Germany, threw up a number of issues.
Firstly, where are these extra 17 million going to live, because our island isn’t expanding?
If anything, global warming and rising sea levels may swallow up great swathes of land, but the main question is where are they all going to come from?
The report stated the number of pensioners will continue to increase, while those of a working age will go down. By the middle of the century, it is estimated there will be only two people of working age for every person aged 65 or more, compared with four to one today.
That would seem to indicate that while birth rates will play a part, an ageing population won’t be able to contribute as many new children as it has in the past. So it must mean these extra millions will come from overseas.
Obviously, being an Asian, I know full well what it means for a family to leave their home thousands of miles away to come to the UK to seek new opportunities and a new life. My family, like so many others, have prospered here and I would like to think our culture and hard work has contributed something worthwhile to Britain in return, but it is with these future immigrants that businesses will have a problem.
Legal measures have been put in place to curtail the employment of illegal immigrants, and that is perfectly understandable, but there are also increasing problems for those who are trying to do everything above board and by the book. There are so many obstacles that it can make you wonder whether, as an employer, it is worth you being honest at all.
A colleague of mine told me how they allowed one of their employees, who already had a work permit, to apply for an extension using the company’s immigration solicitor to process the application. The company called the work permits department at the Home Office, which confirmed the application had been received well before the expiry of the previous work permit.
So far so good, but when the company called back three weeks later to see if there had been any developments, they were told no application for an extension had been received, which meant that despite doing everything by the book, through no fault of their own, they were now technically employing an illegal worker,, opening the company up to all sorts of legal problems.
Obviously, they needed to sort this out so rang the Government’s own Employers Helpline to see what could be done.
The response? “Sorry, your worker is illegally employed since their work permit has expired and their application was received one month after expiry of her work permit.”
The company, in order to protect itself from fines and prison terms, had no choice but to dismiss the worker on the grounds of gross misconduct. A technicality and certainly not fair for either party, but the only option under the circumstances.
This immediately opened the company up to a claim of unfair dismissal, even though the person was now in the UK illegally, since they no longer had a valid work permit, and the Home Office was reluctant to send the person back to their country of origin, telling the company it will only treat them as a priority if there is a suspicion of terrorist activity.
Yes, the majority of those extra 17 million people may well be immigrants, but it’s still unlikely they’ll be legal if this is the red tape honest companies have to wade through.
* Arun Bajaj is chairman of the Institute of Asian Businesses and managing director of Radio XL.