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April’s Employment Law Digest – Digitising the UK’s immigration system – what do you need to know?

In line with the Home Office's vision to create a modernised, digital border, the switch from physical immigration documents to eVisas has now begun.

The eVisa system is not new territory for the Home Office, with thousands of non-UK nationals who are subject to immigration control already proving their immigration status to employers via an online system when having their right to work checked.

As the full adoption of the system across all immigration routes gears up, the Home Office is replacing digital status for all individuals who hold biometric residence permits (BRPs), biometric residence cards (BRCs), passport endorsements (such as indefinite leave to enter), and vignette stickers in passports (such as entry clearance or visa vignettes).

Many BRP’s held by individuals have an expiry date of 31 December 2024 and this date is usually different to the date that their right to live and work in the UK expires.  This has caused confusion for employers when it comes to renewing visas and carrying out right to work checks and the roll out of the digital system should alleviate this.

On 17 April 2024, the Home Office confirmed that the first tranche of emails were sent to those with physical immigration documents inviting them to create a UKVI account. The Home Office is starting with a small-scale ‘private beta’ launch for the system, initially contacting a small number of BRP holders to help develop the best experience for users. For anyone who has not yet been contacted, the Home Office has confirmed that phased communication will be rolled out later in the year. Individuals may not be able to set up their UKVI account until they are invited to do so.

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Individuals will need to set up a UKVI account which will allow them access to their eVisa, which is digital proof of immigration status. The eVisa is linked to a person’s passport, so it is essential that passport details are kept up to date in the UKVI account. For instance, if a person has been issued with a new passport but their UKVI account has not yet confirmed the update to this new document, it is advisable to travel with both the new and old passport to avoid any delays at the border.

UKVI accounts allow individuals to easily share immigration status information with third parties, such as employers or landlords, by generating a share code via the “view and prove” service. If the online service is used correctly when checking an employee’s right to work and evidence of the check is properly considered and retained, employers can be protected from illegal working fines.

Due to the complex nature of the immigration system, not everyone with valid leave will have been issued with a BRP. Where individuals do not have a BRP, there is a more complicated process for setting up their online account and establishing digital evidence of their status. For anyone who has been used to proving their indefinite leave to remain or enter by way of a document such as a vignette or passport stamp, they will first need to make a “no time limit application” (NTL). Once the NTL application is approved, a physical BRP will be issued and the holder will then be invited to create a UKVI account. Ironically, it appears that a physical BRP must still exist before the digital record can be created.

The Home Office’s press release emphasises that the streamlined digital system will be more robust and secure, protecting migrants from identity fraud and issues such as loss or theft of key documentation. However, businesses and individuals will be aware that eVisas are not without their problems. We have seen issues in practice where the Home Office system has encountered “glitches”, or complete failures, leaving individuals unable to travel or prove their status for significant periods of time.

If you or your employees hold physical immigration documents (such as a BRP), and have any questions regarding the eVisa roll out or the online right to work check, please get in touch with one of our Expert Immigration Lawyers.

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

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