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Employing foreign nationals: the points-based system and ID cards explained

26 March 2009

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Jeremy Oppenheim

Jeremy is the UK Border Agency’s regional director for the North-East, Yorkshire and the Humber and is the National Lead for Economic and Family Migration.

The introduction of a points-based system for all those coming to the UK to work or study, supported by the roll-out of ID cards for foreign nationals, together represent the biggest shake up of immigration for 45 years.

Employers across the country looking to employ migrants from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) will already have noticed changes, whether it is in terms of pre-employment checks, or sponsoring a skilled migrant to come to the UK and work.
The points-based system
Our health service has benefited greatly from the expertise of foreign nationals throughout its 60-year history. Under the points-based system, this will continue but in a more targeted way to ensure that the needs of individual migrants and employers are balanced against the interests of the UK as a whole.

The new system is more transparent: applicants are awarded points based on their qualifications; previous salary or prospective salary; sponsorship; English language skills; and available maintenance (funds).

It is more focused: it targets areas where there is a shortage in the domestic labour market, which can be filled by migrant workers from outside the EEA. It also ensures that the employers who benefit from migration take a share in ensuring the system is protected from abuse.

What are the implications for the health service?
Who can come to the UK?
The majority of foreign national nurses and healthcare workers will be employed through Tier 2 skilled workers.

Before employers can bring in migrants under this tier, they must advertise the position to give the resident labour market an opportunity to apply for the job. Currently, employers advertise in the most appropriate medium but from 31 March employers must advertise in JobCentre Plus if they want to use migrant labour.

For some health service jobs, the requirement to advertise the job is removed because the government recognises that there is a shortage in some specialist areas and it is sensible for vacancies to be filled by migrant workers from outside the EEA. Migrant workers seeking to come to work in the UK score additional points if they are applying to work in one of these occupations.

The government’s shortage occupation list includes the following specific nursing roles:

  • Registered nurses employed or engaged at band 7 or 8 of the Agenda for Change scale or their independent-sector equivalents.
  • Registered nurse at band 5 or above employed or engaged in the following specialities:
    – Operating theatre nurse.
    – Anaesthetic nurse.
    – Operating department practitioner.
    – Scrub nurse.
    – Theatre nurse.
    – Critical care (nurses working in critical units with a level 2 or 3 classification).

What are the responsibilities of the employer?
In a significant change for all employers in the health sector wishing to bring a migrant worker into the UK, they will now need to become “sponsors”. Once registered as a sponsor, employers will be allowed to employ those from outside the EEA as long as the prospective employee meets the points requirements.

Nearly 9,000 businesses have registered so far as sponsors under the points-based system. Before an organisation applies to be a sponsor, it must have good human resource systems in place to allow it to monitor and keep records of the migrants employed. The assessment made by the UK Border Agency includes – but not exclusively – an examination of the organisation’s ability to: 

  • Monitor immigration status and prevent illegal employment.
  • Maintain migrant contact details.
  • Recordkeeping.
  • Tracking and monitoring of migrants.
  • Professional accreditations and registrations.

As a condition of keeping their licence, sponsors will need to alert the UK Border Agency if migrants do not comply with their immigration conditions – for example, if they disappear or do not turn up for their job. Any sponsor that does not comply with this requirement will risk losing its licence. However, once a company registers and is accepted as a sponsor, the new system will provide a great deal of flexibility.

Organisations not signed up as sponsors will not be able to bring workers to the UK from outside the EEA until they do so.

ID cards for foreign nationals
Employers of foreign nationals want an easy and secure means of finding out whether the people they want to employ are legally entitled to work – and that they are who they say they are.

Currently, employers can expect to be presented with around 50 types of document to prove an employee’s identity and right to work, which can be difficult and confusing.

The ID card for foreign nationals began roll out in November 2008, and employers can expect to see them more as their use extends. Within three years, all new foreign nationals and those extending their stay will have an ID card. By 2014/15, about 90% of foreign nationals will have been issued with one.

This  will deliver a secure and simple proof of identity and status for all those legally entitled to live and work in the UK – using fingerprint biometrics to link people securely to their own identity.

The easy-to-read card records evidence of the holder’s nationality, identity and status in the UK. They provide a simple secure means of proving a foreign national’s right to work as well as helping to combat abuse, illegal working, identity fraud and crime.

The ID cards build on the measures to strengthen our borders, such as fingerprint visa checks before people travel to the UK, a strong new force at the border and new technology to count people in and out of the country.

For employers, checking an ID card establishes a statutory excuse against payment of a civil penalty for employing an illegal migrant worker. Having this security is essential for employers, as in February 2008 a new civil penalties regime was introduced to crack down on illegal working. Employers now face fines of up to £10,000 per illegal worker and, since their introduction, more than 1,000 fines worth over £10.5m have been issued.

Looking to the future
These are fundamental changes with far-reaching implications for migrants, employers and the UK as a whole. We in the UK Border Agency have greatly valued the input we have had from the Department of Health and NHS Employers. As the system beds in, we will continue to work together to raise awareness of the new sponsorship arrangements and we will do everything we can to help individual employers through the application process.

These changes are necessary to ensure that only those with the skills to benefit the UK economy come here.

For further information, please call the points-based system employer helpline on 0845 010 6677.

Sponsors can register via the UK Border Agency website. Further guidance and the application process can be accessed by clicking here.